Those of us who man the office regularly see face to face the results of economic hardship. Parishioners who volunteer at Friendship Place and Samaritan Ministry and in prison ministry do too. Often in hearing the plight of people who come for aid one can in the back of one’s mind, even while providing what assistance we can, attribute their circumstances to a lifetime of bad decisions. But not always. I recall one who was on hard times through ways that were only marginally, if at all, the result of bad decisions. His sole income, exclusively from Social Security, was about $750. His rent for a room was about $200 and another $240 went for a storage unit. Then occurred that which puts many on limited fixed incomes over the edge – a medical incident. He fell. Medicare took care of hospitalization, but not the physical therapy afterward. He was in excruciating pain even with four 600 mg tables of Ibuprofen a day. A World War II veterans, a survivor of a crash landing of a B-25 bomber, he was in his mid-80’s, with no surviving relatives. He was self-employed after the war and modestly wealthy, with his funds heavily invested in equities. He was wiped out in a market crash in the 80’s, went through bankruptcy, and he lost his home. His Social Security was so little because he contributed little to it over his lifetime, believing that he had more than enough in equities for the future. Then his life took that sudden turn, not unlike the South Park episode featuring that now-famous phrase “Annnd, it’s gone.”
There’s nothing unusual about the story It is being played out by the the thousands across America; people who did what they were told was the right thing, only to find out too late how precarious was their situation; how powerless they are against huge market forces.
Thankfully there is the church to turn to, that institution which Karl Marx famously described as the opiate of the people, but less famously observed to be the only heart in a heartless world. And thankfully the generosity of the people of St. Alban’s provides a discretionary fund that the clergy can draw on to help in these cases. But what we can do is so small compared to the need; this month’s rent perhaps, but no where near a substitute for a retirement income. Its’ not much more than a band aid for someone cut in two with a machine gun. But it is something. And St. Alban’s does as much as it can for each person who comes for help. That is the church at work in the world, the church not everyone sees, the church above and beyond stately processions and beautiful music. Thanks be to God.
“Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none who care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this Father, for the love of your Son,who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 826.)
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 3-September-2013