Joshua and Jessica have been getting used to being new parents to their daughter, Lucia Marie Therese Hearne. Since Josh enjoys doing most of the writing for this newsletter, we thought we’d give him a break and just reprint a previous story that ran in June of 2012 when there were far fewer readers. So, you may have read this one before, but it’s still a great story and worth rereading. If you’ve not read it, then it’s “new to you.” Please keep Josh and Jessica in your prayers as they continue to transition.
Friends of the Wayfarer
As 2011 faded into 2012, I checked my voicemail to find a voice there that I’d never heard before. It was a man named Patrick whose voice resonated with a hard earned certainty that I wouldn’t actually get back in touch with him. He had just moved south from Massachusetts in eager pursuit of a new life and new opportunities, having left behind his family, friends, and community. When we finally talked, he admitted that it was a complicated story that brought him to a city like Danville where opportunities are often in short supply for those who most desperately need them. He was close to finding somewhere permanent to stay but needed a couple more days to finalize the paperwork. Some of our leaders conferred quickly, keeping to our “no lone rangers” rule and we were able to provide Patrick with a place to stay that wasn’t cold or wet–that night Patrick rested comfortably for the first time in a while.
Soon, Patrick was getting on his feet and had a wonderful (and safe) place to stay. With a little bit of help every now and then, Patrick was starting to get established in our midst. He continued to come to our meals and Bible studies, not because he felt obligated but because he was finding comfort and peace as bread was broken and stories were shared. He soon began worshiping with us on Sunday evening and his gentle and kind spirit was revealed to everybody who met him in our little chapel. Once he had his feet underneath him, he felt comfortable enough to begin to share himself and his talents with us. Patrick is a lover of good coffee and conversation. Patrick is remarkably well-read in theology and ministry as well as science fiction and classic literature. Patrick is a talented artist and quick-witted—even some of his doodles and margin notes seem worthy of a frame. Patrick was quickly becoming an essential piece of our community and its gatherings and we were glad to see the leader emerging in him as he processed through some of the reasons he had left Massachusetts behind.
So, it came as a bittersweet surprise when he let me know that God was directing him to return to the home he had fled and to find the grace hidden there in relationships he had assumed dead. So, we helped him pack up with tearful eyes and a big Mexican lunch before praying for him as he left aboard the early-morning north-traveling train out of Danville. Patrick is back in Massachusetts now after having found his reason for being there in a little city in Southside Virginia where opportunities may be hard to find, but more and more grace is being uncovered every day. His note to us once he made it back was: “[I am] thankful for the experiences down in Danville. Eyes were definitely opened much wider down there. Big thanks to the Grace and Main missionaries who deserve all my love and gratitude. The love they show the homeless, jobless, and addicted is an amazing testimony to the power of love over the suffering plaguing society today. May God bless you even more.”
Patrick was only with us for a little while. Some might look at this as a little thing or as a missed opportunity, but at Grace and Main Fellowship we know that sometimes we are called to be a temporary home for brothers and sisters bound for some other place or community. When God brings such a person in our lives, we rejoice with, mourn with, and love them as best as we know how for the time that God has placed in our lives. Not everybody stays forever and that’s okay.
May God bless you Patrick, our wayfaring stranger from the north. You were a blessing to our community and remain in our prayers.
The artwork included in this newsletter was done by Patrick and hangs on the walls of Josh and Jessica’s home along with some of the other pieces Patrick made while he was with us. If you’d like to commission him to do work for you or your organization, please contact Josh and he’ll be glad to connect you with Patrick.
An article released last night by News & Observer reporter Colin Campbell revealed that City of Raleigh officials at the highest levels plotted for months to to find “legal” ways to keep people who wish to help the poor out of Moore Square Park.
This is in direct contradiction to public statements by Police Chief Deck-Brown, Community Oriented Government Coordinator Dana Youst, who works for Raleigh Parks and Recreation, and her boss, Diane Sauer, who heads up Parks and Recreation. The consistent message from all of them was that there was no effort to keep poor people out of Moore Square.
In the last three weeks, we have had meetings with all of these people, and all of whom assured us that there was no conspiracy or plot to “clean up” Moore Square, or to only allow the “right” people to enjoy it. We now know that not to be the case, and that as far back as February of this year the Parks and Recreation Department laid the groundwork for such a “clean up.” In a meeting this past Thursday, one of the people mentioned in the article interrupted me mid-sentence to let me know she cared about all the people of Raleigh.
Not, apparently, those who are poor, or those who seek to help them.
The emails also reveal that Sauer changed park policies on the advice of the Raleigh Police Department to allow indiscriminate banning of classes of people, and that she sought legal counsel to find ways to ban food distribution on public sidewalks.
Apparently, the Raleigh City Council was not notified of either the policy changes that Sauer implemented, or the desire of Parks and Recreation to ban food distribution.
In the past three weeks, we thought we were working with the City to develop answers, but now we are left with only more questions. For example:
- Why are the emails missing for the two weeks prior to our being thrown out of the park? What would those emails show that the City does not want the public to know?
- We are three weeks after the day food distribution was shut down when the Raleigh Police Department threatened to arrest multiple people, from multiple groups, over an entire day. Chief Deck-Brown’s only public comment has been that she told the officers the day before to not arrest anyone. Why will the Raleigh Police Department not acknowledge that the event even happened, let alone hold anyone responsible for disobeying orders?
- It is obvious that there was a long-term plot to criminalize the poor and to run off those who seek to help the poor, despite the consistent assurances by City staff that there was no plot. And now that emails are missing – emails that are part of the public record, by the way – it appears there is an effort to cover that plot up. In light of this, what does interim City Manager Perry James intend to do about it?
- Why was the City Council not notified of policy changes around who Diane Sauer will allow to use city parks? Why did the Raleigh Police Department push for those policy changes?
I suppose that if a police officer threatens to arrest a pastor for sharing food with hungry people, I shouldn’t be surprised that other City staff also conspired to push poor folks out of the same public park, or that they conveniently can’t find the emails from the time period of the premeditated crackdown. But this is where we find ourselves, in a City whose staff systematically disenfranchises poor people and writes orders to profile its most vulnerable citizens for the sake of… well, themselves.
When we reported that a Raleigh police officer threatened to arrest me for sharing food on a Moore Square sidewalk, the world responded, and we have spent the last three weeks building relationships within the City administration as we answer our call to advocacy and reconciliation. Now we understand why the meetings were going so well. The Parks and Recreation staff had more more to hide than we realized, and they wanted to keep it that way.
I have a feeling that the meetings will be more tense from now on.
The City’s next move to satisfy the seemingly predetermined conclusion to their public relations and policy nightmare is a public meeting on Monday, September 16, in Marbles Kids Museum, the president of which openly voiced her disapproval of food distribution in Moore Square at the Law and Public Safety Committee hearing on August 28. She also asserted in her statement that the business the museum has brought to Raleigh is more valuable than the people who hang out in Moore Square.
Oh, and this is the third year in a row that Marbles has received funding from the City of Raleigh Arts Council. So you tell me if this seems choreographed to you.
Because the deck is stacked against us, it’s important that people like you show up at the meeting to support the rights of those of us who are poor. Meeting time and exact location are here.
The meeting’s format will differ from that of a public hearing. What we know is that the audience will split into small groups, each with a facilitator, maps, easels, and a City employee documenting the conversation. We’re not sure who the facilitators will be. The small groups will brainstorm. We’re also not sure where or to whom that information will go.
It’s important to remember that the meeting is only about food distribution. It’s not about shelters, transportation, or health care. Knowing that, a few key ideas to keep in mind while in your small group:
- This is a geographical issue. It is not acceptable that distribution locations exist solely or even primarily in areas off of the bus line, like north Raleigh, or in areas already struggling with poverty, like southeast Raleigh. We will not accept a solution that further pushes poor people out of the downtown core, and we certainly won’t let the City push people into the largely ignored part of town just because it thinks that poor folks already fit in better there anyway.
- The temporary non-enforcement of the ordinance prohibiting sharing food in the park is just that– temporary. Another decision will come at the November 26 City Council meeting. It is by no means a long-term, sustainable solution ignoring and devaluing Raleigh’s most vulnerable citizens for decades.
- By not already having installed a weekend food distribution solution, the City has shifted the burden to the private sector. Namely, nonprofits and religious groups. The City has refused to claim its most vulnerable citizens, and then it placed constraints on the very people who try to pick up its slack. Most of whom, by the way, are also citizens of Raleigh and pay the taxes to keep up Moore Square. The City needs to take ownership of a weekend food distribution solution instead of disempowering the people who try to show compassion for their hungry neighbors.
At some point the City will form a task force of interested organizations that will meet three times before the November 26 City Council meeting. The task force will make recommendations to the City Council on how it should handle the apparently very complicated issue of making sure that all of its citizens are taken care of.
We are, as you can imagine, beyond frustrated. No one likes being lied to. No one likes being the target of a systemic plot to keep you out. No one likes to think they live in a city where that would be tolerated, let alone carried out by City officials.
Regardless we remain prisoners of hope. We hope that the City will call the plotters into account. We hope for the day when the only hope of the hungry is not some church lady from the ‘burbs to bring a sandwich. Heck, we hope for a day when there are no hungry. But right now, we are just captivated with the hope that one day we will see a Raleigh that is for everyone.