Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. Luke 17:15 NRSV
Each year, just as many congregations do, our little church manages to supply plenty of needful families with a full Thanksgiving feast. Complete with turkey and all the trimmings, the members of our parish do not scrimp on anything. God calls Christians to feed the hungry, to give of our selves and our earthly treasures. In doing so we store up treasure in heaven.
Frankly, we hand out plenty of groceries bags each and every week, including one large distribution on the third Saturday of each month. Hundreds of people have entered our doors, most every one of them thanking us for the good that we do. Of course, no one in the congregation sees this as the good the “we” do, rather, it is the good that “God does through us.” Still, it is nice to realize that our efforts are appreciated.
Just a couple of days ago, I had a conversation with a friend and he was telling me how the food bank he volunteers for hands out food as well. They have a process where they screen the people who come in the door. Questions are asked concerning income, number of people living in the house, do they receive food stamps or WIC coupons? All of their answers are recorded on a form and stored in a file. When I asked why this was done, the answer I received was that they didn’t have enough to hand out to those who don’t deserve it.
I struggle with the notion of giving primarily to “those who deserve it.” What must one do to deserve a meal when one cannot afford to put food on the table? What must one do to deserve receiving a gift given through anonymous generosity, but is distributed according to the worthiness of the recipient? Truth be told, if I only received what I deserved, I would be among the neediest.
I’ve thought long and hard about this encounter. I really didn’t figure I would post it as one of the earliest entries to my new blog. But then, as I was working in my office this morning the phone rang. Theresa called to say thank you for the wonderful dinner our church provided. Her children loved the turkey, pulled apart the wish bone, and gave thanks for such a wonderful meal. Ahhh…treasure in heaven!
Were not all ten healed? Yet only one returned to thank his healer, praising God with a loud voice. Oh, I’m certain all the others rejoiced as well, just as all those whom we fed last week gave thanks to God for the blessing of a wonderful meal. But oh how I give thanks for the one; for the one who returned thanking and praising God. What else could I say except, “You’re welcome…and God bless you.”
Although I haven’t been personally involved with the food shelf in our town, by extension I have, as our church as periodic collections for it. It is on the Catholic Church property and many of the people who work there attend at the RC church. They also don’t have sign in or restrictions. But it is just open once/month. The local ministerial group uses money it receives from donations for food and other emergency help, and I know that the local ministers also have a special fund in each church. But they do have to use some discretion, from what my pastor tells me. Our church is closest to the highway, so we get more random people dropping by. It can be taxing for the other staff to deal with these people.
PS – Glad you came to the new blog. I know what you mean when you say, “it can be taxing.” All we have to do is give one family a bag of groceries and within 30 minutes we will have several more come to the door asking for “assistance.” This can point to several situations. 1) There is a large number of persons (families) who struggle to have enough money to meet basic needs. 2) There is a large numer of persons who are willing to take advantage of free goods just so they can say they got something for nothing. 3) There are some who feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to the church reaching out to the community.
I know there are more situations that arise other than these three, but these are situations that we deal with on a daily basis. We are a small congregation and by and large, the membership has no idea of the numbers of folks who come for food and/or money during the week. Where food is involved, my assistant and I don’t batt an eyelash. Everyone receives something.
Yet I wonder, if the membership of the church had to deal with the public needs/wants on a daily basis, would our church be so willing to offer such help? Would there be volunteers who would come on weekdays as well? I hesitate to answer such a question.
You bring up some points that I didn’t think about. I doubt we have as many people coming as you do. The town is just 620 people, the church attendance on a Sunday is about 120 – 175, so it is small. The building is open every day except Saturday, as there are so many activities and a staff of 3 paid people, besides the pastor. I was thinking of people who are not “savory” when I said that that can be taxing or nervous-making. Just how careful does the church have to be? Does this matter when the staff is all female? What about the other people who might be using the other parts of the building when the staff isn’t there? There isn’t any security.
I don’t think that the church ever hands out food directly, unless there would be a dinner going on that a visitor could attend (Wed. evenings.) We give gift cards for gas and groceries. If a night at the motel is needed, then phone arrangements are made with the motel a block away. It it is more than a small amount of help, the pastor has to contact pastor of one of the other churches in town to access money from the Ministerium account. I’m sure that since this is a small town, everything is simplified. OTOH, in a small town, there would be fewer opportunities for any “conning” of the system.
My daughter, a pastor in a town so small that there are no stores, gets people dropping by for help. She has a discretionary fund that she can use.
You bring up an interesting dilemma: should the membership know all of what goes on? Does the church as a whole take an offering for this or for the local food shelf, as our church does, including the youth group going door to door before Halloween, “trick or treating” for the food shelf. And what about the pastor’s discretionary fund? How many people know that a pastor has this? How would people even know to consider donating to it if it isn’t talked about at all? And yet, and yet…. it is our Christian duty to help the poor and hungry, so why do we keep quiet about the needs?