October 30, 2020

As I preached about this past Sunday, throughout the pandemic it’s become increasingly clear to me how Charlie’s Place is such an essential part of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. As we’ve been forced to boil things down to what matters most, we’ve found that connecting and caring for one another, including our neighbors experiencing homelessness, is our answer.

Caring for our neighbors experiencing homelessness, however, is no easy thing. At the beginning of the pandemic, as churches across the world quickly pivoted to offer worship online, one thing that occurred to me right away is that we by no means can feed people on Zoom. When gathering in our parish hall for a meal was no longer a safe option, the very model of what Charlie’s Place is most about was called into question. How could we safely meet the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors in the midst of a pandemic–without the ability to gather in our building?

Thanks to the remarkable leadership of Reggie Cox, and the support of so many in our parish and wider community, we kept the basic work of Charlie’s Place–providing food and offering clothing–going. We moved outdoors, provided meals “to go,” and partnered with others to expand where and how we serve. And as we approach the eight-month mark of working in these new ways, the staff observes that the need to address homelessness is only getting more complex and more urgent.  

At the same time, on an operational level, the pandemic has also increased my and the Vestry’s concern regarding the sustainability of Charlie’s Place in its current iteration. Caring for our neighbors is an essential part of who we are; however, are the ways we have been caring in fact the most effective? In other words, how can Charlie’s Place shift from feeding our vulnerable neighbors to empowering them to address the root causes of their hunger and homelessness in the first place? 

As the first initiative that we undertake together following my official installation as your rector this coming St. Margaret’s Day, I am excited to announce an intentional season of discerning how Charlie’s Place can even better serve our neighbors. 

At my request and recommendation, the Vestry has authorized the off-budget expense of engaging with “transformation consultants” to help us through this discernment process. Based in Atlanta, the Lupton Center’s mission is all about offering tools and services to help change the way organizations respond to poverty. Over the next year they and some of our own local, DC-based experts will be helping us discern and then operationalize a more effective way of caring for our neighbors. With some parish-wide opportunities to learn from them, as well as through assessing the health and effectiveness of Charlie’s Place, we can begin to imagine how we can more effectively serve our community. 

To kick things off, St. Margaret’s and Charlie’s Place is hosting a special two-hour seminar on Sunday, December 6, at 12:30 p.m., called Reimagine Charity. Reimagine Charity examines why the traditional poverty-alleviation models that so many use aren’t working and addresses how we can better engage with our neighbors experiencing homelessness. 

Then, following Christmas and Epiphany, I’ll be leading a 6-week class called Seeking Shalom (Sundays at 12:30 p.m., January 6 to February 14). Over the course of the series you will be introduced to two dozen thought leaders and practitioners who will help us to answer three very important questions:

  1. Why is the traditional paradigm for addressing material poverty not working?
  2. How does the Bible understand material poverty and our response to it?
  3. What are the foundational principles for a healthier and more effective paradigm?

I’ll conclude by quoting the words of the Lupton Center’s founder Robert Lupton, who’s also the best-selling author of Toxic Charity. In a class I’m currently taking, I heard him offer advice to those who are beginning the work of reimagining their organization’s ways of serving. He said that as you begin, know that “every talent, every skill, and every resource needed to bring about God’s shalom in your place is there.” It’s in folks longing for a larger meaning in their lives. It’s in those we think we’re seeking to serve. “Those talents and abilities are there. We need to tell our story, identify those with the gifts needed, and then watch the transformation happen.”

At the risk of oversimplifying things, I think that sums up what I’m trying to communicate perfectly. Please don’t think that I’m announcing the end of Charlie’s Place. That’s not what this is about. What I am announcing is that Charlie’s Place may look different a year from now–but our story will be the same. We’ll identify the gifts that are needed, and we’ll watch the Spirit do her work of transformation.

In Christ,

The Rev. Richard Weinberg
Rector

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