The Poor in our Midst
What responsibility do we owe to the poor in our congregations? I’m not talking about the poor in the community outside our walls at the moment—that’s a different set of questions.
If other congregations in the yearly meeting are like mine, they are mainly middle-class families. We have many professional people—physicians, therapists, councilors, college professors. But we also have a handful of those living below the poverty level.
We have a small fund set aside in our limited budget for helping those in need within our faith community, but a substantial need, such as providing mortgage money for a month, can quickly deplete it.
Complicating this straightforward question can be any number of issues. What government assistance has this person sought? Is their present situation a result of poor choices not only in the past, but ongoing poor choices? Is their position partly due to problems interacting with the world—mental or physical disability of some kind?
How do we avoid enabling someone who is unwilling to change? How do we help without creating dependency? How far do we go in setting conditions—we’ll give you the money you need if you will (see a counselor, throw out your abusive boyfriend, straighten out your act in any number of different ways)? What is our responsibility to the congregation as good stewards of God’s money? How do we do discernment over this need without letting our middle class values get in the way?
How do we relate to the poor in our midst? Do we ignore them? Dismiss their problems as their own fault? Assume they are getting help from the government? Do we ever think of the contrast between being able to afford a trip to Europe and not being able to pay the utility bill for the month?
What does the size of our helping fund say about our priorities? What responsibility—if any—do the better off members have to their less fortunate brothers and sisters? Was this question easier in the days before government safety nets?
I have no answers, just lots of questions. I only know it breaks my heart when we have no money to give those in need—and sets me asking why this is so.
Contributed by Karen L. Oberst, Klamath Falls Friends