Monday, November 19, 2012

Stained Glass, Deacon Ned, and the "Least of these"

I was fortunate to attend the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Society's national convention this year in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  The lectures were amazing and enlightening. I felt privileged, listening to some of the world’s foremost Theologians, Biblical scholars and Christian philosophers. It was great to re-connect with friends and see “newer” friends face-to-face.  But that’s not what I’m going to feature in this post.
(c) Lisa Guinther 2012

Across from the Milwaukee Public Library is a beautiful old church.  St James Episcopal church is a late 1800’s era church which once was attended by the worthies of Milwaukee; but now, although apart of the historic register, this church is a fading jewel. But as I came to discover, this is a church with many vital and important ministries. 

I love to explore old churches: for their history, their art, and the amazing people who carry on ministries for the Kingdom of God.
"Blessed are the Pure of Heart"
 Photo (c) Lisa Guinther 2012

The old sanctuary was a revelation.  Contained within the worship area are what appear to me as two sets of Tiffany windows, along with stained glass from studios in Philadelphia, and a couple of windows signed by a studio artist from Boston.  I do suspect the clearstory windows and the alter triptych are from studios in either Great Britain or Germany.

But on the side of the main sanctuary is a plain red door where the homeless of the city come for a hot breakfast Monday through Friday; in fact when I stopped in the first time Friday morning, the men in charge asked me if I wanted a breakfast.  On the other side of the building is another red door that twice a month they give away clothing to the needy. 
Deacon Ned
(c) Lisa Guinther

I walked up the steps to the clothing room and found Deacon Ned who let me into the sanctuary this particular Saturday morning.  I thanked him for letting me in to photograph the windows, told him I turned off the lights and made sure the doors were locked behind me, and then I asked him about the ministries at St. James. 

Go here to the church web-site

He told me about the breakfast offered, and that the Saturday dinner was the only hot meal in the city.  The clothing giveaway was twice a month, and I watched him take names of the people coming to pick out clothing and hand them their slips, then he began to tell me of the most amazing ministry, one very close to his heart; Indigent burials.

St James Episcopal cares for the last service on this earth for those who have no one; no family, no friends, no one to stand by the grave site at the potter’s field; the burial site for those who cannot afford funeral services.  Deacon Ned told me that before this ministry, people with no next of kin would be collected from the county and placed in “…a cardboard coffin and dumped in a hole.”  He told me of the difficulty of getting this ministry started, but related to me how vital he felt this was to the kingdom of God. St. James began to offer this ministry in 2009 for individuals who are indigent, who die unclaimed by anyone, and whose death would otherwise go unnoticed.

This ministry isn’t always to the poor and homeless, but once the church was notified when a still-born baby was left in a box at the local hospital.  Deacon Ned said “I named the child Michael Gabriel, and we buried him with a teddy bear.”
          We need to remember these inner city churches that offer vital but sometimes overlooked ministries to people in need…even in death.  Although our Lord Jesus Christ related in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats what we all know so well “ …Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40) but to serve the dead is also serving the Lord.  Remember the ministering women at the tomb.

These once vital congregations have dwindled in the inner city.  These churches were once attended by the influential of the municipalities, but as in many cities the wealthy moved to the suburbs and left their home congregations behind.  Regardless of your thoughts of the state of the so-called liberal “main-line” denominations; there are those who remain faithful to the call of God to a particular church and its moving tide of needy humanity. These men and women stay to continue offering help and solace to those who fall through the ever widening crack (or chasm) of depersonalized governmental aid.

Here is a video of the “Gathering of Southeast Wisconsin” the separate 501c3 that feed the poor in the 4th poorest city in the nation.

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