Just Back from Washington, D.C.

I co-lead the Provisional Members of our Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. These candidates are on track to be ordained as clergy elders or deacons. I am privileged┬áto work with Ed Kimes in these groups as he leads one group and I lead the other. Part of the training includes a trip to Washington, D.C. to our denomination’s General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). This building, owned by our denomination, sits up on the Hill within sight of the Capitol Building.

Each of the three mornings on our visit, the staff of GBCS led us through seminars on a variety of topics. Over the next several weeks I will share some of my experience as well as some of the challenges that face our church.

The Social Principles are found on page 97 in our current 2008 Discipline. Here is a quote that details the purpose of the Social Principles: “The Social Principles, while not to be considered church law, are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as a historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.” (BOD 2008, page 97)

The stances our church makes in The Social Principles are not agreed on by everyone, but they do provide an excellent framework for moving our theological understandings into practice. John Wesley, our founding father, was very active in the society of his time. He set the example that our denomination has followed ever since. I am proud that our church takes stands on social issues. I confess that I do not always agree with each and every social stance our church takes, but at least we are not ignoring the responsibility to be involved socially and practically in the world. The Social Principles are a good read for any United Methodist and I always include a discussion on them in our New Members classes. You can read them for yourself here (then click on the Social Principles tab).

One of our first seminars this week was on the topic of homelessness. We talked about and discussed the preconceptions we usually have regarding homeless people. For example, many people think that homeless people have a mental problem, are lazy, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or stink. Many of us who are not homeless ignore them or walk on the opposite side of the street. We look the other way when they ask for help and quietly wish they would just go away and leave us alone.

Then we had the awesome experience of having three persons come before us to share their stories. Each of them had been homeless at least one time in their life. They took turns sharing their personal story of how they became homeless and the circumstances leading to this. The stories were amazing! One gentleman named Steve, shared how he had finally come to his wit’s end regarding his situation in life as a homeless person. He cried out to God saying, in effect, if you really are there just take me. In that moment he shared that he wanted his mommy; not his mom, not his mother, but his mommy who would hold him in his arms and say, “Everything is going to be alright.”

Not only did we hear the stories of how they ended up being homeless, but we heard stories of how shelters are one of the worst places to be because personal possessions, including identification documents, sometimes get stolen. Violence and abuse are also a concern in some places.

Then, we were given some practical suggestions on what we can do with those who are homeless. John shared an idea that I thought was a super idea. He suggested having a “Street Information Sheet,” which shares basic information on where a homeless person can go for food, to stay warm, or to get a shower. This sheet could also include various agencies and ministries that are directed toward the homeless. This idea struck me as a powerful way to work with the homeless in a constructive and positive way rather than ignoring them. Steve also suggested doing something as simple yet meaningful as asking them their name. This gesture can go a long way in affirming the person who happens to be homeless.

We were blessed not only by the stories these lovely persons shared, but by the practical suggestions they offered to equip us to help those who are homeless now.

As we were getting ready to catch the bus at Union Station to head back home on Thursday afternoon, some of us saw an Army General making his way across the street. Just before he crossed the street, he bent down and put some paper money in a homeless man’s cup. I left Washington, D.C. thinking to myself, “There are some practical ways even I can help with those who are homeless.”

What can you do for those who are homeless? Do you care enough to make a difference?