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Born a Texan, but traveled the US extensively.  Now staying on the East coast.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Community of St Luke

This is going to take a while to post, but i was reminded of an article in the Episcopal Churches monthly newsletter "Good News", which extolled the virtues of priest who did basically a hostile take over of a ministry in a poor section of Stamford, the South End.
Extolling his virtues was not the problem, saying that nothing was occurring before he took over was the issue and so here is the full story.

I came up to Stamford with a family of 3 and German and someone else from Houston.
The husband of the family (Frank) had been invited up by one of the local Episcopal Churches to try to teach some of the things he learned in Houston, basically a Christian community.
That did not exactly work out, but 2 years later, he and the rest of us received another invite from the Episcopal Church, a last chance effort to do something with a small chapel in a very poor and decaying area of Stamford called the South End.
We had met another family and the other gentleman who came up from Houston, found his riches and moved on. Frank had also met Penny, who I was immediately enamored with and she with what a community life was about (it is basically sharing and letting what one person is good at, do it for the others, but that is simplistic. you can think of it as a lay monastic life without the vows).
So we took what was a mostly abandoned building with a rented chapel and began first cleaning it.
The build, being abandoned, was used as a shooting gallery by junkies.
My most memorable moment was cleaning up the rubbish with Frank's 10 year old son, shoveling it into large garbage cans.
We got a grant (Frank was real good at that sort of thing) to create a 9 room housing shelter (there were none at the time in Stamford) and contractors were hired to create the rooms and all.
The chapel was rented out to a couple of local ethnic churches, who would meet on Sunday afternoons. A large gym, with rolling floor boards (because of steam pipe leaks) was rented to a Tea Kwon Do school.
There was a summer camp, that was considered the worst in Stamford and we inherited that.
I and several others moved into the building and the neighborhood and because we lived there, the neighbors began to acknowledge us.
we started a Food Coop and I would go down to Hunts Point to pick up produce every Friday morning at about 3 and be back in time for work.
My memory of that place is wonderful , partially because we would stop by Valencia's backery for coffee and a turnover on the way back.
But there were also some special times, Hunts point was thought of as Mafia run or at least controlled. We would go down, first with a rented truck, then with a donated Van with St Luke's emblem painted on it. The rough workers there treated us with a lot of respect and once when wanting to buy a case of vegetables, one of the told us that that was the quality we should buy, it would be picked up Bonjourno's market later and the case we were to buy was much better quality, but our price was lower still. that was just some of the unusual "miracles"
that would follow us.
We started getting donations and would sell them at a small price.
We sold things not to make money, but to give people respect. It is funny how that works, but it does.
The neighborhood became an integral part of the work that was going on there with many, many volunteers.
We had no food program, but served about 10,000 meals a year.
We started a tutoring program.
The summer camp became respectable and there was even respect of the "gangs" in the poorer areas. They would not let anyone bother us.
We were there 7 years and even started some group housing for the chronically mentally ill (who were being let out of the hospitals at that time).
After 7 years, the Episcopal Church decided that clergy needed to run it; particularly, Reverend Schster and we were basically asked to leave.
The ministry was not “Struggling” as the newsletter put it, but flourishing and growing, despite the lack of funds from the Episcopal Church.
Many area churches and members volunteered to make the things that happened down there dynamic, to say the least.
Although we had grown, the whole thing was a great strain and a lot of work for all of us and in one since, we were glad to go.
The other part that we knew would happen is that the neighborhood was once again excluded and all of the neighborhood programs were eliminated, including the non-existent feeding program.
They kept the housing shelter and paid their people well (we had a budget of $50,000 from the church).
That was sad.
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