First, I want to say thank you to all of those who have supported us through the years and have participated in this ministry. May God bless you! I am sorry if any of you feel I have not said that enough. It is at the end of most, but not all blog entries on this blog.
Second, we will be serving meals in the park this Thursday and next Thursday, May 7, will be our last, due to lack of support from the church.
Third, I was just told to “stop playing the victim!” I am sorry, but I am not playing. I really do suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being bullied by clergy, Orthodox, Protestant & Anabaptist. Most recently this has caused churches to be ashamed of me and this ministry, even though I have been told by two Orthodox Bishops and several Orthodox Priests to not shut up and to not give in to bullies, even if they are priests or bishops! Clergy are not infallible. We are in foreclosure again because of sickness and stresses of this ministry and the slowness of the Social Security Administration. I honestly identify with and empathize with the people on the street. I have been regularly attacked for this in the press, by city administrations, by pastors, by fellow church goers.
Jesus identified with the poor and outcast. So I still think I’m in good company. I will continue to serve as I can. I don’t know what that will look like. But I need to find more likeminded people who aren’t ashamed to be seen with me. In other words, I need someone to minister to me like I have ministered among the homeless for over 26 years.
It’s been over a month since our 25th anniversary banquet. I have been trying to write a post about that and have made several attempts. I get to the fifth line and get stuck. It was a great evening. Rev. Bec Cranford-Smith did a great job delivering the keynote message. I know I forgot several things, which is probably a good thing, since I droned on long enough. We forgot to put out the leftover boxes for people to take extras home with them. There were plenty! I was disappointed by those who could not make it, but that did not detract at all from the joy of the company of those who did. For me personally, it was great to finally meet, in person, Bec Cranford- Smith. We had different stories of how we found each other on the web. It was obviously meant to be. We have been encouragement to each other in ministry. We have more than a name in common. We share the same zeal to serve the poor and disenfranchised; to go outside the camp to meet Jesus.
The last post on this blog was a nearly impossible quiz taken from the last 25 years of The King’s Jubilee. Some of the questions are light-hearted; others, not so much. I was the only one there who knew the answers to all of them. That fact is unsettling to me. Through the years, I have been on a quest, looking for the Church that Jesus established, that had authority and understood accountability. Through the years, churches kept ordaining me. I never asked for it. Let’s be real. The Episcopalian bishop ordained me to the priesthood at my infant baptism! I was ordained in absentia by proxy in a Pentecostal Holiness church I had never attended! So as I was making this journey, volunteers, friends and supporters would fall away and new ones would take their places in each different denomination. To further hinder things on the friendship and support side, I have spent most of my time and energy with inmates, ex-offenders, poor, and homeless people. So many times when I see a familiar face, I’m not sure if I met them in one of the many churches I have been to, or in one of the many prisons I have served in. If I’m looking puzzled at you, please help me out. I’ve had six or more strokes, so there are gaps in the memory. So, back on track. It is unsettling to me, because so many Christians are willing to drop you like a dead fish, if you are no longer in their denomination or parish or jurisdiction. It doesn’t matter that I have kept doing the same thing in the same way for over 25 years. It doesn’t seem to matter that we could do so much more for the poor and homeless if we had more people involved and supporting. What matters is, I left their church. They will sooner do nothing or give to secular agencies or people they don’t know at all. They will sooner give to agencies that spend a lot of money on literature and marketing and administration and overhead, because it looks like something substantial. Jesus didn’t look like anything substantial. He had “nowhere to lay his head.”
I thought I had found the church founded by Jesus Christ in the Orthodox Church. It was great under the former metropolitan and the former priest in our parish. It seemed like there was accountability and obedience and give and take in the assemblies. Then Fr. Noah came and the first thing he said to me is to put me down, even before he knew me. He felt it was his duty to humiliate parishioners. But Paul told Timothy to build up not to tear down. Then came the intentional, hurtful lies, where he lied about what Fr. Boniface supposedly said something hurtful about me to him. Fr. Boniface is my best friend in the world and he would never do that. I knew that, so this was very hurtful, in that I knew that this was cold and calculating from Fr. Noah. Then came the irrational outbursts in church over stupid little stuff. I went to the bishop. Fr. Boniface was supposed to oversee a reconciliation. It amounted to I was the one who had to suck it up. Meanwhile Fr. Noah continued to lie, continued to torment, never confessed or admitted that lying was even wrong. He said, “I can’t believe you would be upset over such a little lie.” I replied, “What upset me was just that, that you went to so much trouble to go out of your way to lie about such a little thing!” In Myron’s funeral message, he boasted that he lied to Myron to get him to the hospital when he was having a stroke. Now, instead of one of all the experiences that he could have shared that would have highlighted Myron’s good works, he chose to share this in front of our grandchildren! They came away confused. The priest just said it is OK to lie. We are Orthodox! We do not have a Jesuit ethic! If you are a true pastor, you have enough spiritual authority with your people you have no need to lie!
So Bethann wrote to Fr. Noah & Bishop Thomas. No response, except Fr. Noah quit speaking to or meeting eyes with Bethann. I emailed and called Bishop Thomas. He did not call or email back. Instead I received a call from an archdeacon and we played phone tag for a week. Then he stopped calling back. The only thing he has said to me is, “This is not a good time to talk. Can you call me back tomorrow?” I let it sit for weeks, then I called him back again, since he never called me back. This is how the bishop handles us! I get ahold of him. He thinks he talked to me already. Nope. He asked me what was it about, so I told him. He said he would have to check his notes when he got home, but he thought he had talked with me. I said the only thing he had said was, “This isn’t a good time. Can you call back tomorrow?” He never called back. I called Bishop Thomas and told him how his archdeacon apparently cared about as much about me and him as he cared about me. He said he wasn’t his archdeacon. I asked him one simple question: “Did you tell Fr. Noah he was not to speak to me?”
Bishop Thomas was speaking while I was asking the question, then hung up on me. This is what passes for oversight and pastoral care in the Orthodox Church.
Once again, I and my family are expendable. We don’t deserve respect or answers or to be treated civilly. We get abused and thrown under the bus. But I am not supposed to publish this. I am supposed to sit quietly by. Even though I have been told by a couple of archpriests to speak up and expose the bullies. Everything about the anti-bully and anti-sociopath movement says to speak up and expose them. Prophet Nathan said publicly to King David, “Thou art the man!” When I came to Orthodoxy, I felt confident that I was not joining an independent Baptist church with a egomaniac, tin horn dictator for a pastor who is accountable to no one. Effectively, that is what I have found. Like anywhere in America these days, you get what you pay for in US Dollars.
What a sham! What a shame!
We were the largest family at St. Philip’s, involved in everything, at every service. Happy to be there! Arrived early, left late, because we wanted to be there. Then Fr. Put-Down came with his legalism and guilt trips and his lies and his duties and burdens and demands for honor and his manipulation. No grace. Not an inkling of understanding of the Gospel of Grace. Always speaking, never listening. Fits of rage. None of us is happy to be there any more. I can’t be near Noah without risking another stroke, literally.
We love the people. The people are gifted, kind and generous. This is what I said in the last post where I wrote about this, as well. They are being mislead.
People will give me grief about this posting. Again, I will ask you: have I stopped serving the homeless? Have I lessened the quality of the food we give away? Ask the men and women we serve! Our food is nutritionally superior to anything else they are served during the week. I wish that were not the case. Ask Brownie about how we stood by him and his friends when they were on the street, when they were in prison, when they moved off the street, when they suffered loss. We serve for you in Jesus’ Name. That is, if you support us.
If you don’t want us to continue. If you want me to shrink away and die, because of some lying priest and cowardly bishop, well so be it! I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from this mistreatment from clergy here and prior. I have kidney disease and damaged spine (with continual pain) from complications from an infection picked up from the street. This, with the stress of the attacks from Noah and Mayor Nutter (with no moral support from the church) set off complex migraines, which caused several strokes, which have left me with photophobia, occasional word salad, and a continual risk of more strokes and further damage. This all caused my business to fail. So we have no regular income. Of what we do get, almost all goes to the homeless. I’m still waiting for my hearing for SSDI. Bethann graduated top of her class from business school for medical administration and is looking for work.
Sorry this isn’t your sunshiny, hopeful, give $10 a month and you can save the world kind of post. I had to get this out of me before I could go on. People are hurting. Racism is real. There are many people who have no bootstraps by which to pull themselves up. Genocide in Gaza is real. It is brutal. It is paid for by US tax dollars. My eyes cry involuntarily 24/7. My therapist and I have talked about this. I told her I would like it to stop. We talked on a few occasions about this. She finally said to me that my crying was not irrational like most of her clients. I cry for the homeless, for genocide in Gaza, for the millions killed by US corporations polluting overseas, for the black men who police kill every 28 hours in this country, for the homeless, for the LGBT youth whose parents evict them, for the addicts who can’t get treatment, for the children forced into sex-slavery or soldiery, for the poor soldiers on all sides who are fighting for the interests of rich men, for battered women, for veterans’ wives and families trying to cope, for the lost boys of the Sudan, for Myanmar, for Iraq & Syria. Oh, to live in a world without news!
I care. I cry. I guess my tears are my unworthy form of intercession. I am not giving up! Our house is three months behind on mortgage again. I had to find a credit card we had paid off to pay to get the phones and internet back on yesterday. This Thursday will be the first time in 16 years that we will not give away dollar coins in honor of St. Nicholas on the first week of December, but we will be there with a hearty meal, God willing, to serve between 150 to 200 people, with panache!
If you want to be part of this, use the donate button or mail a check or give a call or email and see how you can get involved. If you don’t, I will move on and find a new set of friends.
Saturday, Anthony & I went to Teich & McColgan to pick up some rockcap ferns for around my back porch post. We still had a couple of my large, custom framed art pieces and my framed proofs in the car from the errands just prior to going there. We had gone to an art consignment shop and a coffee shop (which had just closed) looking for places to try to sell pieces of my Lily Gilding collection. We pulled into the long drive at Teich’s at 4:30 to discover that they also closed at 4. Robyn & Roland & Paul were still there cleaning up from the end of the day. I got the large “Tribal Dance” with the unique frame I had designed & stained out of the car and pointed it toward them. Immediately Roland’s eyes lit up! We drew closer. Anthony got out more prints. Roland & Robyn asked me where I was selling them. I said I was just starting. They started brainstorming and making suggestions. Then Roland asked if I could leave them there. Then they came up with the idea of having me have a show there on their last weekend of the season, which is their biggest weekend of the year. They are setting up a tent and a table for me, and sending out emails to all their customers.
This is a great place! It is one of my favorite places on earth. It is a peaceful place. When I was having my summer of migraines and strokes, sometimes I would just have someone bring me there just to walk around or sit and be at peace. The Teich’s didn’t mind. Again, when we were going through the battle with Mayor Nutter and the city, it was a good place to go to meditate and pray. It’s not just the hundreds of kinds of daylilies and hostas, etc. This garden is in the yard of a home of a peaceful and happy family.
I am so excited to have this show. It is so appropriate to have it there, since most of our daylilies came from there. One of the daylilies featured in my art was even bred there by Roland Teich.
The show will take place on August 2 and 3 from 10am to 4pm both days at 903 Upper Stump Road, Chalfont, PA 18914. Bring your checkbook or know your Paypal, since we do not have credit card processing. Framed prints and custom framed, extremely limited edition canvas prints, will be available for suggested minimum donations form $100 thru $1,000 to benefit the ongoing work of The King’s Jubilee. All works will be signed and numbered by me.
Come join us! It will be a good time. There’s even a turtle pond for the little ones to enjoy.
Serving the Homeless is not a crime.
Endeavoring to own more than a dime
Rescue me from eating a sour lime
Vexed by mayors greed and grime
Imprisoning our souls forever in the city’s pine
Nothing in this world is mine
Gracefully accepting time.
Thank you for choosing to understand
Humbly I accept offerings in my hand
Even I deserve pride in this land
Home is more often than not a grate or a box.
Often the powers say the feeding must stop.
My God says take care of the least of these.
Everyone deserves to not be on their knees.
Let those who can reach out and help me stand.
Even the richest can become the homeless brand.
Service, big or small, is really serving yourself.
Squashing homelessness is the only real wealth.
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.
This 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. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord,one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (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.
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”.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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.