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“The King’s Jubilee”

We marked our 25th anniversary in February for The King’s Jubilee. I wrote then about many of the ministries we have been involved in through the years. I think we are in need of a review as to the meaning of the name of this ministry, as it reveals its core purpose and direction. In the last couple of years, a few people have not understood this and it has led to conflict.

The first thing one should know is that it is “The King’s” Jubilee. We are not talking about King as in Martin Luther King. We are referring to The King of Kings, Jesus Christ. I have long said, that if I can’t do it in Jesus’ Name, I don’t have time to do it. Now the biblical concept of  doing something in someone’s name does not mean just saying the words. It means to act according to that person’s will. Nevertheless, to be sure to have the freedom to do this, we have never solicited nor will we ever accept government funding; nor do we solicit or accept any corporate or United Way funding that would require secularization of our services. Years ago a volunteer was pressured at his workplace for 100% participation in United Way. He designated $2,000 to The King’s Jubilee. We were told that if we so much as said a prayer of blessing or mentioned Jesus anywhere near anything we bought with the money, it would be a violation of their rules. We would have to keep separate accounts and have a completely secular program to use their money. I told them we could not comply with those ridiculous requirements. They never informed our volunteer of their decision not to forward the money according to his donor choice. I did.

On another note, it is the King’s because it is Christ’s love that compels us to serve. When I am asked by one of those we serve, why I keep coming after I have been mistreated by either some of the people or the police or the mayor, I say, “Jesus loves you. His love compels me to be here.” You see, I can’t always say that I love them. Now, after 25 years, I have grown to know and love some of them, but certainly not all of them. There are new faces each week, and my memory is not that strong, and I am not that holy. It would not be good news that I love them. Who am I? It is Good News that Jesus loves them. Of course, most of them are far better Christians than I am. The rest are better Muslims, or better Hindi, or better atheists, or better Buddhists. It is the King’s because this King lowered himself to become the servant of all. We go in a spirit of joy and a spirit of service. We endeavor to treat people with respect and dignity and kindness, the way we would like to be treated.

cropped-tkjprofile.jpgThis ministry did not just set out to serve homeless people on the streets. It is The King’s Jubilee. A major part of the Law of Moses had to do with the sabbath years and the year of jubilee, or sabbath of sabbaths, every 50 years. This was all about healing and second chances and radical redistribution of wealth. Every seventh year, all the slaves were to be freed for the year in order for them to be given a chance to earn enough to buy back their freedom. The land was given a rest to let it restore itself, as well. Every 50 years, all debts were cancelled; slaves were set free; the land was returned to its original owners or their heirs. This was not an optional or “freewill” plan. It was to be part of the government. If a man did not comply, he was to lose his inheritance completely and no longer be a citizen of Israel. However the Israelites never really kept these years. They were very important to God, however. So important, in fact, that God caused the nation to go into captivity for every one of these years they failed to keep.

You see, the Law of Moses was to be a model government for the nations of a direction toward mercy, toward economic equality, toward elimination of slavery. The year of jubilee was a type of the coming of the Lord. There are jubilary psalms that start with “Shout for joy” or “Lift a shout!” The jubilee year started with the sounding of the horn and a mighty shout from all the people. We hear this again in the culmination of the age in the Revelation to St. John in the sounding of the trumpets. It is a signal that God is finally making all things right. Justice is being meted out. Well, Jesus is the King. In his first public message, he referenced Isaiah 61 which is about “the acceptable year of the Lord.” It is a “jubilee song” speaking of the final jubilee to which all the 50 year jubilees pointed. He said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” He proclaimed Himself and his church to be that Jubilee. This is further confirmed by St. James’ understanding of the economic implications of the gospel. The Epistle of James was the first book to be written of the New Testament. It is mostly about the evils of economic inequality. “Go to ye rich, weep and howl …” “Where do wars come from? …” “judges with evil minds”, etc.  I have already posted James 5:1-8 without comment on Facebook and had two priests accuse me of being a communist for it. I told them their argument obviously is with St. James, not me, since I had not commented. St. James had the mind of Christ and the natural progression from the jubilary concepts of Moses.

So this ministry is called The King’s Jubilee because we are trying to get resources from where they are to where they need to be. When we started in 1989, Montgomery and Bucks counties were two of the wealthiest counties in the country and home to the per capita wealthiest evangelical denomination in the world, the Mennonites. We were Mennonite at the time. This area was wealthy due to one reason: white flight from Philadelphia. They had sold their farmland for subdivision and made a killing. There was a whole generation that were builders and tradesmen who earned enough off of this development to send their children through college. The next generation came back as professional people. Some of the developers had even larger businesses off of the new population. The grocery stores expanded, etc. At the same time, they cut their support for ministry in the city and closed some of their mission outreach in the areas where they had originally started in Philadelphia.

Hundreds of churches have closed in Philadelphia. Crack wiped out a generation of mothers. Prison took a generation of fathers. Grandmas were left to raise babies. Little store front churches were overwhelmed with the tasks set before them. Meanwhile new churches were being built in the suburbs and people were building bigger McMansions and praising the Lord in comfortable, bigger, air conditioned barns , nicely forgetting the bad old days in Philadelphia. They wanted to help the poor people in their “own” neighborhoods. Problem is, they intentionally moved away from all those poor folks in Phila. and have zoning laws so they don’t have to see them on a regular basis and highways and no mass transit out here, so they can’t reach us. The suburban soup kitchen has to turn volunteers away. The suburban food bank is staffed by paid help, it is so well funded. Meanwhile, the city is starving.

So, we are The King’s Jubilee. We don’t just want to see food move from the suburbs to the city. We want to see money move to the people in need. We want to see people be personally involved in helping to rebuild neighborhoods for the current residents. We want to see land reform. We want to see people given a second chance. We want to see an end to convicts losing their right to vote. The war on drugs has been a race war by Nixon’s own taped admission. When people have paid their debt to society, the slate should be wiped clean. I learned that from my GOP dad around the dinner table. Imagine that! Stakeholders in a society make better citizens. We want to end homelessness. It is possible. Don’t you dare quote me: “The poor you have with you always.” Do you see the word homeless in there anywhere? I didn’t think so. Homelessness is a stupid shame and is a symptom of our greed and hardheartedness. It actually costs us more as a society to keep these people out on the street than if we would just give them some of the excess apartments that are sitting vacant, no strings attached. Four cities and one state have tried it and have found this to be the case, so I am going to say it again, louder. It actually costs us more as a society to keep these people out on the street than if we would just give them some of the excess apartments that are sitting vacant, no strings attached.

So another aspect of The King’s Jubilee’s ministry as was just demonstrated is the prophetic, both to Christians and to the powers that be, to advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. It’s all wrapped up in the idea of sounding the trumpet or lifting the shout of liberation a la Isaiah 61.

I have been at this for more than 25 years. It has been a life lived in poverty. I have basically worked two jobs the whole time. Only for two brief periods did I have the luxury of pastors who understood and appreciated me and were glad to have me in their congregations. Most pastors feel threatened by me. I have been called by some a fool for Christ, by others, just a fool. They do not understand this ministry. They prefer to do “ministry” where they can market the church and proselytize. The first time Metropolitan PHILIP, of blessed memory, met me, he did not let me reverence him. Instead he reverenced me, and pronounced a loud blessing upon me and upon this ministry. I was just a new catechumen at the time. I do not say this to boast. I do not understand these things. I was ordained to the priesthood as an infant by the Episcopalian bishop who baptized me. No one knows why. I was ordained four other times, none of which I asked for, once in a joint Mennonite Church/ General Conference Mennonite service with a Catholic priest, a Lutheran minister and a Pentecostal bishop joining the MC & GC overseers & pastors in the laying on of hands. We have been investigated on numerous occasions. At least three times during the Rendell years, undercover police tried to run sting operations on us. We have been harassed under three Mayors; threatened with fines and arrest and finally banned. We sued in federal court and won a restraining order to block that. I have been held at gunpoint twice. I have witnessed one shooting and two knifings. What a long strange trip it has been.

What I do know is that serving the poor and homeless is what I am meant to do. Doing it excellently, with care and skill, with attention to nutritional needs, social needs, psychological needs, financial needs, and spiritual needs, brings me joy. There is no better life. Won’t you please join me?

True Story

ptsdI am told that I am too negative about the church and that I am too critical. Well, there is history. I have been bullied by so many pastors and priests, lied to and deceived by spiritual mentors from junior high on up, in fact, so much so, that I have PTSD as a result. A Lutheran pastor expelled me from confirmation class one month before confirmation (after 3 years)  for asking too many questions. A Mennonite pastor, who had been a close friend and mentor, threatened to kill me for forbidding him from bringing inflammatory literature into a prison. For all that, I remained extremely active in church. I was the first man ordained for prison ministry in the Mennonite Church. I was ordained on five occasions in six denominations. None of these ordinations were requested by me. I was willing to give all that up to continue ministry as a layman in the Orthodox Church, as I believed it to have a solid theology and tradition of ministry to the poor, was indeed the church, and would provide a safe base and covering for ministry. Unfortunately, I have not found that to be the case.

Instead, I have found the same jealousy from a pastor who feels threatened by my presence in his church, lies and attacks. But when a family is in need, who is called? The King’s Jubilee. A homeless family of three was referred by the church to Uncle John’s last week. We helped John keep his home and we help feed the men there and keep the phones on, etc. This family can stay there as long as they need to, to get their feet under them. Last spring, we rescued a parishioner who was becoming homeless after losing his job two years prior. He was selling his possessions in the church hall just to have enough gas money to get back and forth to church, until the priest and parish council decided it was too much clutter on the table against the wall and he had to stop. This was during Lent. They did not offer to help him move or help him find a place to live or offer him a spare room. We hired him to revamp the “Come and See” Icons website and Uncle John took him in. He is still there. He is working on a program there to help catch sex-offenders and he volunteers teaching English as a second language. He doesn’t make it to church much. No one from the church calls. The priest didn’t even think to call him until I told him to at Christmas time, and that maybe someone more friendly to the church than our family should do so.

There is no regular support from the church for The King’s Jubilee. There was no offering taken to help Uncle John help this family that is now living with him. John is in bankruptcy himself, while working a full-time job and running two businesses. A couple of years ago, the priest took credit for The King’s Jubilee as if it were a parish ministry, which it is not, in the archdiocesan magazine, without checking with us. This marked us as Antiochian, so then the Russians didn’t want to get involved with us. He only wants to support “ministries” that have good marketing potential in the local area, even though the bishop told him to make sure the church supports The King’s Jubilee regardless of our personal relationship.

But I have seen this pattern too many times before. The evangelicals going for the ‘easy fruit’ refer the hard cases to some other agency or drop them off at the county assistance office with a token grocery gift card. They pray and hope they don’t come back and become a burden on them and the community, so they can go out and find some potential tithers who will fit in better with the existing demographic of the ‘church family’. Spend money on advertising before spending it on ministry where you don’t get a mention in the local press. Sound the trumpets like the Pharisees! It is very much based on a successful sales model, but it is not Christian. It is not Orthodox Christian. Please do not mistake my honesty with malice. I bear no ill will. I want to see the church improved. I want to see the priest get psychiatric help.

We are very grateful for so many who responded generously to rescue us from foreclosure. What we don’t understand is this willingness to rescue us, coupled with what seems like a steadfast unwillingness to rescue the people we serve or to support the ministry in such a way so that we wouldn’t need rescuing. We know that several of you have made monthly commitments or make quite sizeable annual donations. We are not talking about you. It’s the rest of you. Many of you want to criticize me for one thing or another. I am an easy target. I speak my mind. I really have no good reason to not speak my mind. When I have done that, it has never been rewarded, only betrayed.

“The laborer is worthy of his hire.” If the church is going to use us to take care of its poor problem, then maybe it should publicly acknowledge that, or maybe there should be some real support instead of, “Be warm and well fed … .”

Please click the friendly yellow “Donate” button to use Paypal to make a recurring monthly donation. It’s painless. God bless you!

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TKJ’s 25th Anniversary

markerlogoFebruary marks the 25th anniversary of The King’s Jubilee. I dug out a bunch of the old newsletters and other literature today. The hand traced logo is from a newsletter I did in marker in 1996 after people complained about the print quality of my printer. In 1994, our entire annual budget was less that $4,000. With that we served over 9,000 meals in Philadelphia, Pottstown and Stowe, and  led a Monday Evening Bible Institute, two prison Bible studies, established a Spanish ministry in Graterford Prison; printed an inmate newsletter; established a new homeless ministry in Upper Darby; provided personal care kits via our Project: Lydia program in the Northampton Co. Women’s Prison. I have never received a salary for this ministry. I have basically worked at it pretty much as a full time volunteer. I started to write another paragraph about the various ministries we have done or attempted through the years, but decided to do it as a bullet list, instead. I’m not sure of all the dates.

  • Wednesday, General population Bible study, Graterford Prison, 1989 – 1996
  • Saturday, Intake block Bible study, Graterford Prison, 1989 -1996
  • Christmas morning at Graterford Prison with Bethann & April, 1989 – 1995
  • Serving hot meals and sandwiches to the homeless and poor in Center City Philadelphia, along with clothing, blankets & toiletries. 1987 – present
  • All day Music Festivals with free food for the poor and homeless and the community. We called them “Victory Parties”, because we were sounding the trumpet, to declare Jesus’ victory over homelessness and poverty, in the early nineties. Twice in Philadelphia, Pottstown, Phoenixville, & Upper Darby.
  • Film with discussion series on various social issues, held in different church halls.
  • TKJ Monday Evening Bible Institute, 1993 – 1996
  • Established Spanish language ministry in Graterford Prison. It continues to this day, although not under our leadership. We were just the catalyst to open the door.
  • Inmate Correspondence Discipleship Course
  • TKJ Inmate edited newsletter
  • Sunday evening support prayer meetings / house fellowships in East Greenville, Pottstown & Upper Darby, PA & Columbia, SC.
  • “Clothesline” free clothing ministry in East Greenville. We facilitated it, found its new home and ran it for a little while. April designed its logo when she was in high school. They still use it. Peace Mennonite Church still operates it 20 years later.
  • Project: Lydia, personal care items in hand made drawstring bags distributed to all of the women inmates in the Northampton County Prison. Only for a few months. Then they disallowed us.
  • Serving hot meals and sandwiches, etc., in Pottstown and Stowe, 1990 – 199?
  • Serving hot meals and sandwiches, etc., in Columbia, SC, 1991 – 199? (We got it started, then entrusted it to a local church. We are not interested in empire building.)
  • Serving meals to the homeless and poor in Upper Darby. 1992 – 1996
  • Power Packs, relatively non-perishable snack bags for folks to take with them for the next day, 1992 – present
  • Mount Moriah Cemetery clean up and restoration efforts.
  • A couple of urban / suburban exchange potluck dinners.
  • Ugly Quilts
  • Operation: Clean Start providing cleaning supplies and equipment to those moving off the street into permanent housing. 2011 – present.
  • Gathering and delivering furniture, dishes, bedding, etc., to those who have moved off of the street. 1989 – present.
  • St. Nicholas coin distribution Dec. 6, 1998 – present
  • Occasionally taking folks home for a weekend break from the city or finding someone a home to get off the street, 1989 – present
  • Providing music while we serve in the park. This has happened intermittently and is always desirable.
  • Distributing socks & underwear to ~200 at the Tindley Temple UMC’s Soup Kitchen’s Christmas Lunch, 2012 on.
  • Rent Parties & Virtual Rent Parties 2013 – present
  • Stocking cupboards with staples and basic utensils when people move off the street. 1995 – present. We are launching an organized program to do that, now, called “Jubilee Pantry”.

I’m sure I forgot some things. That’s OK. Through the years, we have also helped several homeless students buy books and computers to complete their studies. One man presented me with his graduation program and a thank you note when he graduated cum laude as a nurse. We have helped other front lines ministries with materials, computers and funds. Once we even delivered a used, electric golfcart to Ora Love so she could get around the project with all of her books and equipment to teach her students.

During Mayor Rendell’s years, we were investigated by undercover police at least three times that I was aware of. I told them that we were willing to go to jail before we would quit, because we had to obey God rather than men. Fast Eddy Rendell thought that the homeless were like dogs and that if we would only stop feeding them, they would go to someone else’s city. I assured him on the three occasions when I met him that no one was on the street because the food was that good! Since then, I have been told that my soup is better than what they serve at The Four Seasons. I still stand by my statement. We have been chased from one park to another. Policemen have harrassed us. Once I was told that Fairmount Park was private property . I took that officer’s name and badge number. He got a civics lesson from his commanding officer the next day. We have witnessed knife fights and fist fights and one shooting. Brownie shot Peaches in the butt with a 22. Most thought she had it coming. The two of them have been more or less happily married for over 15 years now. Ain’t love grand!

Once, the Fruit of Islam at Graterford put a hit out on me, and some other inmates put out a counter hit to protect me, stating that if anything happened to me, Nation of Islam inmates were going to die. They apparently circulated my photo around Phila. Les Bucher & I were coming home from serving one night and we were being ambushed, with a car in front and a car behind and a man in a long coat in the summertime with a big gun in his pocket came running up to Les’s side of the van. He started to raise the gun. He spots me in the “shotgun” position, and says, “O, it’s you, Cranford. Have a nice night!” A signal was given and the car in front moved and we were allowed to leave. Another time, I was taken at gun point from my workplace by an ex-offender so I could get him admitted to a drug rehab while he was high as a kite. Interesting times.

Working in prison and on the street changed me and changed my theology. This has alarmed my old fundamentalist friends. However, a theology that bears bad fruit in the real world is invalid. If it leads me to see my brothers and sisters as “other” or inferior or “market” and not simply as somebody’s children, who are trying to muddle through as best they can figuring it out as they go like I am, then I don’t need it. “Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry, the philosophy which does not laugh and the greatness which does not bow before children.” (Kahlil Gibran)

Through the years, I worked at various jobs to support myself and my family. I always needed something with a flexible schedule so that I could do this work. Finally, I started “Come and See” Icons, Books & Art in January 2001 thinking it would be flexible and could grow and support the ministry. I was doing this out of our half twin in East Greenville, making the icons in a tiny space in the basement and finishing them in a tiny spare bedroom, which was also the office and mailing center. We finally decided to take the leap and move closer to church, to a place with an outbuilding that we hoped to house the business in in May 2006. It required major rebuilding. I set to work to do that. It took money. Some money came in, but then was delayed for a year. By the time we received it I had serious health issues, so I could not do as much. The business also got interrupted repeatedly by my health issues, an infection on my spine, then reaction to the antibiotic that nearly killed me; six months later migrainous strokes. Then debilitating strokes for three months, etc. Finally, the business went under in July of 2013, after never really showing a profit. A major flaw in my business plan was that my main competition was monks.

In 2012, we had to sue Mayor Nutter and the City of Philadelphia, after he decreed that serving free food in the parks to needy people was illegal. We won an injunction and that decision has become a landmark for other groups to fight and win against similar oppressive regulations across the country.

Dr. Jerry Burke & Dr. Peter Psomiadis organized the Hummus Open Golf Tounament. We had the 2nd Annual in 2012 where we debuted the most unusual trophy in sport, The Garbanzo. In 2013, we took it up another notch and introduced commemorative tournament hats.

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From a 1996 Newsletter, offer still good!

We have been featured a lot in the press lately, since Charli Riggle encouraged me to do a Gofundme to save our home from foreclosure in conjunction with the almsgiving Facebook group drive she coordinated. She started the press connections as well. It eventually made it onto both the very local and the national scene. We raised over $45,000 and were able to save our home from foreclosure as well as a neighbor’s, for now. We raised the profile of the ministry and gained a few more monthly donors. We need many more to make this truly sustaining. I have been essentially working two full time jobs for nearly 25 years. No wonder I had a dozen or more strokes! We can end homelessness in Philadelphia. We need your support to be able to work at it to do that, without having to worry about not having insurance for Bethann and losing the house again in another year. Please make a monthly pledge. It’s easy and automatic on Paypal. If everyone who liked us on Facebook would give $10/month, we would have more than we have ever had to work with, ever. That is a McDonald’s meal (blecch!) skipped for you, which would allow us to move forward, full time to develop the ministry in some marvelous ways! We cannot do this ministry without you. We just give your alms away.

God bless you!
Peace,

Cranford Coulter
for The King’s Jubilee

More Good Press

I was interviewed, photographed, and taped on January 3 by a reporter from the Intelligencer whose editor felt bad about being scooped on the story by the Phila. Inquirer. The Intell finally published the story yesterday, Jan. 16. It was available online free for just one day, then it went up behind a $9.99 annual paywall. I bought three copies, so I think I can share one article online.

Occasionally I say something right to a reporter. This time it actually got through the filter:

“I’m having fun when I’m doing this … This is just me being me. If everyone would just be who they are really supposed to be, everyone would be doing something good and right.”

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Why do I do this?

Last Thursday, while I was preparing the soup for the street, Claudia Vargas, a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer was sitting across the table from me asking me questions. Her questions, and my meandering answers, forced me to re-examine why I do this ministry. Her article, while very positive, did not expose as deeply as she had delved. I guess she wanted to know if I was the real deal or not before she wrote a sympathetic article. The interview felt more like a visit to a psychologist than a press interview. (I better be careful, or she may send me a bill.)

I shared my stories of having been asked at various churches, “So, how many of the people you feed make professions of faith and end up joining a church?” And my answer: “These people are not rats, and the food we serve is not bait. I am not there to save them. I am there to save me!”

I continued by telling her that that did not make me friends in evangelical churches, who didn’t seem to want to do anything unless it was connected to proselytizing. Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they need saving. Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20) For the first two years when we were serving over at the Love Park, we didn’t even say a blessing publicly. I felt that we were entering their home. If I were to enter your home as a guest at your table and proceed to stand up and say a prayer in your house, without you asking me to, that would be pretty insulting. So we would bless the food as we made it and before we got out of the car. It wasn’t until one of them asked if they could say a blessing that anything was done publicly on site. Now they expect a blessing and respect that. Now I am one of them, part of the community. Sometimes one of them wants to offer it and that is OK. We have had Muslim blessings and Hindu blessings and Jewish blessings and Evangelical blessings and Catholic blessings and Orthodox blessings and even one Native American blessing. It’s their home. We do it their way.

Claudia followed up by asking, “So you do this to save yourself, to go to heaven?”

I responded, “No. That’s absurd! No one can work to go to heaven. I may still go to hell. I’m still a selfish bastard and an ornery cuss. Ask the people who know me. In the only picture Jesus gives us of the Judgment in Mt. 25, everyone is surprised.  So I can’t decide to do this to earn heaven. … At that day some fighting fundies are probably going to be surprised to see some Muslims enter heaven and they’re going to be standing there saying ‘What the ___!’” Then I told her about the Hindu family that saved Christmas for 20 little children.

I just know that God made everyone to do something good. (I’m going to wax more eloquent than I did in the interview, while I was trying to cut carrots.)

Ephesians 2:8-10. Most people forget about verse 10. When I did the “born again” thing in the Baptist church, they gave me Ephesians 2:8-9 “assurance verses” or “salvation verses” when I made my profession of faith. Well it’s verse 10 that is the real aim of the passage.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

We were created “for good works, which God prepare beforehand that we should walk in them.” This is what I mean when I say I do this ministry ‘to save me.’ Save doesn’t just refer to the great by and by. It also refers to growing in grace and being in God’s will, and all of the aspects that lead to genuine inner happiness, sanctification, and redemption. I am being saved, that is, I know true joy by doing this service, because this is what God prepared for me to do.

How can I say this with such assurance? Isn’t this just the talk of a crazy man? Let me tell you how I got started. In January of 1989 I laid out a vision for The King’s Jubilee. I shared it with Bethann (my wife), and a few close friends, and we prayed about it and decided to launch in February. I presented this vision to about 150 inmates in the E-Block Bible Study at SCI Graterford, a maximum security state prison, during our 1-1/2 hour Saturday morning session. One of the requirements of our organization is that everyone is involved in some way directly in the ministry. There are no Monday morning quarterbacks on the board. So I asked the men what they thought I should do for my personal involvement in The King’s Jubilee. Now this was a novel experiment and a risky business, to have 150 inmates in a free for all discussion, and ask them to arrive at a consensus. This was not an established block with an ordered hierarchy. This was the intake block to the institution. They were all getting to know one another and the prison. Within five minutes, they came to a universally accepted consensus that I should minister to the homeless in center city Philadelphia. I considered that pretty miraculous. I took that as my Macedonian call and we started in February 1989. I recruited a couple of guys and we went down on Wednesday nights. We took over for a little store-front church who were serving two nights a week. We have never seen a reason to quit. We have been harassed by three different mayors. We have been investigated by under cover police at least three times that I am aware of.

We had to sue the current mayor in federal court to continue to serve, and won. In that court case the mayor’s lawyer asked me about motivation, too. He asked, “What percentage of the people who serve the homeless do it out of a religious conviction?” I was a mess on the stand. I was crying the whole time. I was crying for months after the decree was supposed to go into effect and the hearing was no exception.  I replied, “All of them, according to Jesus. When I read my Bible, He says that ‘If you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto Me’, so even if they don’t know it, that is their motivation.” The lawyer wasn’t the least bit happy. He asked, “What percentage would you estimate would they say their motivation is religious?” I said, “Now that would be hearsay. I didn’t think hearsay was admissible in a court of law. If you want me to make a wild guess, I can, but that’s what it would be, a wild guess. I don’t think I can do as well as Jesus. About 70% of the organizations are openly religiously based, but I have friends who are religious who work with Food Not Bombs and LAVA and Occupy who are not religious organizations. Their involvement is still religiously based, so it is still only Jesus who can sort it out, I’m afraid.” I was crying and shaking. The mayor’s lawyer was still not very happy and visibly angry.

The other thing that I wanted to make clear is that I am not anything special. I am just doing what I was made to do. I get upset when people make a big fuss, because that generally means that they are excusing themselves from whatever it is that they are supposed to be doing unto God. Now the good works that God made for you may look, and probably will look, completely different than the good works that God made for me to do. Somebody has to take care of the aging horses. We need compassionate doctors. We all should appreciate our hardworking postal workers, especially the cheerful ones who go the extra mile. I have worked at many different jobs to be able to keep doing this. Through the years, I have painted houses, landscaped, done roof inspection, run blue prints, managed an office, made icons, sold security systems, photocopied, drafted roof details, designed home improvements, sold advertising, waxed floors, detailed houses, etc., all to be able to support myself and my family with a flexible enough schedule so that I could do this ministry. Why? It’s what God made for me to do. I am not happy unless I get to do it. And I want to be happy. I am just that selfish!

Tindley Temple UMC Soup Kitchen Christmas Party

tindley1I am going to be helping out at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church‘s soup kitchen’s annual Christmas party again this year. Thanks to donations from several of you, Lydia & I and her two daughters, our granddaughters, went shopping today for enough socks and underwear for over 200 men and women. I will be travelling down to Philadelphia in the morning and adding them to the gift bags in the morning, offering the prayer before the meal and helping to distribute the gifts after the meal. Anthony will be helping to cook and clean.

Tindley Temple’s food ministry to the poor and homeless is one of the oldest continuous ministries of its type in the country. They have been operating since the Great Depression. It’s called a soup kitchen, but rarely is soup served. They serve hearty, meaty meals, with lots of good vegetables. Normally the people stand in line cafeteria style. For the Christmas party, they sit down and are served by students from a local charter school.

Last year, one of the men played the upright piano in the corner with enthusiasm and skill.

Thank you for the privilege of being able to have a part in this. God bless you!

To my friends who are in need

I know that I have friends who are receiving, or have applied for, or are thinking about applying for food stamps or Medicaid, or who are getting help from their parents, or from their church, or from the local food bank. For every one I know about, I’m sure there are others who are in the same position, but haven’t told me, because they’re embarrassed or ashamed. If that’s you, there’s something I want to tell you:

If you are ever tempted to think that you are doing wrong by asking for what you need, cut it out. Stop it. Repent. Jesus said that the rich were going to struggle to get into heaven. They might as well be camels, trying to get through the eye of a needle. They can’t do it, but God will make it possible. Your poverty, your need may be the thing that allows them to get through the needle’s eye, when they give to you.

And it really doesn’t matter if the giving is voluntary. I often hear people say that God doesn’t want us to be compelled to give. He wants us to give voluntarily. Well, of course that’s true. It is far better for us to give from a cheerful heart. But God will bless our gifts, and those who receive them, even if we give grudgingly.

Remember what St. Thomas did in India. He was hired by a prince to build a palace. He said he’d work on it, and he kept going back and asking for more money, and more money, and more money. Eventually, the prince wanted to see the palace, and St. Thomas showed him all the poor that he’d been feeding and housing and caring for. The prince, in fury, had him thrown in jail. And then the prince had a dream, in which one of his brothers who had already died came to him and showed him the great palace in Heaven that St. Thomas had been building for him by caring for the poor. St. Thomas had asked God to treat the gifts as if they’d been given freely by the prince, and God had honored that prayer. The prince was being saved by the gifts that St. Thomas was making to the poor on his behalf. Once the prince understood that, he freed St. Thomas and had him continue caring for the poor. But notice: God didn’t wait for him to give freely and cheerfully. God accepted the gifts that the prince gave to the poor, even when he didn’t know he was giving, even when he didn’t choose to give, and even when he would not have given if he’d had the choice.

By accepting the gifts of money and care and services from the rest of us, whether the gift is in an envelope slipped to you after church on Sunday morning, or whether it’s through food stamps or SSDI, or whatever it is, you are ministering to us. You are helping to free us from our attachment to the things of this world. You are helping us to repent ofcharli our worship of mammon. You are our guides and our help on the path to salvation.

For this, I make a metania and kiss both of your cheeks. Thank you.

~ Charli Riggle

Sentiments & Actions

mother_maria

Last week, I posted the above image as our header on our Facebook page and it took off like wildfire. It has been shared over 40 times and viewed over 4,000 times according to Facebook stats. The number is probably much higher. Our link to donate is connected to it, both in print and as a live link. Several people have expressed their admiration for St. Maria in comments. No one has given alms to the poor through The King’s Jubilee in response. This has led me to do some more thinking about Orthodox veneration of saints. We really do like our saints, but we like them dead.

i dare say that most of the people who shared and commented on the image would probably also favor the zoning that would prohibit her from running her house of charity next door to them. She certainly exceeded most health departments’ legal occupancy limits. She lived in the cellar to make room for more. That was not an approved living space! What would that do to property values? She was a demanding woman, as well. She placed higher demands on her disciples than Jesus placed on his. Jesus only asked that if you had two coats, you should give up one. She said that you should give up your only coat to the suffering. Living saints can be insufferable. No wonder she was divorced twice!

She had what it took for the times she was facing. Our saints are human. They are not sinless. But God uses them and and shapes them in spite of and because of their flaws into just the right tools for the jobs at hand. She could smile peacefully at Nazi guards while she smuggled children out of the arena in trash cans. They were just “doing their jobs.” She was just doing hers.

The quote, “Each person is the very icon of God incarnate in the world. The way to God lies through the love of people.” This is not so hard to apply to the children in the trash cans. It is hard to apply to the Nazi guards. For years, I have had a similar saying, or rather, prayer: “Lord, with each person I meet today, let me see what it is about them that You love.” It is a terrible prayer. It breaks one’s heart when the answers come.

I believe I put the wrong image on the banner above. I once saw Gary Heidnik. I actually felt his presence, before I saw him. I was in Philadelphia City Hall waiting by the holding pen for an inmate to be released for me to take to his aftercare program, back when I was Mennonite Chaplain for Philadelphia Prisons. My back was turned, but I felt a darkness of evil. I turned around to see Gary Heidnik, the serial killer, shuffling in shackles, being escorted by two guards from the courtroom into the holding area. The hair on my neck stood on end. And all I thought was, “God is gracious. He is still giving him breath. What is there possibly left that God loves and hopes to redeem? Yet here he was, the living, breathing evidence that God ‘is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’” I learned then, that even Gary Heidnik was the very icon of God in the world.

Jesus called us to serve “the least of these … .” Sometimes they are downright unlovely. I can be unlovely as well. “Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am chief.” People are messy. God loves us anyway, every single one of us. There are no throwaway people. We serve hundreds of people every week who many have been thrown away. Right now, it feels as though we have been thrown away. We have no paying jobs, despite looking and looking. The house is being foreclosed on. I just put one foot in front of the other to serve the poor. I have worked for 25 years without pay to keep this ministry going. If all of the people who say they like this ministry would give just $10/month, we would be able to cure the foreclosure, be fulltime in ministry, and expand our services among the poor and homeless. If everyone gave just $20/month, we would be able to get a facility, organize more volunteers, and be working a plan to end homelessness in center city Philadelphia. So, don’t just kiss the icons, like the links, and share the photos. Sentiments don’t feed the hungry or keep anyone warm on a cold winter night. We need action. We need money to pay the bills so we have a kitchen in which to cook the food and a car to deliver it. We will see over 250 homeless and poor people on Thursday. We will give each of them two meals. We will try to give blankets to those who ask for them. We will try to give those who ask for it bus fare to get to jobs. We will give a few of them rides home. We do this on your behalf and in Jesus’ Name. How many will you see, so that you can give them your alms personally? Let us deliver your alms for you. Use the Paypal button below to set up an automatic monthly donation. May God bless you as you put sentiment into action.

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“Come and See” Icons, Books & Art is closed

I think it is apparent that I need to close up shop. I have experienced a number of illnesses which caused me to be a poor businessman. This meant I was not able to deliver icons in a timely fashion or pay my bills in a timely fashion either, with added medical expenses and downtime. This alienated one of my major iconographers, who had been my best friend, withdrew his collection, just as I was streamlining the site to make it more efficient as a shopping cart. He did this by email and has refused to answer any phone calls.
At this point, it is costing me more to continue, so I just need to stop. I am finishing the last orders that have been placed and that is it.
Thank you.

I don’t know how I will make a living. I was hoping to be full time serving with The King’s Jubilee. There is plenty of work to be done, but it seems the church does not want to support ministry among the poor or really want to end homelessness in Philadelphia. At this point I don’t know if we can even continue the ministry at all or even if we will end up joining the ranks of the homeless ourselves. I’m sorry. I have been told to be positive. I guess, on the positive side, that was the longest I have ever had one job. I was really quite frustrated and bored with it. Perhaps now that I am not distracted with trying to make the business succeed, I can just directly fund-raise and work on ministry, and more quickly get to our goal of ending homelessness in Philadelphia.

Please give. We need your support. Mail a check or use the Paypal button. May God bless you as you join in this work of serving the poor in Jesus’ Name.

“Put a nickel in the drum, save another drunken bum!”

poverty isnotasin“Put a nickel in the drum, save another drunken bum!
Put a nickel in the drum and you’ll be saved!”

When I was a youth, this old Salvation Army song was used as a drinking song. But the sentiment of the song and the evangelical theology it represents has infected our culture in a pernicious way. It is to the point now that people who are poor are seen as somehow morally defective. It seems a large part of the population, including many, if not most church-goers in America equate poverty and homelessness with drug and alcohol addiction, sloth, immorality, lasciviousness and general lack of faith. I got asked again, last Thursday, if we have seen much results of people coming to faith through this ministry through the years. My answer did not make the youth leader happy. I said, “I am not here to save them. I am here to save me. These people are not rats. The food is not bait. Just because they are poor does not mean that they need saving. When someone thanks me for serving or asks why I do what I do, I tell them, ‘I am here because Jesus loves you and He compels me to be here.’ And some have learned to thank God for us.”

We have never coerced people to sit through a sermon in order to receive a meal. I find that degrading, humiliating and contrary to the Gospel. The Gospel is to be without price, never by coercion. So, if we were ever going to preach, it would be after the meal to whoever would want to freely stay and listen. And we have on occasion shared stories of the Saints and of Jesus’ ministry and message.

People have assumptions about homeless people that are not based in reality. The most common is that a majority of them are addicts and that is why they are homeless. That is false on two counts. Addiction rates are the same among people becoming homeless as they are among the general population. The rate doubles after a year of homelessness. So homelessness is more a cause of addiction than a result of it.

The most common cause of homelessness is a health problem or hospitalization that causes one to be unable to pay the rent or the mortgage. Medical debt also ruins one’s credit rating, so one cannot rent anywhere else and disqualifies one for many types of employment. Once a person is homeless, it is very difficult to break out of it. Most employers will not hire anyone who does not have a permanent residence. The social service industry prides itself on its placement rate, but, at the same time, does not want to go out of business, so the hoops seem endless and there is no incentive for them to short circuit the process so people do not become homeless in the first place. One has to fall through the “safety net” that isn’t there before one can be helped, losing all one’s possessions, memorabilia, etc. This process takes years, and forces a lifetime dependency on the social service industry; good for the industry, bad for the people.

Poverty is not a sin. “And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: ‘Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’ ” [Luke 6:20]

Wealth on the other hand. … “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” [James 5:1-6]

People who know me well will find this hard to believe. I do more listening than speaking among the homeless. Perhaps it is because there is an easiness there. They really do save me, by their presence and by their prayers.

I should be working among them full time, but soon I may not be doing anything but living among them. The business has failed. We need $600 today just to pay July’s health insurance. If we don’t, we will end up owing even more. Two months’ mortgage due, utilities, etc. Apparently, what I do is not worth my space in the world in this economy. This ministry will die without meaningful support. I should not have subsidized it for as long as I did, I guess. But I only see death as an alternative.

 

* thanks to Jennifer Barefoot McCoy for the photo