Friday, November 07, 2008

Faith Works 11-8-08
Jeff Gill

Points of Light, Circles of Hope

Last Sunday evening I had the distinct pleasure of Emcee-ing a “Gospel Celebration” concert at the Midland Theater in Newark, on behalf of the Licking County Coalition of Care.

Funds were raised and spirits raised higher, but I had an interesting moment when I got a round of applause I wasn’t expecting.

During one of the transitions between groups, which is when the master of ceremonies is actually useful if they fill the time productively, I tossed in a little speech about how “no matter who wins the election on Tuesday, the kind of work the Coalition does will still be vitally needed; government is not good at providing time, a listening ear, and a word of hope.”

Trust me when I tell you that I was acutely aware that the hall and the 600 audience and some 200 performers included the most passionate of Obama supporters, and hearty advocates of John McCain, and at least one Bob Barr stumper that I knew of. But what I was pleasantly surprised by was how the crowd thundered applause, as one vast meaningful rumble, when I noted that the change in presidency will not change the need to support work like what the Coalition of Care does.

I was thinking that again Thursday night, when I was standing in a more modest throng, but significant for a candlelight vigil after dark on a November evening. Just to keep things a bit confusing, I serve as board president of the Licking County Coalition for Housing, a group which works on providing transitional housing to people and families leaving emergency shelter and needing assistance to get to stability, along with a major financial literacy effort to do preventive work to fight homelessness.

For the last seven years, we’ve done something inspired by a very moving exhibit at the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, where a wall is simply twenty feet of empty shoes, echoing a pile found at Auschwitz. The mind quickly thinks to fill those shoes with bodies and faces and people, but the emptiness remains and helps you imagine and understand loss, to resist invisibility.

That’s why we’ve set out some 1,400 pairs of shoes, discards from other agencies, for the last six years, to show the number of people who come to the Housing Coalition for assistance and support in staying housed, one way or another. We get federal funds to maintain the 38 units of transitional housing we provide as the core of those supports, so we don’t pray with our clients the way the Coalition of Care can, working as they do with entirely local funds, but I know that many of our staff and friends pray for the people they work with, every day.

And even the Housing Coalition can have a little ecumenical prayer in our public education efforts, which I got to do at noon on Courthouse Square and what I listened to Brad Isch, pastor of Narrow Road Community Church on Fifth St., do in both prayer and a bit of preaching about the need to go from awareness to action, in this as in so many areas of our lives.

The Housing Coalition needs support from those of us who still have jobs, who can afford to share with those who are hurting, for unrestricted funds and also for local match to qualify for those useful if restricting federal dollars (give us a few hundred thousand a year and we could walk away from those HUD bucks, but . . .); the Coalition of Care needs your help because no one anywhere else is going to help pay to keep the lights on and support people here in Licking County in that way. We can count on them to pray with and listen to and share a little aid provided by congregations working together, and they can help direct people most efficiently from church referrals to the state and federally funded agencies they need to talk to, but with the knowledge that someone will stand behind them or even with them as they make their way through those systems.

It is said about prayer in schools that as long as there are algebra tests, there will be prayer in school; we will always have much prayer around all the efforts in our community to help people in need. Pray for those folks, pray for those working to make that aid usefully available while strengthening the recipients at the same time (a tough, tough challenge), and pray for those making decisions through this holiday season about their giving.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s happy to remind you that donations can come online at! Or just write him at