This morning I came to my church office and noticed debris in front of the parish hall, food scattered all over the terrace, trash, discarded clothes, empty cigarette packs, from people that had obviously spent the night and decided to trash the place. It did rain last night, and it’s also not unusual to find people camped out near our doors, in the prayer garden or other places on the grounds, but this was quite excessive. As I was noticing the mess, another person pushing her cart full of her belongings came up and was also astonished. To my surprise she started apologizing for whoever left the mess, and offered to help clean up the place. We gave her a couple garbage bags, gloves, a broom and dustpan, and for as long as it took she cleaned the place. We offered her with a couple small cash cards from a local grocery store, and she was grateful.
I share this story because sometimes either consciously or unconsciously we may group people into categories, like “homeless”, “street people”, “vagrants” or “transients”. As this kind woman apologized for the people that left the mess, and said: “They give the rest of the homeless people like me a bad name, and I don’t like it”. I was reminded once again that every single person is unique and loved by God. That’s been our motto and theme since the founding of the Welcome Church of El Cajon. “God loves you just the way you are, not for anything you have done in the past, or for anything you will do in the future, but right here and right now, in this present moment, God loves you”.
One of my verses in the Bible is found in 1 Peter 4:8, and it applies to every one of us. “Love covers a multitude of sins”, or as another translation says: “Love makes up for practically anything”.One of our major concerns has been to adequately follow up and provide pastoral care for the congregation of “the church without walls”. Sometimes we are told that someone that is part of our congregation is sick, in the hospital or nursing facility. If we know where they are, we will visit them. Sometimes people disappear, and we have no idea where they are or what has happened. We try to gather names and contact information. The best contact method is the mobile phone. Many, but not all “unhoused” have phones. Some have an address where they don’t live, but can pick up mail. When we gather personal information from others we must keep the data confidential, and some people prefer not to give out any personal information, we must respect that request, just as people who visit a “housed” church may prefer not to fill out a visitor’s card.
From the beginning of the Welcome Church we have emphasized that we are a church and not a social service. However, pastoral care demands follow-up and ‘walking with and beside others’ just as God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of in the ‘cool of the day’ (Genesis 3:8, obviously something to look forward to) Whether in a ‘housed’ congregation or an ‘unhoused’ congregation our role as Christin brothers and sisters is to care for one another. Sometimes that means providing food, shelter, medical care, identification cards, clothing, employment assistance, legal aid and other needs. The Welcome Church of El Cajon is a 501 (C) 3 Non-profit Corporation, but the Welcome Ministries of El Cajon is a DBA of the Welcome Church, and our goal is to work side by side with other agencies and groups that provide these services.
One of the groups that have started working with us is Health Integrated Program Services. They do one-on-one intake meetings. They stay after our worship service and meal in the park to assess the needs of others, obtain contact information and provide follow-up. All of us in East County know that we are short on services for the marginalized and “unhoused” population, and there are inadequate shelter’s and other services. That is why we are doubling down on our commitment to seek out other agencies and groups from San Diego ‘to walk with us’ as we together unite in our efforts to not only provide for those in need, but to work on ending homelessness. This involves advocacy, to be a voice for those who feel like they have no voice, and to work for change. This we intend to do. We need your help. Please pray for us.
Pastor Dave +