A couple of years ago gentleman A started coming around the church for showers and food to help him get by in life. He would come to the worship services, sit in the front row, clap, laugh uproariously and in general show his appreciation for the worship service very loudly. No problem. Except this all happened with a bottle of "water" or "lemonade" in his hands. It became clear that gentleman A had some problems that went far beyond his current living situation. The church worked with him until the day that he got into a confrontation with one of the church members when they asked him to take his bottle of "lemonade" outside. Then things went downhill. The church was eventually took a stand that felt uncomfortable but necessary.
It turned out that we weren't the only ones. Others in our area had done the same thing with the same gentleman. Every time I see him around town I get a little frustrated that there isn't someplace that people who need more psychological help can go to live, be treated well and get the help they need.
A few weeks ago Opinionated Friend shared about gentleman B that they had at their church that they had to take an uncomfortable but necessary stand with. Last week gentleman B showed up at our church. We offer showers and food but not shelter or a place to just hang out all the time. Unfortunately gentleman B doesn't understand that. Our fabulous Office Manager is extremely uncomfortable with gentleman B which I get, there's just something that isn't setting well with me either. He needs help that goes beyond what we are capable of giving him and from what I understand he isn't going to get that help willingly.
The dilemma for me is that gentleman B is starting to hang around the entrance to the youth and children's area, which is behind the church out of sight without neighbors. At night it's dark, with few lights (believe me that's an issue that I've brought up a bazillion times and no one wants to listen) and can be a great setting for someone wanting a place to crash for the evening. Unfortunately youth group meets at night. Usually I leave the door unlocked so students can freely enter and exit the building on youth group nights. I am often there at night by myself and I park near that entrance. There is a safety issue here. I don't want to turn gentleman B completely away from the church yet there needs to be limits. Unfortunately I'm not sure that he will really understand those limits.
That's where I ponder, where do we draw the line? How much do we help others and where does the help take a turn to enabling someone? How much do we do? Do we allow behavior from people that is threatening or harmful to others (this goes way beyond just one particular set of people) or do we call people on that behavior? Which brings up another thought that is rattling around my head, are we too quick to call the "less fortunate" on their behavior and not quick enough to call the "more fortunate" on their behavior? In many ways it seems like a judgement call and it's an uncomfortable call. What complicates things even more is the scripture and sermons that run through my head, like those I've read this week from some of my favorite RevGalBlogPals that say "love people, nurture people, care for people, feed people" and on and on. Where do we draw the line, if we draw the line at all?
Tonight I had to make a judgement call. Tonight I had to decide whether I was going to confront someone (gentleman C) about camping out on the church property, let it slide, call in other reinforcements or call in the sheriff. And here is where the line was drawn. See, we offer a place for food, a place for showers and a place of worship but we don't offer a place to stay overnight. We don't say "Hey, no worries, just stay downstairs under the overhang when it's raining." We don't open the doors and allow people to come in and campout for the night. Tonight I needed to draw a line, not because I wanted to be mean and uncompassionate, believe me the whole "what if this was Jesus" thing kept running through my head. No, I needed to draw a line for the safety of those God has called me to be in ministry to...the youth. I kept the door locked, made sure the youth got to and from cars safely and waited until they left before making the call but I drew a line...with a little help from my friends. It feels uncomfortable but necessary.