Saturday, January 03, 2009

And We're Missing the Whole Point

My chum Jerry sends me this, from the Wall Street Journal:

    U.S. NEWS - DECEMBER 29, 2008, 10:16 P.M. ET

    Homeless Shelter Evicted After Prayer Debate

    Associated Press

    HACKENSACK, N.J. -- A Bergen County homeless shelter is homeless itself -- again.

    The First Reformed Church of Hackensack dismissed the FAITH Foundation in a dispute over rules at its Christmas dinner for about 100 homeless people last week.

    Church officials say they wanted a sermon and carols before dinner was fed. But shelter director Robin Reilly started serving food first, saying some patrons hadn't eaten for 24 hours.

    Ms. Reilly says she'll try to find a new place to help the homeless. She's storing the group's supplies at another church for now.

    It's not the first time the foundation has lost its home. Hackensack officials closed its previous building because it lacked permission to serve food there.

    Copyright © 2008 Associated Press

To which I replied: Rituals are always more important than, you know, people.

I was being flip, of course, but it's true: churches as institutions have a nasty habit of coming to convince themselves that they--their traditions, their rules, their rituals, their clergy, their own continued survival--are more important than the mere people whom they purport to serve. I've seen it repeatedly in my own church, where sexual predators among the clergy are shuttled around and sheltered to avoid "scandal" and "protect the church." New flash: People are the church! And I've seen it in matters great and small in other churches as well.

And now this--the wonderful church boots out the homeless shelter because its people went ahead and fed the hungry first instead of forcing them to wait while the churchy folk preached to them. Perfect.

Without going back to look it up, I'm pretty sure Jesus' exhortation was to feed the hungry--not preach to them, then make them sing Christmas songs, then feed them.

And then so many of my priest and pastor friends scratch their heads in wonder because so many people eschew "organized" religion...

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