Friday, December 30, 2011

Holiday Loneliness

Pastoral advice from Megan and Bobby about dealing with loneliness and waiting for love.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Advice from the guy who slept in front of your church: Episode 3

Pastor Megan has a conversation with Bobby about how he became a pastor with a call from the Federal government. If you'd like to become Bobby's friend on Facebook and get healing prayers, you can find him here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Advice from the homeless guy in front of your church: Episode 2

Advice from the Homeless Guy in Front of Your Church: What if the homeless person in front of your church got their own pulpit?

Bobby lived in front of a church on the streets for 7 years. Here is his Christmas message:

Friday, December 23, 2011

3 Lenses on Mental Health: Episode 5 - Schizophrenia

3 Lenses on Mental Health is a series about common mental health issues that are found in increased number among those living In poverty or who experience hunger. The videos will feature the views of psychologists, professional faith leaders and individuals who are homeless or formerly homeless speaking about how their condition made it difficult to get off the streets. The goal of this project is to increase awareness and is not intended to diagnose or inform you how to treat mental health issues. Please consult credentialed professional support for that. For emergencies, call 911.

Today's episode is a beautifully compassionate look at Schizophrenia by Sr. Carmen Barsody of the Faithful Fools.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advice from the homeless guy in front of your church: Episode 1

What if all the homeless individuals who slept in front of churches got their own pulpit. The priesthood of all believers suggests that we should take the time to listen. Here is the first episode:

2 Videos Featuring Mikey

This week i interviewed Welcome volunteer, Mikey. Here are two of the videos that were created from that interview.

Faith = Action is a series of videos where individuals and groups talk about how their faith compels them to respond to poverty and hunger issues. Hopefully the videos will encourage you to put your faith into action or to speak out about the great work you already do. Here is Mikey's response. Notice that getting involved volunteering as a child made him more willing to act on his faith as an adult.

3 Lenses on Mental Health is a series about common mental health issues that are found in increased number among those living In poverty or who experience hunger. The videos will feature the views of psychologists, pastors and individuals who are homeless or formerly homeless speaking about how their condition made it difficult to get off the streets. The goal of this project is to increase awareness and is not intended to diagnose or inform you how to treat mental health issues. Please consult credentialed professional support for that. For emergencies, call 911.

Location:San Francisco

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Report From The Bigger Picture

As I’ve mentioned in this space, several weeks ago I went to the National Gathering of clergy hosted by PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) in mid-November. I’ve been meaning to report back to you all on it ever since.

SF CARE sent me so I could connect with other clergy doing advocacy, learn what PICO is up to these days, and learn some more about community organizing since I’m pretty new to that part of this job.

A number of old friends were there and I got to connect with a lot of new people among the over 500 (mostly) clergy who were there. They had some great workshops on community organizing and I’m eager to put what I learned into practice in the new year. We attended a local action en mass (along with about 1500 other folks organized by the local PICO affiliate) to ask the mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, to cap the number of beds on a prison that is planned to be finished in 2014 and to push the Recovery School District superintendent, John White, to bring better options for the community to choose from to run the Phillis Wheatley School when it re-opens as a charter school. PICO had invited Eric Holder to the event, but he didn’t come. One of his Assistant Attorneys Generals did send a video and promised to arrange a face to face meeting with Mr. Holder and the PICO leadership at a later date. I took this as a good sign that PICO is starting to have some national pull.

I also took the chance to put on a collar and walk the French Quarter Night Ministry style from about 11p.m. until about 1a.m. the last night we were there. It was a lot like walking the Mission here at home. I had a couple of great conversations, bought food for one person, got to meet some of the Occupy New Orleans folks and it was my only chance to get up close to the Mississippi.

Probably the most important thing to tell you about, though, is PICO’s national agenda for next year. Normally, PICO works through local affiliate organizations on local issues, but they have set a bold national agenda for 2012. The overall theme was ‘Land of Opportunity’ and the goals are focused around creating better opportunities for everyone. The initiatives PICO is putting forth are reform of the incarceration, education and healthcare systems; a push to move money out of irresponsible and predatory banks; and initiatives to reduce community violence. The lens used to look at and discuss these topics was racism (yes, I know we all wish we were done with that topic, but there is a lot of hard evidence that says we are not). The details of how they plan to accomplish this are still coming out. Many PICO federations (regional groups of local affiliates) made some pretty bold commitments to further these goals. I am glad to see these issues being addressed by a national organization with the good track record PICO has.

Our local PICO affiliate is the San Francisco Organizing Project. They are working on immigrant issues as well as economic justice issues and a safe streets initiative. To learn about what they’re up to and see how you can get involved, check out If you want to learn more about PICO at the national level, you can at

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Not Exactly SF CARE, but . . .

The Earth is but ONE country and the humankind its citizens” – From Pancho Ramos Stierle’s Facebook page.

Two weeks ago our nation’s broken immigration policies became very personal when my friend Pancho was facing deportation. Suddenly I wasn’t just signing a petition here and there as I have done in the past, but blogging and emailing people and trying to drum up all the support I could for him. Fortunately Pancho didn’t have only me to rely on. He had a great team of friends who hit the ground running and had a campaign going to keep him out of ICE custody before I saw the first email about his arrest; protests, petitions, a letter writing campaign all got up and running very quickly. In short order Pancho was released on his own recognizance until his court date and I’m grateful and glad.

I want to turn our attention to all the immigrants who don’t have that well connected base of support, don’t have the story that plays well to a crowd or a judge. There were a lot of other people in that same ICE prison without the same network Pancho has, and they are still there, or they have been deported.

We all know we can’t all go to protests, sign petitions, or launch a letter writing campaign for every single one of them individually. We don’t even know their names. And, lets face it, most of us don’t get all that worked up if it’s not someone we know, or some one whose story we know. It’s human nature to draw our circles small. It keeps us feeling sane. But it doesn’t help solve big problems like the way we handle immigration in this country. In our globalized world only, drawing our circles wide will help us. It’s the only way for us to actually be sane.

And I do mean all of us, not just those who are uprooted from their homes here in the states. A recent New York Times editorial about the results of the new immigration law in Alabama noted:

Farmers can tally the cost of crops left to rot as workers flee. Governments can calculate the loss of revenues when taxpayers flee. It’s harder to measure the price of a ruined business reputation or the value of investments lost or productivity lost as Alabamians stand in line for hours to prove their citizenship in any transaction with the government. Or what the state will ultimately spend fighting off an onslaught of lawsuits, or training and deploying police officers in the widening immigrant dragnet, or paying the cost of diverting scarce resources away from fighting real crimes.

Keeping the large circle in our heads helps our own small circle, too. Pancho is not wrong when he says that the Earth is but one country and we are all it’s citizens. Even though we don’t know all the stories, every person in ICE custody has a story just as compelling as Pancho’s. Even though we do not know and love them personally, they have friends and family who do. And even if a person’s story about one bad decision after another and even if they have no one who cares, they are still, as Pancho says, citizens of the world. The Christian side of my practice claims them all as my family. The Buddhist side of my practice tells me there is no separation between they and I. But whatever your faith tells you, they are your fellow citizens.

So what can you do about it?

To sign petitions to help individuals and regarding legislation, you can go to and search ‘immigration’ (Be sure to read each one carefully, some are in favor of irrational immigration policies)

To find out about political actions happening near you, check out or

And if you want to write your representatives, you can go to and search on immigration to see what bills are pending at the national level. For California, you can get similar information at if you search immigration.

And, of course, you can educate yourself. A few resources (shamelessly cribbed from No Longer Strangers: The Practice of Radical Hospitality by Wendy Taylor and Margaret Kimball Cross -

Just Hospitality: God’s Welcome in a World of Difference Letty Russell, John Knox Press 2009

Chistmas Eve Volunteers Needed

I'll add a little addendum to Megan's post below. We're still looking for volunteers to help out at the Community Dinner on Christmas Eve. We'll be serving tomales!

If you haven't already, check out her post and if it sounds like a great way to start your Christmas, drop me a line at or a call at 415-673-3572 to sign up or learn more.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Welcome Saturday Community Dinner Photo Story

With more than 300 meals served and 40 volunteers, this Saturday Community Dinner at Welcome is typical of what you would find any 2nd or 4th Saturday of the month.

I began cooking the chili at 3pm. With nearly 10 years experience cooking for the homeless and hungry, I've got cooking for large groups down to a science. Tonight's meal cost about $750 in total (donations from volunteers, in-kind donations and from facebook friends paid for tonight's meal). Other nights AA groups, interfaith groups or meditation groups bring the food.

Volunteers begin arriving at 4pm and then start setting up tables for our guests.

Volunteers also sort toiletries and clothing that are donated by congregations around the Bay Area. We give away hundreds of clothing and toiletry items at ever dinner.

Since I my blog posts are read widely and I travel often around the country sharing the work of Welcome with congregations, sometimes we receive donations from outside the Bay Area. This week, a box of socks arrived from St. Andrews Lutheran Church in San Mateo, CA.

After the donations are sorted, around 4:30pm the desserts are cut and put on plates. Cake is a favorite of our guests. Since the craving for sugary foods are similar to those for drugs, we give our guests many sugary foods through out the evening to enable those working on their sobriety to battle their cravings.

Steve, seen below, brings bread and candy that he begins handing out to guests waiting outside in line around 5pm. Steve also chats with the guests and helps to ensure that they are treating each other with respect and mindful of neighbors who live nearby.

Around 5:15pm all the volunteers gather to set their intentions for the evening. Instructions are given and volunteers are able to ask questions about the dinner before it starts.

At 5:30 guests arrive, find their seats and the volunteers begin to serve our guests.

Sometimes a guest or volunteer will hop on the piano and play some tunes for our guests.

Meals are served from 5:30 - 7pm.

After the meal, volunteers help clean dishes, the bathrooms and the kitchen. Clean up typically finishes between 7 and 8pm.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Pancho was released this afternoon. I was on planes and in airports where I couldn't get an internet connection, so I apologize for the delay in the update.

Many thanks to everyone who helped secure his release.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Not what I thought I'd be posting today.

Last Thursday I fully expected today’s post to be in the usual “cheery/chatty” tone I usually adopt for this blog. Last Thursday, I expected to be blogging about the wonderful PICO conference I’m returning from as I type. That post will be along next week.

Last Thursday I stood next to my friend Pancho in Tree’s kitchen making pizza for the Free Farm meeting we had that night. Last Thursday we hugged each other goodbye and said, ‘See you soon.’ This Thursday, Pancho is in ICE custody and in danger of deportation.

Pancho is a wonderful leader at the Free Farm, but he is much more. Pancho is brilliant, he originally came to the US to pursue an astrophysics degree at UC Berkeley. He is loving, he greets everyone as brother or sister and with a hug from the first time he meets them. He is passionate, he has championed many causes including pacifism and food justice. Pancho was arrested at Occupy Oakland. He was sitting quietly, meditating, in support of the Occupy folks.

Pancho is one of the most gentle people I know, and I am blessed to know many. He is shackled and being treated as a particularly dangerous prisoner. He is probably calmer about it than I am. It will be our loss if ICE is allowed to take him from us.

There is a rally planned for 2p.m. this afternoon at the San Francisco ICE building. ICE is at 630 Sansome Street.

What else can you do?

1) Help get the word out! Link to this blog or any of the below, post them on Facebook, etc.

2) Sign the petitions asking for his release:

3) Contact our representatives:

Dianne Feinstein
Phone: (415) 393-0707

Barbara Boxer
(510) 286-8537

Nancy Pelosi
Phone: (415) 556-4862

Barbara Lee (to thank her for her support so far, and urge her on)
Phone: (510) 763-0370
More info:

If you would like to read more about Pancho and this situation:

San Francisco Chronicle, "Occupy Oakland arrestee faces deportation," 11/16/11: "He's serving the community in a major way," said friend Adelaja Simon, 24, of Oakland... "For him to be jailed like this is a ridiculous waste of energy and funds."

San Jose Mercury/Contra Costa Times/Oakland Tribune
:, 11/16/11, "Peaceful Occupy Oakland protester faces deportation,"

East Bay Express, 11/15,11, "Occupy Oakland activist faces deportation"

New America Media

Thanks in advance for your help helping Pancho.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reform More Than Wall Street!

This Reformation week, I've been thinking about the ways Luther's actions would have been different if he lived today. Certainly, the political climate of the Occupy Movements have a similar populist gile that mimics the unrest of Luther's day. I imagine the reformation mobs that marched to abby's and churches to burn them down and distribute their riches to the poor, are similar to the longings of many angry marchers who head towards banks.

Thankfully, today's marchers are a lot more nonviolent and less likely to get themselves murdered if their top leaders flip-flop or align with political leaders, as Luther often needed to do in order to keep his head and neck attached.

Certainly the Pope and his theologians were as good at spinning bad press as Republicans are at convincing those desperately in need of health care that when the get it it will be a bad thing.

In my previous blog, I have argued that we should occupy churches and give power to the moral voices we want to have a national voice in our country's future. But, I wonder if optimism can cause Reformation if it lacks the sharp tongued venomous anger that Luther claimed as his vice.

Hatred and violence worked for our Lutheran origin, but I believe it cannot work today. At least here, from my privileged place as an employed Pastor in San Francisco, I must acknowledge that I'm nowhere near desperate enough to reform myself or the church in the ways Luther did.

That was Luther's to do.

My work is with the homeless and others living in poverty. My voice is heard by many and I hope it's because I see a vision of a more just world and deeply believe that if I do my part and you do yours we can be the society our neighbors deserve and at times desperately depend on.

As much as we may desire that others pay their fair share (whether it's bankers or seniors and those with disabilities), in the end it is up to us to roll up our sleeves, dust off our check books and feed people every time they are hungry.

Today our reformation is more likely to involve donations, cleaning dishes and toilets and loving everyone (without excuse) then it is to involve marching or pillaging.

So join me in the spirit of the Reformation and do at least one useful thing for the world, whether it's watching the kids of tired parents or raking someone's leaves - the new Reformation is one of compassion and care without an expectation that money needs to be exchanged for such things. Isn't that the heart of the historical Reformation anyway?

Expanding a Ministry . . .

I’ve been wanting to write about a staff meeting I attended for the Night Ministry a while back. (I know, I seem to be on a meeting kick lately, but this job just includes the best meetings.)

What struck me at this meeting is the breadth of ministry Night Ministry has taken on in recent years. For 47 years Night Ministry has had a minister on the street every single night from 10p.m. until 4a.m. and most of those nights we’ve had volunteer Crises Line Counselors to answer the phone between 10p.m. and 2a.m. Though our ministers only work in San Francisco, we do have phone calls from far afield. Being present for anyone in need at those hours, providing everything from company to crisis intervention is a pretty broad endeavor all on its own.

In recent years, though, we’ve ventured into new areas. Namely, the daytime. What does a Night Minister do during the day? Outdoor worship for one. For three years and counting we’ve held Open Cathedral at our Civic Center location every Sunday (except Pride, when the City uses the space) rain or shine. This worship means so much to the regulars that we have had 30 people in the pouring rain and sometimes have as many as 100 for worship (sometimes a great many more than that for the lunch we serve afterward). Open Cathedral Civic Center now also hosts a Tuesday evening community gathering at the Faithful Fools building (usually with food – always with great conversation and warm fellowship) and we’re talking about adding a church school in the new year. Recently, we also launched an Open Cathedral in the Mission on Thursday evenings.

Night Ministry has both day and night time presences, pastoral care, crises intervention, worship and fellowship. We’re in all the busy neighborhoods at night and a fair few by day. Where else could we expand? The Internet. The Web may seem like an unlikely place to find street ministers, but it turns out that the same nonjudgmental, compassionate care we provide in person is much needed online, too. Our deacon, Diana Wheeler, started Open Cathedral Castro a couple of years ago. At first it was a once a week outdoor service like our other Open Cathedrals, but it just didn’t seem to be meeting the needs of that neighborhood. Never one to mess around when something isn’t working, Diana re-envisioned Open Cathedral Castro into a sacred space online. They still hold events in the neighborhood from time to time but Open Cathedral Castro now also has 522 followers online. People send prayers, receive pastoral care online and see from far and wide just how welcoming a church can be. It has become the primary place for many in need of spiritual care. You can check them out at:

As we talked about our variety of ministries I just sat there thinking how cool it is to be part of an organization that serves such a wide diversity of people in so many ways. If you think it sounds cool, too, drop me a line at and we’ll figure out which of our many volunteer opportunities (we need folks both day and night times) will work for you.