Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Saying Yes and Saying No

So I'm in the midst of writing a sermon for Sunday morning and I've just written something about being a congregation known in the community for the way we welcome the outcast and marginalized and there comes a rapping on my window. It was a young deaf man looking for help paying for a prescription.
I've met this young man before. He's come looking for help. Because I can't sign we communicate with short notes back and forth. It's a bit tough to communicate, to be certain. But it was clear that he wanted help with $30 worth of prescriptions. I say "wanted" because it is impossible to know if he "needed" the money -- that is to say, was he telling me the truth in his notes? Moreover, it was equally impossible to know whether he needed help from the church -- that is to say, did he have other resources at his disposal beyond asking the church? were we the first stop or the last?
The bottom line, for me, this time, was that the answers to those questions did not matter to me. I had $30, so I gave it to him. That doesn't make me a saint, but does it make me a sucker? And in whose eyes? Does that matter?
Given the bit of history that I do have with this young man, I am confident that he did use the money for prescription meds, but what if he didn't?
I am absolutely certain that I have more of this world's goods than he does. I'm confident that I am not more worthy of those goods than he is. I'm certain that I don't know what it would mean to be more worthy.
However, I remain confused about the role of the church in all of this. As a congregation we don't have money lying around to give out to people off the street.
Our mission money goes to support the Arlington Food Assistance Center, the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Program, Rebuilding Together, the general mission fund of the Presbyterian Church, More Light Presbyterians and various other organizations or institutions whose work is consistent with our mission.
We do not hold back any for distribution to people off the street. As a congregation we've concluded that our money is used more efficiently giving it to groups to use for people in need rather than giving it to individuals. Is that faithful? It does require us to say, "no" to most individuals who come asking.
And how shall we be known?


The Singing Farm Wife said...

As a teacher, I've run into the same dilemna when parents of children I teach don't have money for important things but have money for fun things. I'm always at a loss. One time, rather than giving money, I wrote a check to the phone company for a parent so the child could call home from school. But, I still wasn't sure if they really needed it or I was being scammed. Like you, because I have more than many I feel an obligation to help. But, how can I be most helpful without being an enabler of poor decision making? I still haven't figured it out.

The Singing Farm Wife said...

Like you, I've struggled with how to be helpful without being an enabler. Especially when people seem to have money for fun things, but not for necessary things. Once when a student didn't have a home phone because her parent had failed to pay the bill, I wrote a check directly to the phone company. But, I still wasn't sure if I was being scammed or not. Still, we do have a responsibility to care for each other...

revbabe said...

The church is called to serve, it is not called to be a cash machine. By supporting organizations whose primary calling is to assist, financially or with services, the needs in the community, you support those individuals in need. It's not about being a "sucker" or not, its about the best stewardship of limited funds, something we all struggle with as individuals and congregations. Be blessed and live in the grace which is given for you-