Serving in a church can be both a joyful and sorrowful experience. As a parish priest, I celebrate Baptisms and Holy Eucharist, sing and laugh at parish events, offer prayer and pastoral guidance to people in times of new life and times of illness and anxiety, and officiate at marriage and burial services. A church has quite a spectrum of services and events, planned and spontaneous, every week. When I enter the church office in the morning, I never really know what the day will bring. There are unexpected phone calls, appointments, or visits to a hospital or home. Clergy never know when, how or through whom Christ will be revealed to us or through us, so it helps to be receptive to the workings of the Spirit and respond to the needs of those within our parish and those who come to our parish seeking assistance.
One of the most challenging moment in a parish is an unexpected visit with a stranger, a courageous and desperate person who comes to the church asking for help. Because St. Alban’s is at a cross roads, where bus routes along Massachusetts Ave and Wisconsin Ave. NW meet, strangers often stop by the church for prayer and assistance. In previous years, individuals would come and share his or her story, and sometimes it was difficult for staff to discern if the person was truly in need, or just telling us a good story to get money. Clergy in neighboring parishes usually keep in touch with each other and share names and situations to avoid. We generally err on the side of being helpful, by offering prayer and conversation, vouchers for groceries, prescriptions or gasoline, but rarely give cash.
In the last two years, there has been a significant increase in the number of people coming to the church asking for help – jobless individuals, couples and mothers of young children asking for assistance because their electricity has been shut off, or their landlord has threatened eviction or their bank is threatening foreclosure. In the past week, 12 different people came to St. Alban’s during five weekdays asking for help and the clergy carefully examined their Pepco bills, rental invoices and mortgage statements, and then requested the parish’s Finance Director to mail small checks from our Discretionary Funds to one of their accounts, all in an effort to keep people and children warm and off the street, for a bit longer. Sometimes people are just plain hungry and we make them cheese sandwiches, or they are cold and we take them to the Op Shop for a warm coat or gloves. The crazy stories we used to hear are gone, and our response to people is actually easier to make. The words of Psalm 9:18 come to mind, often said in our Daily Office prayers, “Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” The people who are coming to our doors are truly jobless, poor, hungry and homeless now or very soon, and we cannot let them be forgotten, dismissed, rejected, and lose hope in God’s love and in the church’s goodwill. St. Alban’s supports the good work of Samaritan Ministry, the Community Council for the Homeless at Friendship Place, IONA Senior Ministries, and the feeding programs at Christ House, Grate Patrol, and SOME (So Others May Eat). We often refer our visitors to their offices for further assistance. But Clergy Discretionary Funds could really use some additional donations. If you attend St. Alban’s or a church in another town, consider making a donation to their Clergy’s Discretionary Fund or to the Outreach funds that help the poor and hungry.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” Prophet Micah 6:8
continued!… that a lay reader made many years ago. At one point, we used to include the MP responses in the service. The LR, instead of saying “Let not the needy be forgotten..” said, “Let not the greedy be forgotten…” Only a few snickers, I remember.
Carol I read this with interest and didn’t know what the response was from St Alban’s to these issues and requests – should have asked of course it has crossed my addled brain from time to time.
Very happy to make an addtional donation to the discretionary fund and rather wondered if the Mustard Seed offering might be used to strengthen the fund.
This is so interesting & I never knew that St. Albans & neighborhood churches had this type of involment! Good to know!!!
You all are soooo wonderful!!!
Thank you, Carol. St. Alban’s Clergy and staff are truly “Doers of the Word”. This is a very timely and needed reminder. Bob
I think it is a wonderful idea to have a Mustartd Seed collection benefit the discretionary fund. I know from my contacts with the homeless that St. Alban’s is known as a place where they will always be treated with dignity and helped when help is possible. Thanks Carol for reminding us of St. Alban’s long tradition of service to the poor.
Carol, thanks for the focus. I’ll keep it in mind when I visit churches. Sometimes there’s an envelope in the pews, If not, you’ve identified a year round ministry that doesn’t get much press and that’s ok.
would it be so ruinous to give someone a dollar or two?