Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Opening our heart and hands: Having an impact this Lent

“Happy are they who consider the poor and needy! The Lord will deliver them in the time of trouble.”
Psalm 41
As you know, Lent is a time of inward self-examination and confession. Lent is also a time of looking outward at where we have fallen short, especially in our care for the poorest and neediest among us.

That is one of the reasons that I agreed to serve this year as the co-president of IMPACT, a coalition of 31 faith congregations – Christian, Jewish and Muslim – who have banded together to work on social justice issues. One of the reasons I am committed to IMPACT is that it focuses on specific solutions that have an immediate positive impact on the real lives of real people.

One of the qualities of IMPACT that I especially appreciate is that the organization is careful about the issues it picks. We come together to vote on which issue we will pursue. It must be an issue that unifies us, has clear cut solutions and one where our effort will have an impact.

Last year we focused on mental health issues. I can tell you that as the pastor of a large church on an urban corner that the safety net for the mentally ill is very thin in our community. We see people coming through our church doors on a daily basis who have only the barest connection to reality and who are barely surviving. Many live on the street, and they end up in jail.

They have very few places to go in Charlottesville.

Inevitably, the issues of poverty and mental illness take us into the realm of public policy. I know that makes some people uncomfortable, and it makes me squirm, too. Religious people should be extraordinarily careful when wading into political arenas, and we have many recent examples of religious leaders pushing themselves onto ground where they do not belong.

But I am also mindful that the Bible is abundantly clear that we must take care of the poor, the sick, the hurting and the needy. The mentally ill are all of those, and they have so few places to turn. Sometimes we, as people of faith, must get our hands dirty in the arena of public policy, and this is one of those times.

Last year the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors agreed to allocate $42,500 for a transitional housing program for the mentally ill so that they have a place to go when being discharged from a mental hospital, prison or psychiatric unit. The program is humane, common sense, saves money by preventing re-incarceration, and it is the right thing to do.

It is also just barely enough.

This week, the county staff recommended eliminating the program. That is only a staff recommendation, and does not necessarily mean the Board of Supervisors will follow that recommendation.

But the board needs to hear from us.

There will be a hearing on this budget proposal tomorrow Wednesday February 29 at 6 pm at the County Building at 401 McIntyre Road. Filling every seat in the audience will send a message to our elected officials that we want them to do the right thing for the mentally ill. Please come if you can; IMPACT supporters will meet outside at 5:45 pm.

You can also email the board: bos@albemarle.org, or call individual members of the board by clicking HERE.

One more thing: Even if we succeed in restoring funding for this program, we aren’t done. On March 5 at 6:30 pm at the Church of the Incarnation, we will get an update on how we have done on this issue and hear more on the issue we are engaged with this year: jobs for young people.

Then on March 26 at 6:30 pm, members of all 31 congregations will convene at the John Paul Jones Arena for our annual Nehemiah Action. Please put all of these dates on your calendar and come.

No comments: