Ministry Today – Serving and empowering church leaders

Despite a sagging economy that’s (literally) leaving more people out in the cold, New York City officials have ordered at least 22 churches to stop providing shelter for homeless people. As temperatures drop below freezing, more churches will be prone to open their doors for those on the streets, yet officials reminded these and other churches that they must be provide beds at least five days a week to be considered an official faith-based shelter. “We really don’t want people sleeping on the streets, on grates, on church steps. We want people sleeping in beds,’ said the Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Robert Hess, who added that the city has 8,000 beds waiting for bodies.

A church in Pittsburgh, however, recently had to fight against county officials for its right to care for the homeless. This summer, a zoning officer for Brookville Borough in Jefferson County cited pastor Jack L. Wisor of First Apostles Doctrine Church for a code violation of “group housing” by allowing three homeless men to live in his church’s parsonage. The pastor was fined $500 in August, while the church was instructed to not house any more homeless individuals. As a reply, Wisor recruited—of all things—the American Liberties Civil Union to help him file a federal lawsuit and argue that sheltering those living on the street is fundamental to the church’s Just for Jesus Challenge Homeless Outreach ministry. The result? A day before the case’s hearing, the Brookville Borough council gave the church permission to house up to eight homeless individuals (along with two staff members). Currently the church and borough are meeting to discuss future plans with the homeless ministry. [wcbstv.com, 11/22/08; post-gazette.com, 11/24/08]

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