Complexity of community

McCloskey, Liz Leibold

Of SEVERAL HIHBS Liz Leibold McCloskey COMPLEXITIES OF COMMUNITY LOVE THY NEIGHBORS, ALL OF THEM ¥he biblical mandate to feed the hungry sounds so simple Yet watching the clash between...

...Some of the neighbors doubt the church's commitment to the homeless, accusing it of acting out of a financial, rather than a moral, imperative...
...Wasn't there a way for the church to continue feeding homeless people in its new setting without leading to this divisive situation...
...Western Presbyterian downplays these fears, noting that more crimes in D.C...
...Neighborhood leaders claim that at their first meeting with the pastor, he "slammed down his fists" and was "impossible...
...In fact, I wonder if there was ever a marriage...
...Shouldn't there have been more aggressive initial efforts at building a relationship...
...The court granted a preliminary injunction, allowing the meal program to proceed without zoning approval The city plans to appeal the ruling Although the D.C City Council has said it is committed to making the zoning law more accommodating to religious practices, a coalition of local churches says this does not go far enough How are religious practices to be defined9 Does freedom of religion demand that feeding the homeless, running a daycare center, or building low-income housing be allowed under zoning laws as "a matter of right," rather than as "special use" requiring zoning board review1...
...The issue is being tested in courts across the country But in Washington the scope of religious liberty is not the only issue at stake An equally pressing question is how Western Presbyterian Church and at least some of its neighbors could harbor such profound distrust for one another...
...A majority of the congregation lives outside of Washington, making the church seem an intruder, insensitive to the fear of crime shared by many elderly residents...
...The church says the neighborhood leaders were never open to having a meal program and automatically took an unwelcoming stance...
...Western Presbyterian brought the case to the federal district court, arguing that feeding the hungry is an "accessory use" of a church and should be allowed as a matter of right Based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the church argued that the zoning decision violated its religious liberty...
...They maintain that Western Presbyterian Church made no effort to establish any connection to the community...
...Given its bargaining power with the IMF, perhaps the church could have kept a kitchen open near the old site for those homeless that live there, and opened a smaller program in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood for the homeless that live there...
...Only now, after the breakfast program is a fait accompli and considerable bad feeling has been generated, is Western Presbyterian starting to reach out to the neighborhood They are starting a Bible study group for the elderly Some of the older residents of the community are offering to volunteer at the kitchen The church is starting an afterschool arts program for neighborhood public school kids I wonder what difference it would have made if this embrace of the community had begun earlier, before the zoning administrator ruled on the church's application...
...I first heard about the controversy from my uncle, a Jesuit priest, who helps operate a soup kitchen in an inner-city D.C...
...Board of Zoning Administration required a zoning variance for the feeding program...
...Geared up to write about our Christian obligation to feed the hungry, I was ready to lament the grumpy and stingy attitude of the neighborhood But as I talked to opponents and proponents, I was astounded at the mutual animosity and conflicting versions of the "simple facts" of the case...
...Catholic parish...
...In May 1994, one month after the opening of the new church and its breakfast program, neighbors accused the church's pastor of being "un-Chnstian," "a hypocrite," "a liar," while these opponents were described as "evil," "disingenuous," and "nuts" by some involved in the church For eleven years, Western Presbyterian, located in a commercial area of D.C, housed Miriam's Kitchen, a breakfast program for the homeless, in its basement When the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bought the old church for $24 million, enough to build a new church m a residential neighborhood a few blocks away, the church accepted the deal on the condition that Minam's Kitchen move with them The Foggy Bottom Association and the Advisory Neighorhood Council opposed this Citing this intense opposition, the D.C...
...Dwindling membership makes the money donated to run the kitchen attractive and possibly critical to survival, according to some neighborhood leaders...
...I asked the pastor of Western Presbyterian how much the situation came from a breakdown in communication between the church and its neighbors He likened their relationship to a divorce...
...Who knows9 Sometimes I wish Christians abided by Jewish law and walked to church on the Sabbath Churches, then, could not avoid being a vital and accepted part of the surrounding community...
...Maybe if the church had launched an aggressive outreach effort before it moved and long before it sought zoning approval, the general reception would have been different Community building is hard work Even if the new D C zoning law enables churches to set up any program as a matter of right (which might make good constitutional sense), it makes avoidance of community building easier...
...Feeding the homeless, argues its pastor, is central to the church's ministry The meal program in the basement was nonnegotiable as far as he was concerned...
...Now his mission is to win a legal battle to keep Miriam's Kitchen in his new church...
...Of SEVERAL HIHBS Liz Leibold McCloskey COMPLEXITIES OF COMMUNITY LOVE THY NEIGHBORS, ALL OF THEM ¥he biblical mandate to feed the hungry sounds so simple Yet watching the clash between residents of Foggy Bottom and the newly relocated Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D C , belies such simplicity...
...are committed by nonhomeless males than by 6 homeless ones Advocates for the church say they have bent over backward to try to meet the objections of the neighborhood They say they have been working with the neighbors for over five years to try to minimize any negative impact of the move, and they discount the neighborhood leaders' objections as unrepresentative of the whole community As evidence of its concern, the church points to its security guard who stands outside the church during breakfast, its policy that the homeless must leave the premises immediately after eating, and the trash bngade that combs the streets daily Some neighbors dismiss these gestures, saying they are designed for the church's protection rather than for the good of the neighborhood A leader of the Foggy Bottom Association says she would have been more comfortable using smaller, scattered sites rather than "warehousing" the homeless in a large-scale meal program An Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative claims that they found one alternative siteómore convenient for those whom it is designed to feedóbut that the church refused to consider it, insisting that the program be run out of the church building The lawyer for Western Presbyterian says that in the spirit of compromise, the church would have been willing to accept an alternative site, but that one was never offered The church and the neighbors agree on one thing: At least half of those homeless coming to the new church, about 150 to 200 people, live in the downtown commercial zone...
...While it may be true that at times Christians are called to be prophets and to alienate their neighbor, even sometimes to reject their own mother and father, there are also times when kingdom-building exerts different demands on usódemands that we be understanding, compassionate, and humble ? 7...

Vol. 121 • September 1994 • No. 15


 
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