A lesson in contrasts


Before attending Taizé services this evening, I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant. To keep myself entertained during dinner, I picked up a copy of the free newspaper SF Weekly, and there I found an article about a church in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco that faced strong opposition from the neighbors when it tried to open up a shelter for women and their children. The pastor, fed up with the neighborhood, decided to sell the church property and move to another location. According to an article in the neighborhood newspaper Noe Valley Voice,

Bell first encountered neighborhood ire shortly after he took over as a social activist pastor and unveiled plans to establish a city homeless shelter. He backed down from the plan, but from time to time has operated food and clothing giveaways at the church, located at 1596 Church Street.

Over the years, Bell says the church has been the target of various forms of harassment--from complaints about sidewalk sales and uncovered garbage cans to graffiti-sprayed exterior walls to late-night phone calls that he describes as "racist." Bell is African American and the church congregation is racially diverse.

The decision to sell came after Bell began a $5 million fundraising drive to build the House of Sarah, a temporary refuge for women who would receive drug and alcohol counseling and life-skills training.

"We got so much adverse reaction from the community," he says. "I'm just sick and tired of it. This is just straight-up racism, and I don't feel like dealing with this kind of stupid stuff."

The SF Weekly article points out that many in this neighborhood also objected in 2000 when a different congregation, the Metropolitan Community Church, tried to set up a homeless shelter for gay youth. Perhaps the problem is racism, as the minister says; or maybe it is simply nimbyism.

It is almost certain that the church that tried to set up the House of Sarah in Noe Valley is not anywhere close to me theologically. For example, the SF Weekly article reports that a church billboard proclaims, "Santa Claus, also known as Santa Claus or Saint Nicolas, the famous mythical creature loved by multitudes across the world, is a demonic caricature of our Lord Jesus Christ." Okay, they are definitely not my kind of church. But, be that as it may, without knowing more about it, the church at least seems to take seriously its mission to help others in need, something that also characterized the previous effort by a different church to set up a shelter for gay youths. But the local residents would have none of that.

Just last week, I saw a large number of men, chatting in English and Spanish, hanging out around the church where the Taizé services that I attend are conducted. During the announcements portion of the service, it was explained that the church operates a homeless shelter during the month of December. Tonight, by contrast, I didn't see any groups of homeless men hanging around the church; since it was rainy outside, perhaps they were inside the church shelter. This particular church is not located in Noe Valley, however. It is an Episcopal church, located just outside downtown. A different neighborhood, a different attitude. Meanwhile, Noe Valley, with its chicness intact, will be spared the presence of too many people who are down and out and in need of help.


Eileen said...

This is also totally sad.

We fight this nonsense in my little suburban town too. We don't want Workforce housing in our neighborhoods, because we don't want to attract "that" kind of person around here.

And what kind of person would that be? The kind of person any one of us might turn into under the right conditions?

Sometimes, the mirror is an uncomfortable place to look. Get over it.