23 January 2023 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy:
Our conference has a huge camp meeting grounds in a major metro area that sits empty all year. I have fond memories of camp meetings from my childhood, decades ago. I also remember that on the last Sabbath evening the preacher would almost always say, “This might be the last camp meeting because Jesus will return before next year.” That (needless to say) hasn’t happened.
In the meantime, the homeless population has exploded in our area. Jesus said that we will all be judged by how we cared for the needy. So I’m wondering: wouldn’t Christ’s commands to care for the needy be honored if these empty lodgings were made available year around as camps for the homeless?
Signed, Wanna Help
Dear Wanna Help,
Aunt Sevvy loves your attitude about helping the needy! Creating a dedicated place where people without homes can live without harassment would be a wonderful ministry.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the idea of using underused church property (such as empty church buildings) has been considered by many church groups of other denominations already. The bad news: it rarely works in the long term, for several legitimate reasons.
- One is safety. Homeless people aren’t necessarily more dangerous, but they are vulnerable, and dangerous people prey on them. That can make an encampment a risky place, which takes special handling. Can the church keep people safe on their property?
- Which leads to questions of liability. Can a church entity afford the liability should someone sue for something that happens on that property? Do they want to face the complaints from neighbors and city services that blame them for the mess created by an unregulated campsite?
- Another concern is whether the property actually is usable in this way. Church properties aren’t usually set up to manage a lot of sleepers of mixed gender and various states of competence. Indeed, many cities won’t even allow it. Cleanliness alone can be a huge problem, not just for the property but for the neighbors.
- Finally, what some churches have found is that using the church during the week for homeless people makes it difficult to use for the purpose for which it was designed. What comes to mind is those churches that have let homeless people sleep on the pews during cold nights, all of which have to be cleaned up before Sunday services start. So, what if you let people occupy your property all year? In this case, would all the homeless have to move away during camp meeting?
Does that mean it couldn’t be done? No, but it would require a level of interest and risk-taking that Aunty has rarely seen in the church. You might put together a proposal that addresses the above issues and present it to your local conference—but Aunty isn’t optimistic. She suspects this would be just too big a lift for them, with too many obstacles.
Though it sounds like a good idea, this may not be the best way to help anyway. Why reinvent the wheel when there are plenty of existing well-designed programs, with experts who know how to manage such projects? We Adventists should join with other agencies to address social needs. You’d probably have a much more effective ministry by volunteering, and perhaps organizing a team from your church to work with an existing homeless ministry, than waiting for it to happen on your camp meeting grounds.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.