Lection Connection - Spirit Sightings

January 26, 2020: Follow

From Sandra Rooney

Christmas is past and the Wise Men have long since returned home “another way,” and, as Howard Thurman has written, the “work of Christmas begins.” For one small church in Cleveland, Ohio, that work began in an unexpected way before Christmas. The Metanoia Project of St. Malachi Parish had been sheltering as many as 100 guests a night for some time. When they were forced to downsize their overnight space due to fire code violations, they began looking to add another site. Denison Avenue United Church of Christ, already engaged in a number of outreach programs in their economically challenged neighbourhood, said yes.

The Rev. Nozomi Ikuta, pastor of Denison Avenue, didn’t set out to fight City Hall, but Cleveland City Council member Dona Brady, who represents the neighbourhood, soon raised objections. She said she “would not allow the church to provide shelter,” arguing that it would add to the ward’s existing drug-related problems. The church received multiple visits from city housing and fire inspectors, some of whose concerns could be addressed easily. “When we discussed implementing these simpler solutions,” Ikuta said, “they told us not to bother, since, without a sprinkler system, they just might write a cease-and-desist order anyway.”

“It’s not that we don’t care about fire safety,” Ikuta said. The church has residential-grade smoke detectors and hard-wired exit signs and is installing hard-wired smoke detectors. “Fire watch” is among the responsibilities of the multiple Metanoia staff members always on duty supervising overnight guests. On December 3, Denison Avenue began welcoming some 65 overnight guests, seven nights a week, using a community hall, a chapel, and another small space. They plan to continue through April. Adding cots in another room, they hope to be able to accommodate 100 guests per night for most of the winter.

On Christmas Eve the church received a “cease and desist” notice, which the church has appealed, temporarily delaying enforcement. Ikuta said the church and Metanoia are willing to work with city officials to address other concerns. In the meantime, the need is real. “Winter is a dangerous and difficult time for people who are unhoused in our community,” said Chris Knestrick, executive director the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. “There are around 150 people sleeping outside every night. Every single shelter is full to capacity and family homelessness has increased 35 percent over the last two years. We need to focus on keeping people sheltered and alive this winter season.”

A hundred advocates for the homeless appeared at an early January City Council meeting, holding signs that read, “No more freezing to death,” “Keep Metanoia at Denison UCC,” and “Ward 11 Supports Denison UCC.” Pastor Ikuta said what they were doing was not meant as an act of defiance but as a demonstration of their core commitments: “love, compassion, generosity, community… We’re trying to follow Jesus here.”

“It can be a question of whether somebody lives or dies,” Metanoia Executive Director Megan Crow said.
 
The Metanoia Project takes its name from the Greek word metanoia, which means transformation or change of mind. The project attempts to connect those who come to them with a variety of services intended to create the conditions for metanoia to happen, which is also exactly the mission of Denison Avenue Church, according to Pastor Ikuta.

Explore…Matthew4:12–23

  • What do you imagine those fishermen expected, hoped for, when they left their families and livelihood to follow the itinerant preacher Jesus?
  • What did you expect, hope for, when you decided to follow Jesus?
  • In what ways have your expectations been met, or changed?
  • What needs do you see in your community to which your faith community might respond?

Prayer…
Open our eyes to see the opportunities around us to follow Jesus. Strengthen us as we seek to live into our call. Amen.

Learn more…
Cleveland church fights City Hall to offer freezing people warmth, transformation
West-side church hit with Christmas Eve “cease use” order for sheltering homeless
No room at the shelter

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