Let me begin with the obvious. Through the sweat and sacrifice of those who went before us, and through the sustained faithfulness of those currently with us, most of us clergy preside over congregations housed inside buildings that sit mostly empty every night. Meanwhile, a couple thousand folk will seek out some form of roof over their heads tonight. Some of these folk are permanently homeless, some are in a temporary crisis, some are currently housed in their cars, some are single, and some have children. But homelessness in Seattle is not simply a matter of those currently seeking shelter, it is also a story about overcrowded shelters, shelters so dangerous and dirty that we wouldn't let our pet rat sleep there, much less someone whom we might get to know as a friend.
As clergy I want to plead with you to confidently assert your congregation's responsibility to be our brothers' and sisters' keepers. I want to encourage you to preach the themes of generosity, hospitality, compassion, and holy boldness week in and week out until your congregation insists that the church become a house for others, 24/7. I want to challenge you to make 2009 a year of freedom from mediocrity.
At Trinity in Ballard we have done that. Our story isn't much different from many. Nine years ago Trinity was a nice place with nice people: an elderly small congregation that wanted to do good but was smothered by its fears. But then Tent City came knocking at our door and the elders realized that giving up a parking lot for six weeks so that a self-organizing community of homeless people could find safe space and protection from winter rains was a small something we could do.
Through conversation with our guests, one thing led to another, and today, Trinity has an indoor apartment for one homeless man, a shelter for 20 men and women, a soup kitchen serving local homeless and hungry, an increasing advocacy ministry on behalf of the poor, a resurrected understanding of God's promise of joy with justice, the beginnings of a prison ministry, and a complete renewal of the congregation. From 60 mostly elderly folk we now average over 100 in worship, with 23 kids, 17 families, a bunch of 20- and 30-year-olds, and great hope for our future in partnership with the God of the poor. Plus we pay our bills and have surplus, further proof of the old adage, "money follows mission."
Friends, here's my point. A church with closed doors is a manifestation of Hell on earth. A church of open doors rips open the heavens and is filled with courage, compassion and care. Do you want to fulfill your calling as a pastor, and renew your congregation's ministry? Then, by all means, open the door to a 24/7 church building. God will do all the rest.