September 20, 2010
Yesterday, before moving Alexander into his dormitory at the University of Chicago, I attended the 8 am Eucharist at the nearest parish to the campus. St Paul and the Redeemer seemed to be a vibrant place with all the signs of good leadership under a rector called Peter Lane, careful, thoughtful liturgy, an engaged multi racial group of about 15 or 20 for the early service, sounds of a choir practicing in the background, an attractive nave set up in the round with the altar in the center, good visitor information and on and on.
The new assistant Rector, Ray Massenberg preached an excellent homily in which he addressed the hard question of the parable of the unjust steward while introducing an expanded feeding ministry as a spiritual matter for all those engaged in it. I was particularly struck by his description of serving canned food to those in need from the church proper, how some community developed and the organist who was present played some impromptu hymns. We were treated to a careful, thoughtful sermon, inviting congregational response in a new initiative at the onset of the program year from a deacon who had been learning the needs of the surrounding area. This has all the signs of something that will become central to the identity of the congregation which describes itself as “an Episcopal Community.”
Mr. Massenberg referenced the recent report that one in seven Americans are now living below the federally determined poverty level. I picked up a book called Out of Reach (Yale, 2009) by a member of the U Chicago faculty called Scott Allard. He looks at the ways in which the American ‘safety net’ has changed over the years from cash assistance to programmatic and systemic assistance. He looks at the increased role of non profits and faith based organizations in the delivery of help and the question of ‘place’ or ‘geography’ including community y trust in the ability of the poor to access such services. He addresses the difficulty of service providers who are juggling uncertain funding among other challenges in looking at larger policy issues and the tendency of government agencies to become distant from the realties as they focus on ‘block funding’. I don’t know the field well but suspect that this is an important book that should be read by those who ought to be looking at how we respond to the reality of the poor.