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THE PASSION OF THE PASTOR

EDITED BY KEVIN

Passion is a deep love for someone, for  something or for  the Good Cause.

The passion of Rev. Deborah Savage poured from the phone as she and I talked on Friday, August 13, 2010 and her “extraordinary ministry for 25 or so  men experiencing homelessness with substance abuse issues.”

Rev.   Savage  just last year became pastor of Hope  Outreach United Church of Christ in one of the poorest, roughest Kensington neighborhoods.  Her ministry not only feeds the spirit with Sunday worship but also  the physical needs through feeding programs, clothing  programs and substance abuse programs.

Hope Outreach met the need of providing shelter for those who had no place to go but out on the streets in November of last year. The Church became what I believe a true church should become: a sanctuary.

Hope Outreach is a sanctuary  that has “served more than 1,700 people with emergency food and clothing; served more than 1,800 meals through its Mother’s Soup Kitchen; fed more than 2,900 people at its Sunday Morning Overcomers Breakfast Program;  helps senior citizens monthly with food boxes,  provides needed medical help, and has served 4,800 lunches and snacks to neighborhood children.

A serpent appeared in this struggling garden of Hope when  the Phila. Department of Licenses and Inspection ordered the men’s shelter shut down August 10th, citing building, fire code and zoning violations. Supposedly, the law allows a church to be open 24 hours a day, but you cannot have “sleeping inside its walls.”

Facing immediate “cease-operations” and a strangely  bull-headed, self-righteous group of city officials who do not seem to want to work things out amicably, the resourceful church members, its pastor,  other supportive  ministers  and the legal help of the ACLU  responded by creating an all-night prayer vigil in the sanctuary.  The mats where the men were sleeping have been removed and a shaky stalemate has since prevailed, giving all parties time to negotiate and hopefully work things out.  L&I plans to make random visits to the church to ensure  compliance with the zoning laws.

The passion for her ministry gives voice to Rev. Savage’s  anger, her tears and her strong faith that she and the church are doing the right thing.  She is “so grateful for the help we have received so far.”  She told me that the United Church of Christ  Association clergy sent a letter to Mayor Nutter expressing their concerns and support for Hope Outreach.  The local chapter of Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice [MRS EJ] is working to repair existing violations and build safety improvements at Hope Outreach “as a way of continuing the worship life and ministry of the church.”

In a Phila. Inquirer story by David Reilly,  Kevin Thompson, 47, is quoted, “I used to stay under City Hall” in the subway station. Living at Rev. Savage’s church the last seven months “helped me get my life in order….I don’t know anyplace to go.”

Nick Hall,33, said he quit using crack cocaine since moving into the church in February. “This [the church] is my family. If I have to go back” on the streets, “I’ll start using again.”

Terrence Smith is also a member of Hope Outreach. One Step Away reporter Leslie Miles  was riding the #22 bus on August 11, when Terrence boarded the bus at Broad & Olney. He overheard Leslie having a phone conversation with the secretary of Bethlehem of Deliverance church, pastored by Rev. David Jones, concerning this crisis at Hope.  Mr. Smith intervened, stated who he was and helped to give his own personal details about the ministry and how the church shelter had been so important in turning his life around.

Is this city hearing these men?

Part of the problem is the city of Philadelphia’s approach to ending homelessness for good.  The city basically only counts the homeless  population in Center City  and ignores the men, women and children in the other neighborhoods.  The Center City population is shuffled around from place to place, all in the interest of business concerns and tourist’s  embarrassment.  As long as the faces of homelessness and poverty are not visible in the  wealthy section, there is a tendency to downplay  the need to strengthen existing programs, fund and support  newer ones to really get those without shelter into clean, safe, affordable homes.

The city ignored these mens’  shelter needs for 10 months . Now the city  wants to bull their way into the church . The city wants to  hide behind rules and zoning laws, and disrupt the life-giving, soul-saving ministry of Rev. Savage and Hope Outreach Church.  We pray that the current compromise will turn into a positive example of the city and the church  working together in harmony to correct minor problems and instead work more on further building this garden of Hope.

I asked the Good Pastor what we can do to help. She asked for support, donations,  comfortable chairs and recliners in particular. Take a moment to attend service at the church and its ongoing vigil for social justice and faith.

Passion! Love!

The Passion of Jesus Christ is the love for humanity, I believe. The Passion of the Pastor, Rev. Savage, is simply that. The love for the  Good Cause. The cause of social justice, the cause of life-saving, the cause of empowerment, and the cause of truly loving your neighbor as you love yourself.  It is simply and humbly putting the beautiful words of her faith into action.

Peace.

posted by Leslie Miles and Erik Younge:email at micynge&gmail.com

{thanks to  Barb Powell of UCC, and Rev. Linda Noonan of MRS EJ for information}

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