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THE POOR ARE?

I have no vote. Having said that I am not suggesting that I am neutral about who should be the next President. Never fear, I am not going to reveal my preference. Am I alone in noticing that the one constituency among the voting population which is not mentioned in the debates is the Poor?

Now it may well be that the poor have been given honorary membership in the “Middle Class” club. If the present financial crisis goes on for much longer, the distinction between poor and middle class may be moot. Perhaps politicians fear that poor people may be offended if they are identified? Perhaps they fear that middle class people won’t vote for a leader who plans to spend tax money on those who have nothing? Whatever the motive, far from the poor being always with us, they seem to have become invisible.

Episcopalians are well versed in identifying the poor of whatever race as a group for whom soup kitchens are intended and pews are not. I am not sure whether this attitude portrays a subtle form of prejudice or a sincere conviction that poor people would feel uncomfortable in our worshiping midst.

The prejudice looks something like this: our form of worship requires intelligence to appreciate. The poor like rumperty tumperty songs, extempore prayer and fundamentalist preaching, and anyway they tend to be Republicans. The poor don’t go to college, ergo they are dim witted. Episcopalians are intelligent and cultured. Anyway the poor wouldn’t pay our parish bills.

Even if we don’t harbor such obvious prejudice we may sincerely believe that the poor wouldn’t want or like what we offer. We may explain Rome’s greater success in pastoring all segments of a population, despite their liturgical tradition and ceremonialism, by suggesting that one doesn’t have to think to be a Roman Catholic. Tell that to Chesterton or Tolkein.

One doesn’t have to visit the Global South to encounter terrible poverty, sub standard education and appaling medical care. Visit any of our major cities. It may well be true that 11: AM on Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America. That segregation isn’t merely between African-American and white churched Americans. There’s as frightening a sgregation between our Episcopalian middle class worshipers and those who rent apartments in inner cities or live in trailer parks.

Anglicanism in America has become a denomination. If that is not indictment enough it has become a denomination of an elite. The humbug lies in our protestation of liberal and compassionate values. Are we going to vote for the middle class as we pray with the middle class next month? Ah! but there’s always the soup kitchen and the thrift shop.

4 Responses

  1. Fr. Tony:

    I do not know if it is prejudice or ignorance, but I think it is that attitude which causes many to ridicule the efforts of the institutional establishment to rally us behind the MDG’s. If I feed a person without offering him or her the bread of life, or if I give him or her a drink without offering them the living water, I am simply prolonging their agony and death. Similarly, if a church simply “throws money” at a situation without offering the transformative grace of Christ crucified and resurrected, is it really a church or simply a social activist club? Perhaps we in the Episcopal church too often forget that just as the coin in today’s reading was stamped in Caesar’s image, the poor are stamped in the image of God. After all, He had to have someone give Him a denarius to remind us of that teaching today.

    Thanks for the questioning and willingness to ask it on the listserv. I am sure the thread that follows will be enlightening.

    Christ’s Peace,
    Brian†

  2. Tony,

    If you have the chance to pick up the latest number of Anglican and Episcopal History (September 08), Jeremy Bonner has a fascinating overview of the major themes of the last half-century here in Pittsburgh, beginning with the election of Austin Pardue as bishop in 1943. Pardue was not exactly an “evangelical,” but he was a determined evangelist, and he viewed the class-enshrouded Episcopal Church of his day as a scandal. Major themes for him were founding new congregations and opening old congregations for steelworkers, coal miners, mill hands, etc., and he brought to Pittsburgh, as Rector of Calvary Church, probably the most effective evangelist the Episcopal Church has known since the days of Philips Brooks: Sam Shoemaker.

    It was a season of disruption, dislocation, reorientation, and renewal in Pittsburgh, and in many ways prepared the way for the evangelical revival that caught fire in the 70’s and 80’s and became the foundation for our current situation.

    Pardue had a vision of a church not where mill owners raised money to meet the needs of mill hands, but where the two groups would worship and serve together. It was quite radical, and in large part wasn’t successful, though leaving our diocese with more than the usual share of churches in blue-collar and ethnic communities. But it did have the result of dislodging the old establishment set from the seats of power in the church–the results of which action we are still muddling through today.

    Bruce Robison

  3. Fr. Tony:

    As a young curate fresh out of Seminary, I served at a “Chapel” on the lower east side of Manhattan. There were a number of these “Chapels” at the time all established for the “working class” by wealthy Episcopalians who worshiped at the sponsoring churches. They didn’t invite the “poor” to their parishes but, at least, there was a concern for them to have a place to worship. Most of these are now gone. The one where I served lost most of its congregation and is now a separate parish which I think survives mostly through the “gentrification” of the neighborhood although I may be being unfair because I lost all touch with that area a long time ago. My point is that showed a concern for the poor and for a place of worship for them that seems lost today. I would agree that this is very inadequate and represented a kind of religious snobishness too often associated wht the Episcopal Church, Still, Unfortunately we do not see enough of even this kind of concern in today’s church.

  4. Fr. Tony:

    The resulting thread on the HOB/D listserv regarding your post probably best informs us all as to why the Episcopal Church fails to reach so many.

    Peace,
    Brian†

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