Church as Protestors' Encampment: Old First E-pistle 07.22.16

Church as Protestors' Encampment: Old First E-pistle 07.22.16

Pray for us, church!

We will be sheltering folks in town for the Democratic National Convention who can’t afford hotel rates. Mostly, it’s the activist crowd coming to demonstrate during the DNC.

My friend and colleague, the Rev. Robin Hynicka of Arch Street UMC, has been instrumental in helping this city prepare well for the protests and other “extra-convention visitors” expected. Robin has positioned Arch Street UMC as an organizing space for all sorts for political activities outside the convention hall.

He hopes his congregation (located kitty corner to City Hall where most of the marches will originate heading south on Broad) can provide safety, respite and a “freedom school” supporting citizens’ right to protest, and the city’s need to make room and keep the peace for such protests.

Robin, knowing our tradition of service camps, asked me if maybe Old First could offer reasonable-cost accommodations. Robin didn’t know that we had also run a hostel at Old First for ten years or so in the 80’s and 90’s.

Staff thought we could pull this off. When we shared our idea with the church’s lay leadership, they asked good, pointed and pressing questions. Their doubts helped us think through this situation and come up with some needed guidelines — precautions if you will — for guests’ residency. We now have a well-developed plan with most of the details worked out. Of course, for a ministry like this, there still needs to be some playing it by ear, but “we got this” — this is what Old First does, the kind of open community we are.

I wrote up the idea as a ministry proposal using the “overarching principles” that the Elders developed from our Mission and Vision Statements to provide guidelines for ministries that are permissable (or not) at Old First.

You don’t remember those policies, I bet. The congregation affirmed them at the 2013 Annual Meeting, but we probably haven’t used them as much as we should. They were really helpful in this case. Maybe we should keep them more front and center in our congregational life and governing decisions? I have added them alongside our “Mission and Vision” under “Our Community” on our website. Let me remind you of them:

“Fulfilling the expectations of the congregation’s by-laws, the Elders have adopted the following overarching policies for our church life together…

• There are many aspects to church life, however nothing Old First engages in will be about anything less than Old First’s mission, means or ends.

• No one in the life of the church, whether on the grounds, engaged in ministry, or on Old First business will unnecessarily be put in an unsafe position or treated unjustly.

• No one in the life of the church shall be subjected to disrespectful, hateful, emotionally harmful speech or action, or inappropriate or unprofessional behavior by or from another person.

• Old First will not overlook, or be unaware or unappreciative of, or careless with, or otherwise undervalue the wisdom that, as a long-lived community of faith, it can develop, accrue, and pass on.

• Old First’s buildings, grounds, property and physical assets shall not be mistreated, misused, neglected for maintenance, or subjected to unusual or unreasonable risk.

• Old First’s congregation, Elders, other governing boards, leadership and staff may not waste, misuse, fail to protect, put at unusual or unreasonable risk, or dedicate to purposes other than our mission, the church’s financial resources.

• Old First shall not unnecessarily add to, or accelerate, the depletion of the Earth’s resources.”

Together, the policies provide an important framework — both aspirational and practical — for all that we do.

We our welcoming our first guests today, Friday, July 22, and our last guest will leave on Friday, July 28. People are coming and going on different schedules (a lot like church!). Our busiest night, Monday, July 25, the Social Hall could be sleeping about 20 people.

On Sunday when you are here for the evening service, or any other time, if you see someone new, please greet and welcome them, introduce yourself as part of our church community, and ask, “what brings you here this week?”

We have one person coming in from Spain via Cleveland. Three from the West Coast. Someone from Idaho. There are gray-haired activists in their 60’s who are seasoned with years of demonstrations. And there are college students just beginning their protest careers. And a group of organizers from “The Food and Water Watch” in town not to protest, but to raise awareness (with a big event on Sunday). One of our guests wants to see if she can cook community meals for this whole hodge-podge community. It’s truly a diverse group who even before arriving have been so gracious and grateful for our offering space. And, Teresa reports, they are uniformly hopeful about what can happen in Philadelphia.

Our own Tim R. has graciously agreed to stay over as our Night Supervisor, and, along with John O. who always handles our onsite off-hours events, make sure there are always Old First leaders available. (Tim will be given an honorarium which he says he doesn’t want, but I said he can donate it back to the church if he insists, but that he should take!). I am imagining a circus for which we have to keep the various rings in sync!

The timing of all this meant the Elders decision-making had to happen via e-mail. That leaves me with their exact words. They had their concerns and doubts too. But overall, they agreed that we should open our doors and find room in our midst. I want to share with you some of their comments, because I think they begin to tease out some of the common commitments of our ministry together:

“I’m good with us providing a roof over the heads of these folks, and taking a bit of risk.”

“I think this is an opportunity to be of service and assist those in need of a place to stay.”

“It seems like a good opportunity, but I can also see why there are concerns.”

“Overall, I feel like it’s a wonderful way to extend our Christian reach and show our hospitality.”

“It’s a great opportunity for Old First to participate, and facilitate others’ participation, in the civic and political process. If staff thinks they can handle it, then I am good with it.”

“I think if we sincerely mean being a welcoming church, we cannot shut our doors to strangers who genuinely need some shelter, much more so than that they are going to pay for the space. We should not be too concerned about how much profit we are going to make from this. This is a church, not a for-profit hostel or dormitory. Witnessing for Christ comes at a cost and with some risk.
How does opening our doors at a time like this advance or destroy our testimony for Christ? I support the idea of welcoming those folks who share our values. Space will determine how many we can take. Let us take the risk of doing something positively for which OFRC will be remembered for a long time. If these folks are ready to pay for the space, I want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they will be responsible people who appreciate the value of a property. They too may be property owners. This matter must have been referred to us in the first place because of our testimony.”

Our Campaign for Old First (our capital campaign) promises we’re about “Extending Our Welcome; Strengthening our Service.” Pray for us this week! …That we live up to who we say we hope to be, what God calls us to be — when neighbors, our city, nation and world need it especially, maybe more than ever.

See you in church (Sunday evening at 7 p.m.),