Pariah

Sorry, I am removing any and all endorsements from the 12 Baskets group. They have told me they don’t want to be associated with me in any way shape or form, even though none of them would have gotten involved on the street had it not been for me introducing them to it and being there constantly. They say I have been cantankerous and argumentative. Of course, the person saying that to me has been extremely cantankerous and argumentative to me, and has not been on the street that much.

I have never said I am not cantankerous. I can be. I don’t know of a single person who has been at this as long as I have who isn’t at times. It is damned hard to live at below poverty standards and keep going while pastors continue to abuse you and bishops lie and abuse you and feel threatened in their lifestyle, because the pittance you want for the homeless may cut into the grandeur of their banquets and not be considered an irritant!

I am finally quitting, because I am bankrupt after 26-1/2 years serving on the street. Some of these people who are saying these nasty things, just two weeks ago were flattering me and saying how they couldn’t do this. Then, as soon as I was quitting, it was all about how they could do it easy, because of how rich they are. They despise me because of my poverty! This is exactly what makes them unsuited for this ministry!

We are about to lose our house. No one gives a shit!
I have extreme depression and CPTSD because of CLERGY ABUSE! No one gives a shit! (Perhaps this is why I am cantankerous?)
I gave up a lucrative career to serve the poor. My children and grandchildren are wonderful, happy children, largely as a result. Thousands of inmates and poor received some hope and joy and unconditional friendship. Hundreds received HS GEDs. Hundreds learned English as a second language. A couple received their Bachelor’s degree. One graduated as a nurse Cum Laude. One became a prison chaplain. Others got their families together, etc. That’s among the homeless and inmates. Then, among our volunteers; Several found their callings to be doctors and medical missionaries and counselors and priests and nurses or to serve the homeless in other cities, while they were serving with us, because I stuck by the stuff. No one gives a shit!

I went through the court case with no support from any of these people or the church, in tears for months, in order to continue serving in the parks. No one gives a shit!

I was trying to be magnanimous. I gave my cooking gear and supplies to 12 Baskets, even while I was hearing negative comments, then it went beyond the pale.

I am a throwaway. I am a difficult person. Never mind the sociopathic priests or the bishops who refuse to deal with them and just hang up on me. Never mind the pastor who threatened to kill me. He got to keep his salary. He was the right nationality. I can just go to hell. I can’t go to church without risking a stroke. But I am “playing the victim” to say this!

Yesterday, I brought a week’s rent down to a couple, only to find out today that Social Security lost our documentation for expediting back disability pay. This means, we are likely to lose our house. This is why I quit. I was just too tired of begging to people who didn’t give a damn. All they care about is their warped view of Matthew 25. Here is a news flash. If you are serving the homeless to get into heaven, it won’t work! You can’t buy your way into heaven. Everyone is surprised at the Judgment. That is the point of that story. Judge no one. Muslims or atheists may enter before you. No one can con God. If you are doing this to earn points with God, the people can smell that on you, and it stinks to high heaven of self-righteousness. You may as well stay home.

You need to serve the poor because it is the right thing to do and because you enjoy doing it. The McGraws understand this and are faithful, loving people, with more patience than me. I am really glad that 12 Baskets is taking up this work and pray that God will bless and strengthen their hands and hearts and provide them with every good thing to continue to provide for my friends for many years! I guess I am blessing them after all. God chooses the foolish things to confound the wise. If God could use me, He can certainly use them.

Do the right thing.

“Do the right thing.” Four simple words, but not so simple in the execution. Fundamentalists will tell you that there is always a clear choice between right and wrong, good and evil; like black and white. Haven’t we seen where fundamentalists have led us too many times before? There were the persecutions of scientists like Galileo. There was the Inquisition. There were the Crusades. Pogroms against the Jews. There were the witch burnings in Salem. (My great, great … aunt Lydia was killed as a ‘witch’ there. She probably cured someone with native herbs, who was supposed to die according to “God’s will”.) There were the racially pure lynch mobs. There are the “missionaries” training African countries to kill gays. There are the fundamentalist Muslim jihadists who are killing Christians and Jews. Stalin’s various purges. (He was a fundamentalist communist.) The list goes on.

We can start out firmly (perhaps too firmly) convinced that our cause is right. We take action and things can go terribly sideways and we can become the thing that we set out opposing. This video illustrates this, when a bunch of little kids form a gang to go after a gang of older bullies to recover one of their friend’s bicycle.

We had a situation with some parallels to this at what we affectionately call Haggerty’s Home for Wayward Boys a few weeks ago. I wrote about how a local pastor basically dumped a family there in True Story. It turns out they were actively using addicts. The priest never called to check in on them, never accepted or returned their phone calls; has never offered support to John for keeping them there; did not call John to check in to thank him and check in to see how they were doing, etc.

I was working with them on a plan to aid them through withdrawal off the opioids. John was willing to work with them. He had given up his bedroom with his memory foam, queen size bed for the parents, while he slept, with broken ribs, on the lumpy couch. At my advice, he locked his shop for the first time ever. I provided them with counselling and herbs that would help detoxify their bodies more quickly to shorten the withdrawal process. they were not ready or willing to start it. They were still actively grifting and getting high and lying to everyone in the house and sowing discord.

Another resident of the house, nickname Charlie, is manic. Charlie returned from a long weekend away and caught wind of the fact that John had lent these people money. (I had told them if they asked John for one more dime, they were out of the house, because we were all helping out of a position of weakness, not of strength.) Charlie went ballistic and wanted to throw them out that night. I had to simmer him down. John was at work. It was 11pm. We agreed that Charlie could kick them out in the morning. The community did not take this decision lightly. We felt on some level that we had failed them. I did point out that they were no worse off than when they came. We had saved them from freezing to death in their car. The danger of that had passed now. They had abused the hospitality offered by lying, grifting, and continuing to do drugs. This put everyone in the house at risk. Everyone still felt bad. It was a good thing to see. Everyone still agreed that it needed to be done. The addicts had simply not bottomed out.

Charlie takes things to extremes. He called the priest and conflated the Orthodox Church and every scandal and every rumor of a scandal ever charged against the Roman Catholic church and hurled it at this priest, much like these boys in the video with their piss filled super soakers. He demanded that Fr. reimburse John for the money he had given to these people, etc. His plan was to continue the tirade by delivering the family onto the church lawn saying that Father will take care of you now. The family beat him to the punch and left before he could lead them anywhere and were already over there arguing with the priest on the lawn of the church when Charlie got there and he just observed from afar. Charlie also called the Bishop to talk to Father’s boss and left many rude and slanderous messages there.

Charlie is manic. He is brilliant. He is a hard worker. He is nearly impossible to live with. John Haggerty welcomes him into his home and gives him space to complete his work that has potential to save and help heal thousands of lives. Charlie’s full nickname is “Colonel Charlie Manson” for just these kinds of antics, but we love him.

Father did reimburse John for the $300 he had loaned the addicts and added another $100 for his troubles. God bless him.

johnsmileJohn & I have rescued each other numerous times in the last eight years that we have been neighbors. John is a solid worker in The King’s Jubilee. Our freezers are in his  shop. He makes most of our furniture deliveries. He was by my side for the whole of the court hearing when we had to sue the city. Before that, he accompanied me to all the meetings with various coalitions and groups that were strategizing to fight the mayor on his decrees against the homeless. He was very droll about meeting with more anarchists and communists and hippies, but always a good sport. He tries to keep me grounded.

John chides me for the fact that he has a houseful of homeless men. I’m not sure I can take much credit for that. Perhaps I made him more aware of the world outside of his windowless shop, but I can’t take credit for his heart of compassion or his patience.

This economy has hit him hard. He has had a hard time of it. Once one gets behind, it is next to impossible to catch up. He is in bankruptcy and that is in jeopardy. I started a GoFundMe for him this week to try to save his home and save the bankruptcy plan, so he would not lose all his tools and everything. You may also send funds directly to John without incurring any fees by designating it as a “gift” and using your Paypal to his Paypal account:
oddcoach@aol.com
Or you may mail checks to John Haggerty, 107 E. Chestnut St., Souderton, PA 18964.

So I guess it’s time for all of us to step up and “do the right thing” and rescue John’s house from foreclosure. I would also like you to consider making a monthly pledge to The King’s Jubilee, so we can provide ongoing support and a safety net for John and the men at Haggerty’s Home for Wayward Boys.




Why do I do this?

Last Thursday, while I was preparing the soup for the street, Claudia Vargas, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer was sitting across the table from me asking me questions. Her questions, and my meandering answers, forced me to re-examine why I do this ministry. Her article, while very positive, did not expose as deeply as she had delved. I guess she wanted to know if I was the real deal or not before she wrote a sympathetic article. The interview felt more like a visit to a psychologist than a press interview. (I better be careful, or she may send me a bill.)

I shared my stories of having been asked at various churches, “So, how many of the people you feed make professions of faith and end up joining a church?” And my answer: “These people are not rats, and the food we serve is not bait. I am not there to save them. I am there to save me!”

I continued by telling her that that did not make me friends in evangelical churches, who didn’t seem to want to do anything unless it was connected to proselytizing. Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they need saving. Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) For the first two years when we were serving over at the Love Park, we didn’t even say a blessing publicly. I felt that we were entering their home. If I were to enter your home as a guest at your table and proceed to stand up and say a prayer in your house, without you asking me to, that would be pretty insulting. So we would bless the food as we made it and before we got out of the car. It wasn’t until one of them asked if they could say a blessing that anything was done publicly on site. Now they expect a blessing and respect that. Now I am one of them, part of the community. Sometimes one of them wants to offer it and that is OK. We have had Muslim blessings and Hindu blessings and Jewish blessings and Evangelical blessings and Catholic blessings and Orthodox blessings and even one Native American blessing. It’s their home. We do it their way.

Claudia followed up by asking, “So you do this to save yourself, to go to heaven?”

I responded, “No. That’s absurd! No one can work to go to heaven. I may still go to hell. I’m still a selfish bastard and an ornery cuss. Ask the people who know me. In the only picture Jesus gives us of the Judgment in Mt. 25, everyone is surprised.  So I can’t decide to do this to earn heaven. … At that day some fighting fundies are probably going to be surprised to see some Muslims enter heaven and they’re going to be standing there saying ‘What the ___!'” Then I told her about the Hindu family that saved Christmas for 20 little children.

I just know that God made everyone to do something good. (I’m going to wax more eloquent than I did in the interview, while I was trying to cut carrots.)

Ephesians 2:8-10. Most people forget about verse 10. When I did the “born again” thing in the Baptist church, they gave me Ephesians 2:8-9 “assurance verses” or “salvation verses” when I made my profession of faith. Well it’s verse 10 that is the real aim of the passage.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

We were created “for good works, which God prepare beforehand that we should walk in them.” This is what I mean when I say I do this ministry ‘to save me.’ Save doesn’t just refer to the great by and by. It also refers to growing in grace and being in God’s will, and all of the aspects that lead to genuine inner happiness, sanctification, and redemption. I am being saved, that is, I know true joy by doing this service, because this is what God prepared for me to do.

How can I say this with such assurance? Isn’t this just the talk of a crazy man? Let me tell you how I got started. In January of 1989 I laid out a vision for The King’s Jubilee. I shared it with Bethann (my wife), and a few close friends, and we prayed about it and decided to launch in February. I presented this vision to about 150 inmates in the E-Block Bible Study at SCI Graterford, a maximum security state prison, during our 1-1/2 hour Saturday morning session. One of the requirements of our organization is that everyone is involved in some way directly in the ministry. There are no Monday morning quarterbacks on the board. So I asked the men what they thought I should do for my personal involvement in The King’s Jubilee. Now this was a novel experiment and a risky business, to have 150 inmates in a free for all discussion, and ask them to arrive at a consensus. This was not an established block with an ordered hierarchy. This was the intake block to the institution. They were all getting to know one another and the prison. Within five minutes, they came to a universally accepted consensus that I should minister to the homeless in center city Philadelphia. I considered that pretty miraculous. I took that as my Macedonian call and we started in February 1989. I recruited a couple of guys and we went down on Wednesday nights. We took over for a little store-front church who were serving two nights a week. We have never seen a reason to quit. We have been harassed by three different mayors. We have been investigated by under cover police at least three times that I am aware of.

We had to sue the current mayor in federal court to continue to serve, and won. In that court case the mayor’s lawyer asked me about motivation, too. He asked, “What percentage of the people who serve the homeless do it out of a religious conviction?” I was a mess on the stand. I was crying the whole time. I was crying for months after the decree was supposed to go into effect and the hearing was no exception.  I replied, “All of them, according to Jesus. When I read my Bible, He says that ‘If you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto Me’, so even if they don’t know it, that is their motivation.” The lawyer wasn’t the least bit happy. He asked, “What percentage would you estimate would they say their motivation is religious?” I said, “Now that would be hearsay. I didn’t think hearsay was admissible in a court of law. If you want me to make a wild guess, I can, but that’s what it would be, a wild guess. I don’t think I can do as well as Jesus. About 70% of the organizations are openly religiously based, but I have friends who are religious who work with Food Not Bombs and LAVA and Occupy who are not religious organizations. Their involvement is still religiously based, so it is still only Jesus who can sort it out, I’m afraid.” I was crying and shaking. The mayor’s lawyer was still not very happy and visibly angry.

The other thing that I wanted to make clear is that I am not anything special. I am just doing what I was made to do. I get upset when people make a big fuss, because that generally means that they are excusing themselves from whatever it is that they are supposed to be doing unto God. Now the good works that God made for you may look, and probably will look, completely different than the good works that God made for me to do. Somebody has to take care of the aging horses. We need compassionate doctors. We all should appreciate our hardworking postal workers, especially the cheerful ones who go the extra mile. I have worked at many different jobs to be able to keep doing this. Through the years, I have painted houses, landscaped, done roof inspection, run blue prints, managed an office, made icons, sold security systems, photocopied, drafted roof details, designed home improvements, sold advertising, waxed floors, detailed houses, etc., all to be able to support myself and my family with a flexible enough schedule so that I could do this ministry. Why? It’s what God made for me to do. I am not happy unless I get to do it. And I want to be happy. I am just that selfish!

Less than spectacular start

What can I say? Our rent party and kick off to our Virtual Rent Party was somewhat less than fantastic. We are grateful for those who came and a few generous souls who gave, but it is not enough. We raised a net of $525. We needed to raise about $4,000. The mortgage company will not take partial payment. We received the notice of foreclosure from their attorney today. People ask us what we are doing about our situation.

Bethann has been looking for work for over a year since the bank let her go. She went through training for a dental assistant. They did not tell her that she would need to be certified as an X-ray tech. to get a job and that they were not offering that course for another year. It’s amazing to us how people just play free and loose with other people’s lives. She is now going to school for medical office administration. It is a year long course. It is pretty intense.

Over the last four years, I have had some pretty intense health challenges. It started in October 2009 with what we thought was MRSA on my neck. It had to be lanced and treated with antibiotics. I had bad reactions to some of those. It was the first Thanksgiving I missed with the family.

On Tuesday morning, October 19, 2010, I landed in the ER with inexplicable pain in my back and 103 fever. They took vials of blood and lots of X-rays and sent me home at 2am on Valium and Percocet. Later on Wednesday, I went back for a complete MRI of my spine. It took over an hour. Thursday, a Dr. called and told me to stop the Valium, because he thought I had cancer and I had to be Valium free for 10 days for them to take a biopsy. I found someone to cover for me for that night for the city. The Percocet did not cut it. I was literally screaming with pain. They had found what they thought was a tumor the size of a large plum attached to my spine at T-11, T-12, L-1. That Saturday morning the hospital called me and told me they looked at it again and considered my history and thought it was more likely an infection. Come to the ER right away. They started me on IV Vancomycin. They also put me on a morphine drip and a Fentanyl patch. I spent a week in the hospital, then left to continue the IV treatments at home. I ended up back in the hospital, because my PICC line got infected. I had to have it removed and a new one installed in the other arm. They sent me home again after a few days. Then I started to react to the antibiotic. So I went back to the hospital. I was a real puzzle for Dr. Jonathon Cohen, since I was now allergic to six classes of antibiotics. They decided to give me a brand new one.

It was my first day there and Dr. Jerry Burke was just stopping by to visit. He is my good friend, not my doctor. He looked at the monitors and saw that I was crashing, He grabbed my bed and started to undo things and called the nurse and said, “This man is moving to ICU!” She asked if he had doctor’s orders for that. He replied that he would get that in good time. Meanwhile they were moving me. This was the second time Jerry saved my life. I spent nearly a week in intensive care with kidney failure. I also had respiratory problems while in there. They were afraid I was going into Steven Johnson Syndrome, so they put me on Prednisone. I was sent home the weekend before Thanksgiving with a much simpler IV that did not require a machine. I missed another Thanksgiving with the family. I was still reacting to drugs well into December. The Prednisone put my blood sugar all out of whack. That was a long road back with an adjusted diet. Everything finally seemed fine, then I broke out in hives from head to toe in the middle of January for no known reason.

When I came out of the hospital I had a clamshell body brace and a walker. I used the walker to walk around the block. My neighbor, John Haggerty, had moved all of my tools into his shop to make my icons to keep my business alive. He did not know the shipping and billing end of it though. So we had missed an entire Christmas season. I was trying to catch up on orders and to catch up on bills.

We had been waiting for the money to be released from the church to finish the barn. It finally was, so John and I went forward to get the permits and buy the materials and planned to get it done that summer. Then the weekend before my birthday, I had a terrific migraine that lasted for three days with visual effects lasting all through it. I went to the Dr. and she sent me over to the hospital for an MRI on my birthday, June 14, 2011. The next day, I got the results that I had had three little strokes and that I was to report to the hospital. I spent a week on the telemetry unit having every imaginable heart test, scan, image, with contrast, without, etc. The debilitating migraines continued all summer long, for days, sometimes weeks at a time, with no more than 8 days without from June 11 to Sept. 11. I was hospitalized two more times with a 3 or 4 trips to the ER besides, that summer. I had 12 documented strokes. At HUP, we discovered that the migraines caused the strokes. So that was a whole summer shot in the head. We still don’t know what causes the migraines. Since then we have adjusted my medication and vitamins and minerals several times to try to prevent them. I have had an estimated 30 to 50 little strokes with some permanent damage. So we didn’t get most of the work done on the barn that we had planned.

So we try to pick up the pieces of the business again and work on a new drug and vitamin regime, with regular visits to the doctor and the neurologist. The migraines continue with more strokes. At times, I can’t work for a week at a time. 2012 was taken up with the lawsuit against Mayor Nutter and the City of Phila. and that whole mess. I cried the whole months of June and July, because of that. I went through the trial with no support whatsoever from my priest. I had an MRI on my birthday again, because I thought the infection on my spine had come back, because of the exquisite pain. That’s when I learned that the infection had eaten into my spine and I have significant arthritis. The migraines continued. I started 2013 with a bad case of bronchitis that laid me low for three weeks. So I was behind on orders. Then I was in pain. The migraines started again. Then the main iconographer whose work I carried withdrew his work from my site, notifying me by email. By July, it became apparent that with all of my illnesses and the reduced collection, the business was no longer viable, so I closed it.

This summer, my spine started hurting continually. I am in constant pain. My eyes are almost always involuntarily tearing. I cannot take enough painkiller for it, nor do I dare to. I take a lot of turmeric and ginger. Most nights I have to take a Percocet to sleep a couple of hours.

We kept plugging away, serving more meals. The population on the street has gone up. We are serving more than 200 meals each week. Plus we are helping several men transition off of the street. If we can survive economically until disability kicks in, in a couple of months; and until the new insurance exchange kicks in on Jan. 1, we will be in a much better situation to handle things. Once Bethann finds a job in a physician’s office, we will be OK. It would be a shame to lose everything after coming so close.

Right now, we are paying $1450/month for mortgage plus escrow and $1100 for Cobra insurance per month. I write all of this to answer the questions. We have been serving the poor, the homeless and the imprisoned since 1984. Anyone who really knows how we live knows that this house is a base of operations for service and a place of hospitality and respite for any in need.

I did not write this to be a downer. It is not too late. Please help us save our home and the base of operations for this ministry. The King’s Jubilee is in its 25th year. Please don’t let it go down for lack of an adequate safety net. This ministry is needed now, more than ever. I cannot believe it would be God’s will for it to fold now.

Please pray and consider what you can do for an emergency gift now, and then for a sustaining pledge monthly. God bless you as you bless the poor and homeless in Jesus’ Name.

This is Not an Antiochian Ministry.

When I started this ministry, 24 years ago, I had been a Mennonite prison chaplain who was also ordained in the New Jerusalem Pentecostal Holiness Church. The King’s Jubilee actually started in State Correctional Institution at Graterford in the Saturday morning E Block Bible study. E Block was the quarantine unit at the time, where inmates first came into the state system to be sorted out to be shipped to the various institutions where they were to do their time.

Things had gotten funky with the Mennonites. One of the pastors who had founded the prison ministry I supervised threatened to kill me when I would not allow him to bring contraband, inflammatory literature into the Montgomery County Correctional Facility. We went through a conflict mediation process. Everyone there agreed that he was in the wrong, but he would not budge or admit any wrong. In the end, it was a case of if you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much, and I was fired the week before Christmas, even though I had given three months notice so they could have an orderly transition and not damage or lose ministries. They did not care. The ministry in Philadelphia with over 300 volunteers and the only tutoring for women was shut down. Chaplain Sid Barnes at Graterford let me keep the Wednesday Bible Study and the Quarantine Unit ministry, because I had been the most faithful in them. In the case of the latter, I had started it. It was in this Bible study that the vision for this ministry was formulated. It is the vision of Christ’s first message in the synagogue, which was taken from Isaiah 60, “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord!”

Yes, we serve meals to homeless people in center city Philadelphia, but that is not all we do; and that is not all we have done or all we hope to do! Serving the homeless in center city was the task the men in the E Block Bible Study particularly assigned me to do. You see, I told them that no one in this organization I was starting was going to just sit on a board and Monday morning quarterback. Everyone was going to be on the front lines. Furthermore, I wanted them to tell me where I should serve. Within five minutes, 150 convicted felons came to consensus, with no input from me, that they wanted me to serve the homeless in center city Philadelphia. If any of you know this demographic, you should recognize what kind of miracle this was. I took this as my “Macedonian Call”. I started to serve one night a week and have not found a good reason to quit. During Mayor Wilson Goode’s years, we dealt with the rowdy crack heads and the prostitutes. Fast Eddie Rendell had the police harass us all the time. We were investigated by his undercover units at least three times. Each time, I managed to tell them that we would go to jail rather than stop serving, because we needed to obey God rather than men. Mayor Street’s cops tried to tell us that the parks were private property. He was about to aggressively enforce the sidewalk ordinance, when “a routine sweep for bugs” turned up FBI bugs in his office and he had bigger fish to fry. Last year, Mayor Nutter decreed that we could not give away food to poor people in the parks. We had to sue him in federal court to retain our right to do so.

While this was going on, we started a clothing ministry in East Greenville, Clothesline, that continued at Peace Mennonite Church. We also held several music festivals for the poor and homeless in Philadelphia and Pottstown. We served for several years in Pottstown and Stowe, PA. We started a similar ministry at two sites in Columbia, SC, that a local Vineyard church took ownership of. The prison ministry at Graterford continued for several years, until Gov. Tom Ridge stopped all ministry in the prison in a knee jerk reaction to an incident in the mosque there, in 1996. We did Project: Lydia in Northampton County Prison for the women until they did not allow us to include notes or New Testaments. We had a Monday Evening Bible Institute for a couple of years. We started Operation: Clean Start. We have moved countless sets of furniture for people moving into apartments. There have been various other projects.

In 1999, we were chrismated into the Orthodox Church. Our family happened to come into  an Antiochian Orthodox Church. The King’s Jubilee remains independently incorporated. I am sorry that I was so zealous, as converts often are, that almost all of our former supporters and volunteers dropped out of the ministry, as they saw this as an “Orthodox ministry.” I don’t know why this is such a problem, because my theology has not changed. When I first interviewed with Fr. Boniface, he kept asking me questions. With every answer, he just said, “You are so Orthodox!” Later, I found out that he was right. I had just read the Scriptures and the Fathers and had been Orthodox in my theology for many years and had just been longing for home. That being said, there is no reason my old friends can not join me. We have had Jews and atheists and Muslims and Methodists and Buddhists and Catholics serve with us and they have been happy as clams. We are not there to proselytize anyone. I still say what I have always said, “We do what we do in Jesus’ Name. If you don’t have a problem with that, I don’t have a problem with you joining us.” “In Jesus’ Name” does not mean that we preach at people. It means that we serve according to His will, with respect, love and dignity.

The occasion of this article is that I had a conversation this week with someone who told me that she wanted her church to support The King’s Jubilee, but wasn’t sure they would, because someone would say, “Well, they are Antiochian. Let the Antiochians do it.” I replied, “That’s stupid!”

We receive no budgeted or regular support from the Antiochian Church. My question to you is: Are you Christian?

This is ridiculous! No wonder the Orthodox Church is going nowhere as far as gospel witness is concerned. People say that it is growing fast in America, but that is only because the other churches are imploding under theological liberalism and gnosticism. There are fewer Mennonites in North America than there are Orthodox, yet they support 1,000 foreign missionaries, while we Orthodox barely support 20. We are going to punish the poor, because I was chrismated in an Antiochian church? Hey folks, I’m not Syrian. I’m not Greek. I’m not Russian. I’m not Serbian. I’m not Armenian. I’m not Ukrainian. I’m not Albanian. I’m not Georgian. I am American. Some of my ancestors have been here since 1628. I am trying to be Christian. I suggest that you try to be, too.

Jesus did not come to preserve ethnicities. He came to “build a new nation.” We have too much that needs to get done to worry about which bishop or which ethnicity or even which denomination or even which religion we belong to. Read Matthew 25. Everyone is surprised at the Judgment!

I’m going forward. I am sick of this Orthodox infighting and the jurisdictional nonsense. If this upsets you, I’m sorry. People are dying homeless on the streets. I think that is more important than whether or not we do things in the Antiochian or Greek or Russian way or not.

Lead. Follow. Or get out of the way.

We serve in Jesus’ Name.

Looking Forward

confettifbhThis month marks the completion of the twenty fourth year of The King’s Jubilee ministering  in Jesus’ Name. People tell me that this is a feat in and of itself, while I am disappointed we have not accomplished so much more of what we set out to do. One thing is certain, we cannot run the race to win, if we are looking backward.

I think, as Orthodox Christians, we have forgotten this. We are always remembering our traditions and our Traditions. We are remembering our Saints and our feast days and our ethnicities, forgetting that Jesus wanted to take us from many and mold us into “one new nation.” The Saints looked forward to the prize and understood that the traditions are not there to bind us to a dead past. They are there to bind us into the living vine and give us a running start into the future; if we let them. But we need to understand that they are not the end in themselves. They are scaffolding, if you will. The services of the church are not just there to perpetuate the services of the church. That would be a grand Ponzi scheme or like Amway without the soap. Yes they have beauty. Yes they are worship. Yes they have value by themselves, but they are apostolically intended to equip us and save us to DO good works, not to sit around and just be saved.

St. Paul laid out the purpose of the church in his Epistle to the Ephesians, especially in chapter 4:1-15

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord,one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  [NIV]

The church is given the gift of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers”, sometimes called the five-fold ministry, “to equip his people”, the church, ” for works of service”; that’s the part we have been neglecting. Works of service are good works out in the world. The early church rescued abandoned infants who were left to die. They buried the pagan dead, whose families could not afford or risk the time for proper burials. These works are not recorded in our writings, because there were not arguments over them like there were over doctrines and church government, etc. They were recorded in the accounts of pagan witnesses who marveled at the risks Christians would take to do such acts of generosity, compassion and courage for people who were not even part of their faith community. It was the substance of what it was to be a Christian. These tasks are what knit the church together while they were hammering out the other issues. It was the soap.

I have been trying to communicate this for years. Recently, Richard Stearns coined the term in the title of his book which speaks of this very problem: The Hole in Our Gospel. It is not just the Orthodox who are plagued by this blind spot. We tend to get focused on organizational maintenance, instead of mission achievement.

Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” The gates of hell are not going to mess with the church if the church is not doing anything to mess with them. In that case, they are already winning. The gates of hell need to be stormed!

We have a vision to end homelessness in Center City Philadelphia in the next five years. It is very doable. However, it is impossible if we keep acting the way we have been acting and thinking that we can just be happy serving people meals on the street for the duration.

Last year, we had to sue in federal court to keep serving food to homeless people in the parks legal. I received exactly zero support from the archdiocese and the local church to do that. Two parish friends did come on their own to witness the proceedings for one day, but I received no pastoral counsel or encouragement. At the time, I was so involved in the case, my health and focus on the business suffered and we nearly lost our house. If we want to make a difference, we can’t just leave each other hang out to dry like that. I searched for the church for 30 years to have a covering for situations like this, not to be left totally alone like I was. So this ministry making it to its 25th year has been a feat by the grace of God.

The case brought into focus our reason for existence. It is not to serve ourselves and just satisfy our own religious needs to serve the poor. That would be to objectify these homeless people. No. We need to meet them as brothers and sisters like St. John Chrysostom said, “If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.” As we serve, occasionally we are surprised by grace and we may even find Christ. In the hearing, I also learned that there are only 170 homeless men and women who live in the parkway area. This is consistent with the number we serve. I say only, because this is a very manageable number to target to help them transition off the street. But we need to do it in a caring, Christian manner, that respects their freedom and their dignity, and equips them with the social network to cope in their new surroundings. I feel there are many in the Orthodox Church, with their immigrant experience, who are uniquely suited to this ministry. There are transferable skills of adjustment.

We need to think on a larger scale than what we have been thinking. We can do so much more. And in so doing, Christ will be glorified! We have always had a motto here: “If we can’t do it in Jesus’ Name, we don’t have time to do it.” That’s why we have never received government or United Way funds and never will. We want to be doing God’s work without strings. God’s work should be paid for by God’s people. Let us set the pace and be the example. If the government likes what they see, they can try to copy it.

If you just want to make yourself feel good about helping people, or want to make the kids in Sunday School feel good about helping people, yes, we’ll take your money and your sandwiches and your power packs. People, this may help communicate a tiny aspect of the gospel to five and six year olds, but it is not the core task of the Church, and it is not the best we can do for the homeless! We need to mature in our faith. We are to be making such a difference in the world that the world takes notice and either wants to be like us or wants to kill us! I can assure you that no one was ever martyred for having chanted the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete perfectly or even near perfectly. But “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12) To “live godly” is to care for the poor and the fatherless, the widows and the orphans.

There were not always homeless on the streets. There is no reason there should be homeless on the streets now, except for the greed of others. We have more than enough vacant homes to house all of the homeless. That is prima facie evidence for a failure of our economic system. But, just in Philadelphia, if we can muster the pressure and creativity, we can restructure the existing resources to end homelessness at a lower cost than what the social service/prison/shelter industry is spending today. We need to work together. We need to be prophetic. We can be the salt and the light that God created us to be in Christ. We need to understand that it is more important to be Christian than it is to be Greek or to be Russian or to be Lebanese or to be Serbian or to be Dutch, etc. We find when we get out into the world and do works of service together, that we are then “built up” and we begin to “reach unity in the faith.”

We are trying to solicit monthly pledges of support, so that we can actually have a reliable base so we can make a difference and start working our plan. We have received a few pledges. Mostly, we have received one time gifts and some people wanting to make sandwiches. Thank you. But we won’t be able to move off square one at this rate.

People have been talking about Orthodox Christian jurisdictional unity in North America for years. What would be the point? Let’s start working together. Let’s make a difference in our world for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s make a difference in Philadelphia, where no one works together! Let us show them how. We will find unity. We will naturally grow together into the head, who is Christ. The jurisdictions will eventually catch up. It may take them a while. They are not used to dramatic forward movement.

I dropped the F bomb in the negotiation.

When Mayor Nutter made his decrees that started this whole mess last March, his stated goal was that he wanted Philadelphia to be the first major city in America to end homelessness on its streets. We sued and in federal court won a preliminary injunction based on the evidence that his ban on public serving of food in parks, besides violating religious freedom, did nothing to further that goal. The decision rendered by Judge Yohn was clear on this.

The Mayor challenged the decision within hours of receiving the printed 55 page decision. This would have meant a full trial, early next year, except our attorney made a counter offer for negotiations instead. We are to negotiate a course of action which would make the outdoor serving of food in the parks to the poor and homeless unnecessary or obsolete. To the four of us plaintiffs, the only thing that could really mean is to realize Mayor Nutter’s stated goal. We were looking forward to these negotiations as a path to work with the Mayor to bring this about. Our lawyer, Paul Messing, when he told us about the possibility of these negotiations, held them out as just this sort of hope. And that at the end of the day we would all be singing Mr. Nutter’s praises as the mayor who ended homelessness in this city!

Well, we finally get to the first negotiating session, after two postponements, one for Sen. Specter’s funeral, one for Sandy, and all the city seems to want to talk about is more indoor soup kitchens. Somebody apparently wasn’t listening at the hearing. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll come. I finally spoke up and said that we needed to address homelessness, not the appearance of homelessness. To start with, you could staunch the flow of new homeless families by streamlining the Section 8 housing process. When someone gets evicted, instead of them having to go through the whole process of breaking up the family, foster care, being homeless, navigating the shelter system, waiting for Section 8, etc. This puts the adults at risk for abuse and open to addictions. It puts the children in unstable situations. If this were short-circuited, so the evicted family could go directly into Section 8 housing and have appropriate counseling available to them to help them avoid the situation that got them evicted, everyone would be better off. It would save the city money, as well.

The mayor’s lawyer cut me off all hot and bothered, saying that the city did not have to do anything as a result of these negotiations. I was expecting too much. I needed to lower my expectations. I tried to remind her that her boss started this whole mess because he SAID he wanted to end homelessness in the city. Now does he or not?

That’s when I announced that I was going to drop the F bomb. That got everybody’s attention. Paul cracked, “This, from the guy who gets on me for my salty language.” (I never have.)

I said, “Fraud is endemic in the homeless, social work system.” I told them about social workers telling long term homeless clients what symptoms they are to report to their doctors in order to get SSI and Section 8 housing. Then they warn them before drug tests that they have to take any psycho-actives that they have been prescribed in order to keep their apartments. Their numbers have been looking good for moving long term homeless off the street, but they are still homeless, just homeless in bigger boxes. They have no social network in the neighborhood through these agencies. They still hang out in center city during the day, sometimes late into the night. The system stinks. It needs stirring up. We can end homelessness without costing more, if we are willing to rethink things, and if we are willing to stir things up!

My prior announcement slowed them down enough in shock that I was able to make my case while they were still processing the word “fraud”.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves”

Please pray for me and for all of us as we sit down with the City of Philadelphia to negotiate a way to end homelessness in the City of Philadelphia. The first time we tried to meet, Sen. Arlen Specter’s funeral happened. The second time we were to meet, Superstorm Sandy happened.
We are scheduled to meet on Dec. 3.

Please pray for lack of hindrance, clear minds and clear communication. Thank you.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
“Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

– Proverbs 31:8-9

We Have an Agreement!

We just received word from our attorney, Paul Messing, that the federal judge approved the agreement between the City of Philadelphia and The King’s Jubilee, Chosen 300, The Welcome Church and Philly Restart.

We could not be more pleased. This represents an amazing opportunity to accomplish what Mayor Nutter said he wanted to do in the first place: to be the first city in America to end homelessness on its streets! We are grateful for the opportunity we are being given to work with the city to bring this to pass. We will be meeting with the city on a regular basis, supervised by the court, to negotiate a plan to help people move off of the street and into permanent housing; and ways to provide services to those who find themselves homeless to find appropriate services indoors immediately.

The agreement was hard won, but it is just one step. Now the real work begins. We really do need to up our game like I said in my previous post and like many of you may have received in your mail boxes by now. Our ministry will need to change shape. We are happy to do that! We need more resources to do that. I need to be full time in this ministry to really take us to the next level. We can’t do that with eight faithful monthly donors with a monthly base of $535. We have been serving about 1,000 meals each month and delivering furniture and clothing and toiletries and providing various other services for less than that. I have also landed in the hospital with mysterious ailments each of the last three years.

Sorry. I started out celebrating. This is such great news! I want to be a part of ending homelessness in Philadelphia before I die. It should be done with a strong Gospel witness. Now is the time to dig deep and support something great!

Please make a monthly pledge. It doesn’t have to be huge. Many hands make light work.

Order Approving Interim Agreement

We Need to Up Our Game

It's personal.
Alex

It is time to take The King’s Jubilee to the next level, if we really want to be serious about addressing the needs of the poor and homeless in Jesus’ Name. Please read on and prayerfully consider how you may participate in this life-changing ministry. Thank you!

We are on the cusp of something amazing! We have the opportunity of actually ending homelessness in Philadelphia! Ironically, it is because of the city’s crackdown and our lawsuit that makes this a possibility. But we need to step up to the plate. We need to seriously up our game! We cannot be a one day a week and sometimes on weekends ministry. Why should it be us? Because we have been working with these guys for nearly thirty years. They trust us. Relationship is the key to this puzzle.

Let me tell you some stories.

“Get me some help or die!”

I met Bob in the county jail. Then he was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, which was the largest maximum security prison in the country at the time. He attended our Bible studies there. He kept his nose clean and was paroled in minimum time. I would see him around town, so he knew where I worked. He seemed to be doing OK. Then one summer day, about noon, he came into the architectural office where I was office manager. My desk was right by the back door. I was heading for my desk as he came in the back door holding a pistol in his pocket. He was high.

He told me I had to get him into a drug rehab today or he would kill me. He said he had tried and tried and they all had waiting lists and prerequisites. He was afraid if he waited, he wouldn’t want to, or he would overdose, or he would kill somebody. He just wanted to stop now. I tried to calm him down. I stayed amazingly calm. God’s grace was with me. It was almost like I was watching from outside myself, as he held the gun to my back. I explained to the receptionist that I would be taking the rest of the day off for a ministry emergency. No one ever saw the gun, and I never told them the story.

We walked to my car and I drove Bob to a private, drug, inpatient, rehabilitation center that I knew was equipped to deal with violent patients. The whole twenty miles there, he was pointing the gun at my side. I coached him as to exactly how he had to act to get in that day. He had to leave the gun behind. He could not threaten anyone else personally, but he had to present himself as someone who was an immediate threat to himself. If he were too subdued, they would not admit him. If he were too violent, they would arrest him. He complied. He was still high, but he followed the script perfectly. He was in a straitjacket and admitted within an hour.

His girlfriend came and retrieved his gun from my car. We followed up with visits to Bob while he was in rehab and after he was released. Bob got clean and sober and had another chance at life.

“I don’t believe in any of that God stuff, but you’re really special!”

Oscar would always make it a point to thank us for coming out to serve. He would sometimes observe the Philadelphia police treating us ill or the crack addicts acting up, being less than civil. He would ask me what made me come back again and again. I told him, “Jesus loves you and He compels me to be here.” Oscar would say, “I don’t believe in any of that God stuff, but you’re really special!”

We would see him off and on over a period of a couple of years. We would have a similar exchange most nights after talking about literature or history or the arts. He was about 50. He did not fit the stereotype that most people have for a homeless person. He was white, always clean and presentable, well read, sane. One night after our conversation, he surprised me. He said, “I thank God for you.”

I went home with tears in my eyes.

That was the last time I was to see Oscar. He died of a heart attack not long after that.

 It’s Personal.

“The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:21] The “you” is plural so this could be translated “the kingdom of God is among (or between) you.” The point is that the kingdom of God is not some event or happening or place that you can be the first of your friends to discover. It is not a social or political movement or worldly empire, although it can and will shake all of these to their foundations. The kingdom of God is among us. We experience the kingdom of God whenever we recognize a unique reflection of the glory of God in another person or it is so recognized in us by another. It can come as a fleeting flash of insight or last a lifetime of mutual care and forgiveness. It is what knits us together as brothers and sisters, knits our marriages together, ends our loneliness. This is personal, not institutional. This is messy and unpredictable. This cannot be programmed in or out. God will not be confined to our box.

All ministry is personal.

Every person we meet uniquely reflects something of the image of God. God sees something lovable and worth dying for in each and every person we meet. I instruct all of our volunteers to pray something like this: Lord, with each person I meet today, show me what it is about them that you love. I always follow up with the warning: Be prepared to have your heart broken when He starts to answer this prayer.

On Saturday, November 20, 2010, Alexander Bejliri, visited me at Grand View Hospital. Alex and I have known each other for almost 25 years. Alex has been homeless or in various rooming houses all of these years. He works as a dishwasher or odd jobs. Through the years, whenever I have been sick and had to miss going down to the street, he would call me at home to check in on me. With this illness, he was beside himself with concern for me, not being able to imagine what could have happened to me to keep me away for so long.

During my second hospitalization, he called me repeatedly to try to figure out how to visit me. I told him the name of the hospital and that it is in Sellersville, but there is no public transportation from Philadelphia to it. I asked him to pray for me. He told me that he went to Ss. Peter and Paul Basilica and prayed for me every day. He insisted that he needed to visit me in person. I thanked him for his prayers and said I would be discharged shortly. When I was hospitalized the third time, I ended up in ICU with my cellphone turned off and no non-family phone calls forwarded to my room. As soon as he discovered I was out of ICU and could receive visitors, he determined to make the trek. He took the train to Lansdale; then took the bus to the end of the line at Landis’ Supermarket in Telford. Then he walked five and a half miles to the hospital. Still, he did not sit down during his visit. He was amazed that I had a walker and needed to use it.

Even after all Alex had gone through to visit me, he was amazed that none of the homeless guys had visited me. He thought nothing of his sacrifice and care to visit me, but treated it only as what should be expected of a friend. He shook his head that I should be brought low like this after serving the poor for 25 years. I tried to assure him that God was using it for good. Since I was laid up, more people were getting involved in the ministry and taking on more responsibility. He said something that blew me away: “Others come and then don’t come. For 25 years you come and you serve the poor peoples. You come in the rain and in the snow and when the sun shines. We look for your face, your face, your face! We look for your face.”

The kingdom of God is among us.

It’s personal.

I just can’t stop crying.

When Mayor Nutter’s decree prohibiting serving food to the homeless in the parks of Philadelphia was supposed to go into effect on June 1, I began to cry. I could not help it. I cried openly for over a week. I cried at the drop of a hat until we won our preliminary injunction to stop it. I was still down and depressed because the injunction only covered the four plaintiffs and was not final. I’m still not right. I was a mess on the witness stand. Politicians and lawyers play free and loose with so-called principles and points of law and rights, but we are talking about living, breathing, human beings, who have feelings, and bleed red blood.

Regardless of what the mayor says his intent was, to homeless people, it felt like a solid blow to the gut! People were saying, “Why does he hate us so?” “Why is he ashamed of us?” One even said, “I worked for his campaign and now he kicks me in the teeth like this?”

It was wrongheaded and it was hurtful.

When the homeless community in Philadelphia is hurting, I am hurting. Christ called me to serve them and has knit me together with them.

Out of this battle, however, we can rise like a Phoenix to actually hammer out a plan, working with the mayor and the city, to end homelessness in the city. I know we always will have the poor, but there is no excuse for them to be homeless. This is more than a money problem. There are trust issues. There are issues of reintegration into neighborhoods and families. Government can do money and property and social service nuts and bolts stuff. But it is not in a position to handle the trust and reintegration issues. By God’s grace, we at The King’s Jubilee are. So, we are coming to a place of healing and reconciliation to work together.

Where you come in:

This is where you come in. We won’t hold a gun to your back. We might make you cry. It definitely is personal! We need your support.

I have been trying to run a business, “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art, and a ministry, The King’s Jubilee, by myself. I started the business in 2000, hoping that it would take off and be able to support the ministry in such a way that I could be full time in ministry. That has not happened. I have had various health problems, some probably stemming from exposures on the street. Although, it could be that I am just too old to be moonlighting to this extent. At any rate, between health issues and ministry, I don’t do a very good job at the business, and I get cranky with customers.

I have consulted with several Orthodox priests in the Philadelphia area, and they support my vision. My time would be better spent being full time serving among the homeless, helping them to transition off of the street. We hope to acquire an operations center in Philadelphia for training of volunteers, for bicycle rebuilding, for job preparation for the homeless, a place to do laundry, and for counseling and prayer.

Bishop THOMAS is a strong endorser of this ministry and has joined us on the street on a couple of occasions. We do not receive budgeted support from any church or diocese. We depend on almsgiving and monthly pledges and live by faith. To this point, we have had 5 monthly donors for a base of support of $445. With that and random other donations, we deliver and serve over 1,000 meals in Jesus’ Name and provide other services.

We are looking for a thousand small donors who will pledge monthly support. Please pray and consider what you can give. One donor set up a regular donation with a direct transfer, avoiding credit card charges. You may wish to mail a check, or have us debit your account, or use Paypal. The Paypal Donate button is up on the right or you can get contact information here. Whatever you are comfortable with.

We are suggesting $10 or $20 per month.

May God bless you as you bless the poor and homeless in Jesus’ Name.