The following speech was given at the Congregation Convening, held January 29 at Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka. Rev. Mades shares her experiences encountering persons experiencing homelessness and how her South Minneapolis congregation is working to make sure everyone has a home.
My name is Suzanne Mades, Pastor of Living Spirit United Methodist Church in South Minneapolis. As a parish pastor I first encountered people experiencing homelessness when I served a congregation in downtown Minneapolis in the early 2000’s. This congregation hosted a community meal every Saturday at noon, of which the majority of people who joined us in that meal were either experiencing homelessness at that time, were precariously housed, or had been homeless at some time in their life. A number of our Saturday guests worshipped with us on Sunday mornings and some became members of our congregation and shared in the ministry of the congregation. This created a dynamic of mutuality in the work we did together. It was not “us” serving “them,” because, “they” were “us,” and it was all of us working together to share God’s bounty and create something new.
What became clear to me as I served this congregation, is that the barriers to rising above homelessness and rebuilding your life are immense. It was literally one step forward, three (or more) steps back. It was easy to fall into homelessness, but so very difficult to get out, and even if you did, it would take just one medical crisis, or car accident, or getting laid off from a job, that would land you right back on the streets.
Through this, I learned the power that being in a mutual relationship had on restoring dignity and hope and belief in oneself, that boosted people in their efforts to rise out of homelessness. As our small church staff was joined by an individual who just found his way out of homelessness, and then in hiring a staff member experiencing homelessness, I saw how powerful the opportunity of having a job was, no matter how small. While one person needed stable housing to in order to find a job, the other needed a job to find the confidence to continue on his journey to stability. But the barriers to finding jobs while homeless were huge. The systemic issues that create, maintain and perpetuate homelessness are difficult to break. (pause) I made a decision that whatever congregation I had opportunity to serve, I would engage them in addressing poverty and homelessness in their community.
In the current congregation I serve (Living Spirit UMC), we have learned the importance of showing up and being present in the lives of our neighbors and family members experiencing homelessness, both in direct service, as we volunteer with Families Moving Forward, and in political advocacy to impact city, county and state policies. Prior to coming to Living Spirit I’ve been involved with the Homes For All legislative advocacy and have seen the impact a statewide coalition can have on impacting our legislators, and I’ve also seen the power that people of faith can have in softening the hearts of our legislators. Worship at Living Spirit is not only singing and raising our hands to God, it can also be writing postcards to our legislators and putting them in the offering plate as acts of faith, along with our monetary gifts. Putting faith into action can also mean visiting our legislators.
Although Living Spirit is a small congregation, the work of Beacon gives us opportunity to be a part of something much bigger. Even our children are catching the spirit in making a difference in the lives of children whose families are experiencing homelessness. They’ve dedicated their Children’s Church offering to Families Moving Forward. Right before Christmas, they presenting Beacon with $56 check – that’s a lot of nickels and quarters and dimes!
We look forward to continue this work till everyone has a home; where people of all ages, all abilities, all backgrounds and life experiences have opportunity to share in God’s bounty together.
Photo credit: Rebecca Slater