We at Salem Lutheran Church have been delighted to open as a warming center this winter. We are grateful for the city’s partnership and provisions.
We honor the sacred worth of all persons, regardless of their economic status. As we provide emergency shelter through these winter nights, we look to city leadership, other community organizations, faith groups, political groups, schools, businesses, families and individuals across Spokane to engage in the long-term work of ending systemic poverty.
Our earliest presence as a church in Spokane surely meant the displacement of other people. Swedish immigrants arrived in 1888 to plant a church, but they did not arrive to territory uninhabited. When our congregation works on providing affordable housing, ending homelessness, and crafting paths out of systemic poverty, we are continuing to repent of those founding sins of making others landless and homeless.
As we move along our own journey of repentance, we hope the city will join us and rescind the sit-lie ordinance and cease criminalizing homelessness. We observe that, just as we opened to be a warming center, the city acted to enforce the sit-lie ordinance and Spokane police evicted Camp Hope at 11a.m. last Sunday, just about the hour in which I was preaching about John the Baptist and his call to turn from worldly wealth toward care for the neighbor.
Here at Salem, we view all our neighbors as children of God, holy and beloved. When we live out of this conviction, we discover that God is generous. There is more than enough to go around. We pray we can all enjoy the generous gifts of creation – together.
This Advent season of 2018, we are hearing and seeing an increase in anxiety all across society: we voice it on Sunday mornings in our prayers and tears. “Come Lord Jesus” takes on a particularly urgent tone. More and more voices speak from a sense of scarcity, that we must protect the portion that is “ours,” that we must reject the needs of another because we fear we won’t have enough.
God, incarnate in the vulnerable child Jesus, calls us to live differently.
I have seen God at work at the warming center, even in the first week we have been open. One of our council members has decided to stay up most nights with the other supervisors and volunteers. Other members are doggedly advocating for some sort of property storage system, which we hope to work out soon. I’ve observed the supervisors from The Guardians Foundation act with kindness and openness even as they set firm boundaries. Still others are giving money, baking cookies, donating coffee, gathering blankets – on and on.
This is faith alive in the world. I’m really humbled that it’s happening within our doors. And yet I know it’s just one corner of a wide field of work that must be done regarding poverty in our city.
Most Sundays at Salem, we recite some form of the Creed. This Advent, our creed concludes with the statement, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” We believe all creation bears the sign of holiness. We rejoice that Jesus chooses the lowest and the least to bear truth into the world. And so we look for policies born out a sense of the dignity of all persons, not measures that leave vulnerable people even more vulnerable to criminalization.
We see that “the life of the world to come” is already being grown among those most scorned by power and privilege. We invite those in places of power to turn away from scarcity thinking and the temptation to want a problem to “just go away.” We invite everyone to turn toward their neighbors with care, dignity and generosity. May we each play a part in building a neighborly and compassionate community here in Spokane.
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