In nearly every town I have served in, the ministers band together to help those who are in need. In Belgrade, Fowler and Hot Springs, this was a more informal network. In Colorado Springs, the downtown churches formed a ministry called Ecumenical Social Ministries, and referred folks to that agency as a clearing house for benevolent help.
I am currently the pastor of a federated church, and a president of a local ministerial association. We have a voucher system, and vendors that have billing agreements with us throughout town. We oversee the ministry of the food bank, which serves hundreds of people a month. You would think this would be a very satisfying ministry. Helping people n need. Feeding the hungry. Helping people keep their lights on. Sometimes i is. Most of the time it is not, however, very rewarding work. And, for the last several months, I have even began to question the value of my participation in this work.
The reason I get frustrated with the benevolent work we do with the ministerial association is that it has become less of an opportunity to connect with, love, and support neighbors in need, and more of an entitlement program.
This is how it works. People come in to my office. They want help. They do what they need to do and say what they need to say to get it. Since it is institutionalized, they feel they have a right to the money within the limits that are set for each person. If they do not get help, then folks, yell, scream and try to bully myself or others to get it. People approach the funds as a community chest, and believe they have the right to it whenever they want it. You want a handout? Call pastor Clint, and feel free to call 24-7! Uggh.
This system gets frustrating because, to be honest, a lot of the voucher distribution gets dumped on me. Pastors send people in need to my office when they can handle needs themselves. The police, despite being told not to, refer people to the parsonage phone late into the evening. Many people say thank you. Others do not.
Some people come in, get help, and move on thankful for a little assistance to get them through a crisis. Others use the system regularly, but also work pretty hard not to abuse it. They need help once or twice a year, but they have limited income and live close to edge and need an honest hand-up. Sometimes I get to visit and pray with these folks. I don't mind these opportunities.
Others, however, seem to budget for help so they can spend money on other things. They work the system. They know when they have a right to ask for help, and they come and get it, and then they move on. Many of these folks not even appreciative. They attack if they don't get what they want. Several seek food vouchers so they can spend their cash on booze. Others come and get help for the kids, only to be found selling scripts in the local HUD housing.
The whole voucher system, despite whatever you may do to visit with people, comes across at best as clinical and at worst as paternalistic. It is better than not being networked, but I don't feel like I am relating to people as much as I am an agent dispensing help I am obligated to give.
The problem solver in me then asks myself, how could we change this system? How could things be different? I don't necessarily have an answer to this. What I want is to be able to make a difference. I want to not feel obligated or taken advantage of. I want to love my neighbor, not service them with an entitlement program.
Anyway, something I am thinking about.