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.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ode to the Anarchist's Hut

Most of the pictures I’ve posted of the Free Farm so far have bee
n wide view shots of large sections of the garden and a couple of narrow shots of people, food, or socks. Today I want to highlight the container garden. There is a whole section up by the Eddy side fence full of plants in containers, as well as potted plants in other areas of the Free Farm. Here are a few pictures.

I’ve been wanting to post about it for a couple of months since someone stole a number of large pots. I told Tree I’d put out an appeal for more. We can use any size from five gallons on up. But I don’t want to limit folks to pots. We can plant in coolers, small barrels, large bowls and any number of other things.

I was reminded I’d been wanting to write about this at a Free Farm meeting the other night when we were discussing encouraging people to grow things in non-standard containers. I have to tell you that Free Farm meetings are just wonderful – both because they are and because this story is heading toward my point. The first one I went to we sat outside on hay bales at the Farm eating a delicious dinner and discussing the business at hand as the sun went down. I remember feeling so lucky to have a job that includes meetings like that. The one the other night was in Tree’s gorgeous back yard, again good food and warm people and discussion you won’t ever hear in any corporate meeting room. How can one not love a conversation that includes the sentence, “I miss the Anarchist’s Hut.” The anarchist’s hut was before my time, but what it was was the area one person set out to cultivate in a way that would lend a little anarchy to the Free Farm. When he stopped maintaining it, it reverted to order. There were plans to plant in a bathtub. He had an actual bed frame planted with a variety of plants and called it – wait for it- his ‘planting bed.’ I would like to stress that I am not calling for masses of discarded bathtubs or old bed frames. I just wanted to give you all an idea of how far outside the box you’re being invited to think on this one. Regular planting pots are welcome, too.

I also wanted to give a quick update on the fate of the Free Farm Stand. There was an outpouring of support from the community and Park and Rec is working with Tree to iron out the details for the Stand to stay put. Hooray for everyone who came out to support the Stand and for the Park and Rec for being willing to reconsider.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Help Keep Us on the Streets

So I’m going to be out of the norm in more ways than one with this week’s post. Thanks to some exciting but very busy week at SF CARE last week followed by being out of town and certain adventures in trying to get an internet connection this week, what would have been my Thursday entry last week is coming to you today and I will skip posting tomorrow. (I’ll be on the road again.)

The other way I’m going to go counter to what you might expect to read here is I’m going to let you know about a fun way to put people on the streets, rather than any of the usual ways we normally try to help people get off the streets.

This Saturday is San Francisco Night Ministry’s annual gala. It starts at 5:30 and runs through the silent auction, a wonderful dinner, and the live auction. It’s a great chance to meet the Night Ministers, hear about what we’ve done over our 47 year history, how we’ve changed and grown in recent years, and what we’re hoping for for the future. I’ve seen some of the silent auction items and they are wonderful. Everything from framed artwork to antique silver to a covered wagon collection. And the live auction includes weekend getaways and even a lunch with a couple of Night Ministers.

It’s also a chance to keep the Night Ministry on the streets. We’ve had at least one Night Minister on the street every single night for all 47 years of that history and the gala is one of the main ways we raise the money it takes to do that (and pay for the phone system or Crises Line Counselors staff every night, and feed people at Open Cathedral, and all our other expenses).

So come enjoy a wonderful evening and help keep us on the streets. You can purchase your tickets at . I look forward to seeing you there.