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Survey finds one-fifth of PC(USA) churches involved in homeless ministries

Respondents want national strategy to address crisis and long-term needs

January 20, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C.

In August, the Presbyterian Network to End Homelessness (PNTEH) and the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness (OPW) here announced a joint program focused on the PC(USA) 218th General Assembly’s resolution “From Homelessness to Hope” and the church’s mission effort to end homelessness in the United States.

Douglas Grace, a veteran of Presbyterian and ecumenical public policy efforts and a PNTEH board member, was engaged to conduct a survey of homelessness ministries of congregations and presbyteries nationwide.

Most recently, Grace was on the pastoral staff of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City as interim director of outreach ministry after completing M.Div. and MST degrees at Union Theological Seminary there. Prior to that he was domestic policy associate in the PC(USA)’s Washington Office and later director of the Washington Office of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment.

“I came back to Washington after coordinating ‘on the ground’ ministry while serving Madison Avenue Church,” Grace said. I hope to help PNTEH shape a national programmatic strategy that truly engages and empowers the local church experience and effort to end homelessness. If we can do that,” he said, “then we have served the church well.”

Many authoritative studies have documented a rapid increase in homelessness, particularly among women and families The trend stems from factors such as the economic recession, high unemployment, the lack of affordable housing and the reduction of government services and supports, especially those related to veterans and people needing housing assistance.

These reports also show that homelessness is not solely an urban phenomenon, but is cropping up in cities, towns and rural areas nationwide.

Grace’s preliminary findings show that those Presbyterians engaged in homeless ministry who responded to the survey have “a real passion” for their work. At least one-fifth of PC(USA) congregations engage in some form of ministry with homeless people, such as conducting or supporting feeding programs, providing volunteers to secular or religious groups, contributing funds to shelters and social service programs, and operating shelters themselves.

This translates into thousands of Presbyterians serving the needs of homeless persons. Nearly always, local efforts to serve homeless people are conducted ecumenically or in cooperation with a community organization such as collections of neighborhood churches.

Survey responses reveal that, while much mission work is being conducted to serve the immediate crisis needs of the homeless by persons engaged in congregational ministry, more awareness and intentional effort is needed to address the issues of ending homelessness — affordable housing, job training and living wages.

Congregational responses clearly seek a PC(USA) national strategy for how the church can be involved in helping to serve homeless persons along with bringing an end to the crisis of homelessness in local communities — a national effort to assist the church to be effective at the local level, including public policy advocacy at the local and national levels.

Grace expects to present a final report on the Presbyterian effort to end homelessness later this year, including recommendations on how to enhance the national church’s efforts both to meet the needs of local churches as they carry out their homeless ministries and to address the long-term crisis from the perspective of local congregational experience.

For more information about this effort, visit the PNTEH Web site.

  1. Our small membership congregation (18) has begun donating gently used professional/business type clothing to our new YWCA Family Violence shelter in an adjacent community. Staff teach residents to dress appropriately for job interviews, court appearnaces, etc. Residents are mostly women and children, but a few men are abused. Our outreach is "simple and small" and focused. We would like to encourage other small membership congregations, particularly those with only older adult members, to share your "simple and small" ongoing missions. Would be useful to have a spot on this web site for small congregations (less than 50 members) to share our creative ideas for ministry.

    by Edd & Carla Cothran

    January 22, 2011

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