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Testimony at the DHS Oversight Hearing 3/13/2013 by the Rev. Michael Angell
Thank you Chairman Graham for this opportunity to speak, and thank you to the 82 people who came to testify today. I know it will be a long wait, but your voice is necessary. My name is The Reverend Mike Angell, and I am a priest at St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square and a member of the Washington Interfaith Network. I rise today to speak on behalf of members of our organizations, members of our churches, members of our institutions, citizens of this city, voters in the district of Columbia, human beings who live, work and study without adequate housing.
I’m a preacher, and so I tend to talk about Jesus. There is a story about Jesus standing up in the temple to read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me BECAUSE he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Jesus does not say “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me AND the Spirit has anointed me. That would just be a sequence of events. Jesus says, BECAUSE. The relationship between the Spirit’s anointing, the relationship between God’s blessing and good news for the poor is not casual but causal, because. We need to bring good news to the poor.
We live in a city with a lot of poor people. Washington DC announced for Fiscal Year 2013 a $417 million budget surplus, but we can’t find the money to keep homeless shelters open. The homeless have been told there is a multi-million dollar budget deficit this year for shelters. In 2008 we projected that by 2014 we would end chronic homelessness. We would house all the people who are disabled or elderly and who have been living on the streets for more than a year. There are over 2000 homeless people in Washington waiting for Permanent Supportive housing. There are waiting lists with hundreds of youth every night for the few shelter beds we have for homeless youth, and in the past months the funding for the youth homeless has been slashed, which means there are fewer beds. All this is happening while we are hemoraging affordable housing in this city and raiding the Housing Production trust fund. We should not be cutting programs in years of surplus. We need to bring good news to the poor.
We need more beds for homeless youth.
We need to make good on our promise to house the chronically homeless with Permanent Supportive Housing.
We need more affordable housing in this city.
These priorities come from listening to members of our churches, synagogues, and mosques, listening to the voters in our institutions. They care about housing the most vulnerable. Washington Interfaith Network will be training members of our institutions in voter engagement every week between now and the end of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget cycle. We will be engaging with this city government to have our priorities of youth homeless services, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing heard. This won’t be the last time you see us, you hear from us, around these issues.
We need to bring good news to the poor in this city.
Context: I’ve been enrolled in a course this January looking at the Theology and Practice of Ministry. Part of the coursework involves Service Learning, basically working with a local non-profit and reflecting on the experience like any of the other text books. I’ve been assigned to the group at Martha’s Table, a major non-profit in DC focusing on education and poverty. Our particular ministry, McKenna’s Wagon, involves vans that head out into DC 365 days a year to serve dinner to the homeless.
While I’ve not experienced too much depth while filling bowls of soup, I can say the experience has caused me to think about the context of ministry, really the context of all we do. Our location social, cultural, geographic, economic and otherwise greatly shapes how we interact with the world. Back at UCSD a good 1/5 of my ministry occured online on facebook. Students regularly posed questions, organized meetings, even requested prayer online. Social networking happens in an entirely different way on the streets. The homeless of DC have different ways of communicating, different codes, different expectations of those who come among them as “ministers.”
Awareness of our own context, listening to our own lenses and the realities that shape our worldview helps us to understand the diverse perspectives from which humans interact. What would be considered effective and important ministry at UCSD would be useless to the men on the corner of New York Avenue. How much do we miss of one anothers communication because we are listening with ears attuned to another worldview?
At the same time, if action is to be called “ministry” it must be directional. It must point toward the Kingdom of God. While we begin with different tools and start from different places, we are all learning to walk in the same direction. The great unifier across great socio-cultural divides is the hope of Christ. That hope harmonizes with all of the different possible rhythms of human life. Still, we must be aware whether we are dancing the Mambo or Tango. We must not be tone-deaf to the needs of those around us. Expecting my model of service or ministry to function in any context is arrogance. If we are to serve others, we best ask what they need and truly listen.
The dynamic attention of living in the particularity of human life with a bend toward the ultimate reality of God has been lived in its completeness in the incarnation. Jesus was both incredibly contextual and completely subversive. Learning to both and, to live out of our human particularness and celebrate that particularness in others while doing our best to bend the world in the direction of God’s Reign is the art of Christian ministry, it belongs to each and every follower.