A man stands between two trolleys loaded with bags containing his clothes and personal belongings outside the entrance of Fiumicino international airport in Rome on March 16, 2015. Photo by Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

When the homeless and mentally ill wander into church

(RNS) — Mentally ill and homeless people wander into the church that I pastor on Sunday mornings, and I don't know the best way to handle it.

There, I said it.

I am going to be gut-honest in this little reflection and will admit my own uncertainty and discomfort. This will risk incurring the wrath of everyone who has figured it out. But maybe I can get some helpful crowdsourcing insights here.

First, a bit of context. My church is in urban Atlanta. We are near enough to an Atlanta metro stop that it is easy for people to find their way to our church building from the subway. This is really important.

We also offer benevolence ministries during the week, so lots of very needy, homeless and sometimes mentally ill people are in our building regularly.

We all have a script for these encounters. They seek help, we offer it, then everyone goes on with their day.

But I am talking about Sunday morning. We don't offer any assistance on Sunday morning. We offer worship services and Sunday school classes.

Our first service is quite casual and is held in our fellowship hall. Our second service is more formal and takes place in the sanctuary. The guests I speak of rarely come to the second service, but almost every week they are in the first.

You can spot homeless people very quickly. They carry more bags than other people, their clothes and faces are worn, and they often do not smell very good. Sometimes our worship service seems to be a resting place for them in their weary sojourn. Other times they seem fully engaged.

The mentally ill are sometimes part of the homeless group, and sometimes not.

We have a visitor these days who comes in anywhere from one hour before the service starts until 10 minutes before it ends. He looks pretty normal but as soon as you speak with him you can tell he's not right. His words come out in a jumble, largely incoherent. The different sentences don't add up. He periodically interrupts the person speaking at the platform. He gets up and wanders randomly. He is here, then he's gone, then he's back. He makes people uncomfortable.

Imagine you're me, trying to grow our church, attract college students, young professionals and young families, and orchestrating a carefully planned worship service. In a room with about 100 people in it, a family with young kids walks in and ends up sitting right behind the reeking man from the street. A young couple arrives over in another section and ends up in conversation with the scary incoherent man. Not exactly the plan. But should it be? Can full "integration" occur across these axes as well as others that we have already managed?

You send the visiting family off to a Sunday school class and, wouldn't you know it, the same cast of characters is in the room. All of this leads to a better than average chance we will never see those visitors again.

I don't fully understand why there are so many homeless and/or mentally ill people wandering the streets of urban America. I do know it is a great tragedy and involves huge breakdowns of our mental health system, our economy and our society as a whole.

I understand that from a theological and moral perspective all lives are equally valuable, all persons equally precious to God, and I should be as glad that homeless and/or seriously mentally ill (if harmless) people are in our seats as I am with young professionals. Right?

And I do fully understand that every urban area in America has a wandering army of homeless and/or mentally ill people. Do all churches find them in the pews on Sunday morning? What do other churches do about the discomfort that they create? How come I never seem to see them in the big megachurches?

I don't know much, but I do know this. I am going to have to lean in on this one, more than I might have ever wanted. I am going to have to study this social problem more thoroughly. I am going to have to personally engage our wanderers so that I might learn who they are, what they need, and if possible, how to help them. How to love them.

Your ideas are welcome.

(David Gushee writes the "Christians, Conflict and Change" column for RNS)

Comments

  1. There is a commercial making its rounds about some men recognizing that they have a mental illness. And perhaps this is a pat to the solution being sought for. What about the homeless and mentally ill wandering into one’s church? Perhaps church members who also deal with mental illness could be called on to help.

  2. If mentally ill or homeless people wander into your services, and it might put other people off, it’s your responsibility as pastor to catechise the members of your congregation about treating all people, no matter what they are like, as friends, sisters and brothers in Christ. Too many congregations shun the mentally ill when they turn up, and thus lose their identification as part of the body of Christ in the world.

    This does not mean that you must allow anyone on Sunday who is in need to go away needy. The clue in your essay is that there are no services for homeless or mentally ill people on Sunday. Perhaps it’s over time that you got some services in on Sunday. Find a few people in the congregation who are willing to sit with these guests, pray with them, and perhaps find services that they need. All too often services for homeless/mentally-ill people take the weekend off. Could the presence of these people who are in need be a message that you and your congregation need to hear?

    When I lived in New York City years ago, my parish was Holy Apostles on 28th Street and 9th Avenue. It had the largest soup kitchen in the country, feeding 1100 people in two hours each day. Our congregation on Sunday often had some of the guests whom we had fed during the week, and we embraced them. They became regular churchgoers, members of the congregation, and were valued and loved.

  3. It’s really not that complicated. When people who are obviously homeless or mentally ill show up at your church,* you welcome them with love. You ask them their name, and you try to remember it and call them by it when you see them again. You welcome them at the altar for communion. You hold them accountable for their actions in precisely the same way you hold any other member of your congregation accountable for their actions. You invite them into discussion groups; you invite them to coffee hour. You remember that a church is called a “sanctuary” for a reason. You get used to the idea that your relationship with them might be something other than “you give them something and then they go away.” If their smell and their noise and their looks frighten off a middle-class family who’s visiting, so be it. You consider the idea that maybe that homeless, disruptive person isn’t there so that *you* can help *them*; maybe God has chosen that person to help heal you of your fear. You look for Jesus in them, because that’s where Jesus is.

    *Because I guaran-damn-tee you that homeless and mentally ill people are already there, given the rates of financial instability and mental illness in America.

  4. Years ago my wife and I attended the largest SBC in our city. They had a sizable group of handicapped kids attend and you know where they put them – yup you guessed it: right down in front where everyone could see them. And their “unusual” vocalizations could be heard by everyone. So distracting! I mean couldn’t they have found an out of the way place for “those people”. And to think the pastor insisted that they be put right there in front of all of us. Well, I never! Yup. SBC – evil incarnate.
    [tongue in cheek]

  5. Thank you for being that sort of pastor. Your train wreck counterparts are sucking the air out of the room. You might consider reaching out to the local hospitals and see if they can find a place for the more serious cases you see. Find out if one of your parishioners is in the mental health field. Ask them to help out by offering a special area for the more serious cases. The most important part is continuing to treat them with dignity and respect.

  6. I have only read the first paragraph, and I just want to say, I love the fact that you are honest and admit that you do not know how to handle the situation. May you never lose that grace, for it is true humbleness and the world needs that so much.

  7. Holy Apostles is still running the soup kitchen and it’s as busy as ever.

  8. We have the same “issue” at my house of worship, also in a large city, convenient to public transportation, holds Narcotics Anonymous meetings during the week. My idea for you is to see it as an opportunity. I have a family with young children. We’re not off-put by it. My kids know that homeless and “sometimes mentally ill” people are there. Sometimes they’re just there for the lunch after services. Sometimes they’re on the board of trustees… My point is that I don’t see it as a problem. It’s part of what the community is. If we can serve such individuals in some small way at all, that’s a good thing.

  9. Oh how I wish I could post the lengthy response I could write to your article. I believe that you are in a God moment when God is gently asking you to show your young church how to live a Christ centered life. God is putting before you His most needy, most neglected, most marginalized, most misunderstood children hoping you and your church will bring them the love, welcoming, acceptance that God wants to give them. Because you are such an honest and humble person, I believe God is putting them into your gentle hands. Please do not think I am saying that you need to drop everything you do, but your response to them, like Jesus’ response to others who sought Him out, will be a great example and will be noticed, pondered, reflected, and will bring people out of themselves to see them as more than homeless, mentally ill, but as full persons. Compassion is the response. Welcoming is response. Speaking to any of them as you would any other. Get to know them, where they live, where they go, family if they have any, friends, everything. When you love them, your parish will love them. When you know them, your parish will know them. When someone inevitably comes to you because they do not know what to do, you will be able to explain the situation and spread the compassion that is God.

    When I was a young I too did not know how to respond with people with disabilities. I would feel uncomfortable around people because I did not understand what was being asked of me. If it was not through friends who opened those doors for me I may still be that uncomfortable person. Because of these friends I have worked with Mentally challenged adults who were once institutionalized, my own father needed 24/7 care after a brain hemorrhage, I worked and volunteered at homeless shelters, learned how to interact with the homeless who live in the park and on the street, I have had family and friends who had/have addiction issues as well. All this I experienced because there was an example for me to learn.

    If this still seems too difficult, or you are still unsure to approach the situation yourself, you could ask if your parishioners have any experience, or contact the local shelter and speak with a case worker who will guide you but YOU be the one who makes sure that the outreach is loving and respectful, compassionate and inclusive. Do not be afraid of alienating your new church, God will send people, good people and take your mustard seed and help it grow into a mighty plant.

  10. “Imagine you’re me, trying to grow our church, trying to attract college students and young professionals and young families, and running a pretty carefully planned worship service.”
    Why is that your focus? If God wants your church to succeed, He may send all mentally ill people. Do you discriminate against mentally ill people? They need Jesus as much as anyone else. You have your priorities wrong, my friend and sound a bit condescending. Mentally ill people are just as good as your college students, and young professionals with families, my friend.
    Preach the word, and whomever the Lord wants there will come.
    Proverbs 14:31 ESV
    Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.

    Hebrews 13:2 ESV
    Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
    Don’t treat the mentally ill any differently than anyone else. Most of all, grant them the same respect that you would expect.

  11. I am very grateful for the thoughtful responses to my inquiry. I have some better ideas for moving forward. I am learning so much being a pastor. I am humbled, even broken, by the challenges. You all helped me today.

  12. What you are describing is a great illustration of what confession and repentance looks like. Something is bothering you, you admit what it is and go to work on it, a change happens. It should be more than a spiritual concept that we try to understand and then explain. It should be the results of our lives that people can see and experience.
    I don’t know what you should do specific to your situation but I have confidence that attention to the source of what is nagging you will lead you and the church to a better solution. Your “confession” and your “repentance” becomes someone else’s blessing.

  13. Okay, this article is still bothering me.

    There’s a guy who goes to my church, one of those downtown urban megachurches (well technically–we’re Episcopalian, so not your typical megachurch). He’s not homeless, and he’s pretty functional, but he’s definitely a little weird–comes in often partway through the service, slurs his speech, wears tank tops all year round, seems to have some kind of developmental challenge. He’s big and imposing and not white and a little odd in his manner, and I was intimidated by him at first. Eventually I met him and learned his name. Later, I was at my church with a friend from another denomination. “Oh, I know that guy,” she said. “He goes to my church, too. He goes to every church in the city. He spends more time in worship than any of the priests or monks I know.” All that time I’d thought I was being welcoming to Rory by learning his name and acknowledging his existence; turns out his faith and trust in God is what I need to be learning from.

    My point here is: think hard about your assumptions. Most of the homeless churchgoers I know don’t “wander in” anywhere; they are there to take part in worship just like everyone else. You say you don’t have any special services or offerings for the homeless on Sunday. Why isn’t worship with the rest of the community good enough for them? You say you’re trying to grow your church. The church is made up of those who show up, and these are the people who are showing up. They’re not the problem. Right now, *you* are the problem–your fear and your reluctance to recognize that they are the body of Christ every bit as much as you are.

  14. I thank you for this post. My brother was one of those lost, homeless people. He wandered the country for more than 30 years, alcoholic, unable to focus his life enough to find a home, hold down a job, stay in one place more than a few weeks, follow the rules to stay out of jail. I saw him in summer, when it was warm enough for him to come to my northern city and sleep under bridges or in a tent in a patch of woods. He was sick, hopeless, stubborn, proud, lovable, funny, and completely helpless. I don’t know whether he ever wandered into church services or not. If so, I don’t know what kind of welcome he received. I do know that I am so grateful to pastors and congregations who courageously struggle with what to do to help such people or to protect themselves from the disruptions they inevitably cause. I know I bless any congregation who welcomes people like my brother, who makes them feel like ordinary people to the degree that is possible, who recognize that, as Jesus said, when you welcome the least of these, you are welcoming Jesus himself. A little less than two years ago my brother died in his sleep on a sidewalk outside a homeless shelter in Kansas City. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to anyone who reached out and touched him with kindness and respect while he lived. He needed it so badly and appreciated it so much. Please encourage your congregation to see Jesus’ face when they look at your homeless, lost visitors, no matter how they look, what they do, or how they smell. That is only way to be a true church. That is the only way to follow Jesus’ example.

  15. That’s an excellent idea. A ministry of presence is key. My diagnosis is depression and anxiety disorder. The person who came into our church is diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. While others in the parish interact with him, I’m the main point person. He seems to feel more comfortable with someone who knows where it’s at and isn’t freaked out by the whole ideal of mental illness.

  16. Virginia,
    Stigmaphobia and not recognizing the difference between knowledge and understanding prevents churches from helping those who are mentally ill.

  17. I’m a member of a very small rural community church and the question the author raises applies to us as well. Fortunately, we are a community that welcomes all, and a function of that is that we have some special needs individuals who are active members of our congregation. They are not homeless…they face other challenges. When I first attended this church, I was startled, but not irritated, by a woman behind me who has difficulty with intonation and pitch control apart from some mental impairments. It took a little while, but I’ve gotten used to her vocal responses in song and speech. In fact, I’ve come to embrace them as a blessing because she utters them with her whole heart. Another family in our congregation has a daughter with Down’s Syndrome who is occasionally disruptive, but her parents and siblings manage her well, and she is an active member in our faith community. Sadly, this same family was asked to leave another church because of the conduct of their daughter, such a request I find unconscionable.

  18. You are going to have to get to know them, but you’ll also learn about yourself in the process.

    They come to your church seeking safety. The question is are you worthy of that trust?

    I suspect so. That you’ve put yourself out there with such honesty is right. I sense that you are doing your best to be kind.

    I’ve worked with homeless people for a decade and i don’t profess to know religion, but i do know love. I’ve learned a lot about that from my homeless friends and I hope you do too.

  19. Your post is very interesting and I thank you for your honesty. You never know where a relationship with a mentally ill person might lead. I am an educated professional who had a rather lengthy bout of severe, treatment resistant depression. For years, I spent more time in hospitals than out. I was a member of a church where I was accepted, but marginally. In fact, when I asked the minister to give me a ride from a large public hospital to a private psychiatric facility about half an hour away, he made it very clear that it was a great imposition.

    I am happy to report that not only has my depression past, I am now blessed to be the legal guardian of three amazing girls who, despite not being related to me, I was able to rescue from a home filled with abuse and domestic violence. We are a family made of love rather than blood.

    The girls were baptized and the oldest was recently confirmed. I am now a member of the choir and chair of the worship committee at our church and I have lead the pledge drive for the past two years.

    We as a society need to work toward ending the stigma against mental illness and homelessness, indeed the two are intricately intertwined. I would pray that as Christians we could be the leaders in that effort.

  20. A few resources:
    Dr Xavier Amador wrote a book entitled “I am not sick, I dont need help” and put out a dvd (Google Xavier Amador LEAP) to teach people how to communicate effectively with people whom have serious mental illness.

    The sentences not adding up is called “word salad” and is a tell tale symptom of psychosis. He may need to be placed in patient. Atlanta has a crisis intervention team (800) 715-4225

    NAMI is a national organization which aides in education on mental illness. It would be a good idea to engage NAMI and perhaps encourage your congregation to learn how to interact with these people.

    Many prayers going up for you as you embark on “leaning in”.

  21. We want to help churches with caring for the mentally ill in a confident and compassionate way. We’ve developed “Crisis Care Team” training, more information at http://www.p82homes.org/

  22. We need to learn, as Christians, how to minister to each other, to those around us….and especially to those who come to us BECAUSE we are Christians. What a wonderful opportunity for service your congregation has! Get a mental health professional to help you develop a process for welcoming and assisting these beloved children of God.

  23. Sandi, the author already recognizes this, and is seeking tactical advice. You have not offered any advice, you only rebuke him. What purpose does this serve other than to try to raise yourself above him? It’s a shame hell doesn’t exist because you really belong there.

  24. You want to fill your church with young adults and “professionals”, and you scorn the reeking mentally ill homeless. Jesus did not come to carefully pick an audience, his audience is every human being.

    Sir, if Christ came back today are you sure you would recognize him? What do you think Christ would say to you about how to handle this? Honestly the tone you take in this article is shameful for a person in your position.

    Furthermore if you are looking for the primary causes of the current homeless epidemic look no farther than the proliferation of hard drugs, the destruction of the mental healthcare system during the Reagan era, the lack of opprotunity, healthcare in general, and quality education to all citizens, ALL OF WHICH IS UNDERGIRDED AND MADE MORE INTRACTABLE BY ATTITUDES LIKE YOURS!

  25. Thanks for the complements. Most pastors are just happy to get the people the Lord sends them. He should feel complemented that the Lord is sending him such, and that the Lord decided he was capable of helping special needs.

  26. ‘For whatever you do for the least of your brothers, that you do unto me.’

  27. This is not a suggestion, just know this article gives me hope. I have been very distraught and concerned over the state of the Church. The past couple of years dealing with all this political mess, and the Church’s unwillingness to stand up for refugees, immigrants, least of these, whoever they be. I have basically been unchurched for pushing a year, and this as a LIFE LONG church servant! I have been searching for a place that makes these things a priority, and isn’t scared to. I have researched FB Decatur and we are considering making the 40+ mile drive to attend. When I see these types of articles and honesty, it motivates me more.
    Blessings!

  28. In our Episcopal Church in Manitou Springs, Colorado, all are welcome. We have all kinds of people. We even have a Community feeding after to feed everyone. In answer to your question. We have specific people who job it is to help them. Help them find a seat and stay with them if necessary. Many of our Elders just step in and help. Should we have someone come in with an emergency on Sunday it is my job to help them. God may have tested on Sunday but people still need help.

  29. A church in my community with similar issues hosts an early breakfast on Sunday morning that serves people in need and anyone else who would like to come. This is well before first service, and staffed by community volunteers. This takes pressure off the morning services by giving people a safe warm place to be early in the morning on a day when it can be hard to find a meal. By the time services are held, the few who actually want to attend have been fed and had a chance to clean up in the bathroom. The rest have gone on with their day knowing that people welcome and care about them.

  30. David, perhaps a stronger congregational connection to Decatur Cooperative Ministries is part of the solution? I know you guys are already strong partners, but sharing wisdom, experiences, and practices with me, Dalton, Todd Speed, and others is part of getting toward a common approach to these struggles. I think, together, we can make Decatur a hospitable and supportive place for our homeless sisters and brothers. Together, we can also address the root causes we cannot address individually–the affordable housing shortage in Dekalb County is an outrage, but no one knows about it. There is a clergy meeting for DCM every month. Hope you can join us. Ask Sharyn Dowd for details.

  31. Before I read any of the comments already posted I want to thank you for engaging the issue, for asking the questions. I hope answers are forthcoming. Regardless, your desire to understand is paramount.
    Isn’t the church community a microcosm of the societal community in which it exists? If so, there will be (should be) folk of all stripes, and they should all be welcomed.
    In my humble view, it’s not the smelly homeless or the mumbling mentally ill that need the attention in this matter as much as it is us, the church. We need to welcome those unfortunate ones above all others .. sorry, but that’s how I feel.
    However, I do think that those that are a disruption, like drunken and loud kinda, should have someone kindly be with them for the duration – sit with them, help them to behave appropriately, etc.
    That is a tall order, I’m sure many will disagree .. nevertheless .. the last first, the least, the unfortunate.

  32. I also meant to say that the church needs to grow into an understanding of accommodating and accompanying those people, welcoming them and not shunning them, because they are God’s children as much as we are. They hurt terribly and are so despised by the world. The church should be the most welcoming place for them.

  33. I enjoy the honesty of this post and the kind responses. I spent 15 years in church ministry overseeing kids ministry and later Benevolence. I think the church should be kind and help but should also be mindful of those they must protect, including children. Homeless or mentally ill should not go unaddressed or have unfettered access to all areas of the church. A Sunday and Wednesday plan with responsible parties must be in place. Pastors, ministry staff, and lay church leaders have dual responsibility to watch over the sheep and care for the down and out.

  34. Ask yourself one question “what would Jesus do?”

  35. I don’t disagree with any of this. And at the same time, this can be complicated and saying that it isn’t doesn’t help us to navigate the real issues that we face when we’re part of a messy family.

    I offer this example:
    I grew up in a family (both church and biological) that taught me not to be afraid of homeless people. We learned about systemic economic injustice, hosted people without homes in our own guest rooms and kept food with us in case we came across someone who needed a meal while we were out and about. I chose the church I attend today in part because they welcome homeless people in our downtown church building in a variety of ways.

    And then I found myself sitting next to a homeless man who was a little unstable. No problem. I said hello, introduced myself, and despite a level of physical contact that made me uncomfortable, I smiled and sat down. As the service progressed, the man sat closer and closer to me until his entire leg was touching mine. He held my hand and wouldn’t let it go. He kissed my hand and kept his lips pressed against my flesh.

    As a woman who has experienced sexual assault and violence in public spaces and in church, this immediately triggered something in me. I was actively working to keep myself from panicking.

    At no point did I wish someone would kick him out, but I did wish that at some point in my life someone had talked honestly about situations like this one. How should I be intentional about making this person feel loved and put myself in a space that felt safe? Does Jesus require me to allow homeless men to touch my body in ways that make me feel uncomfortable to show His love? And, if not, what is the best way to be loving, to be welcoming, and to still honor my own boundaries with someone who doesn’t understand these boundaries?

    I want to talk about these things in more nuanced ways because if we don’t, the challenge arises of how to bring together people who have been hurt and marginalized in 100,000 different ways and make sure that we don’t say that one person’s trauma is secondary to another’s. Church is a messy place for messy people. I hope that we become better about inviting all homeless people into our space. AND I hope we do it with eyes wide open so that we don’t disregard the very real challenges that come with doing life together.

  36. My brother was one of “those people.” He’s gone now, dead at 48, but he was a religious person up to the moment of his death. He was also, alternately and sometimes at the same time, James Bond, Roger Moore, and Clint Eastwood. And also alternately aMohican Indian and someone who had been scalped by a Mohican Indian.
    People who are very ill often cling to the faith of their childhood, from before their illness set in. Somewhere in their confused universe, there were parents and religious teachers, and a life free of fear and confusion. Help them remember where they are. Perhaps before the service offer them a shower and clean clothes. Tell them people care about them, and ask if there is anything we can do for them, like find them a shelter. They may answer with some bizarre comment about radio waves coming from their fillings (My brother once had to be taken to the hospital because he thought a radio transmitter had been planted in his brain and he tried to cut it out.) but calm them, smile, and tell them they are loved. that’s what you can do.

  37. You already have mentally ill people in your church as members – they don’t walk around with a sign however stating “I’m mentally ill” but given the numbers they are in your church and in your neighborhood and all around you

  38. I am one of “those people.” i have a mental illness. I have been homeless. And I have a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and have worked in the mental health profession for 20 years.
    Now I would never have set foot in your church when I was homeless. I was much too anxious and paranoid for tgat. Even today, as a tattooed, obviously queet person, i wouldn’t go there. I don’t go where i’m not wanted.
    Please remember that you don’t know who these people were, are and will be. If you spend time talking to people , you will hear amazing stories. They are individuals. What I wanted most when I was one of “those people” was simply to be treated like a himan being.

  39. WWJD!!! Was that so hard to figure out! Not to be harsh, but you sound like Sunday’s at your church are for ‘show’! Here is my suggestion! …..You and the people that make up the team (hmmmm) not sure that was the right word, but anyhow, go without a bath or shower for a week or two because it’s darn hard to find a place to clean up and SMELL NICE! Take all your clothes and put them in cheap trash bags. Don’t take anything else because you only have two hands! Sleep on a dirt floor for two weeks, but not to sound like I’m heartless, sleep in the occasional ATM hallway every 6 days. Hide your face as best as you can nag go to your own church Sunday morning. If your congregation is put off, complains or is Un-welcoming to you………then stop and really feel what that feels like in your heart. Then look around at what you created! Walk out the door, go home, take a shower, eat a hot meal and tell your wife and children that you (A.) Had a spiritual awakening and some real changes need to take place ASAP! (B.) Quit you position!
    Jack B.
    Former Operations Director for Sheltering & Housing Division
    Franklin/Hampshire County’s
    Massachusetts

  40. I know this article is quite old, but,unfortunately, I just found it this morning. I am rather appalled by the tone of the piece. I do appreciate the honesty shown by Mr. Gushee. However, unless I’m am misreading, the homeless and mentally ill [And NO they are not the same thing] are welcome in his church everyday but Sunday. Sunday is the day for gentile worship. A day to possibly welcome new, mentally healthy, visitors who might later become church members. The author hopes to give a good impression to these possible visitors and having disheveled, perhaps crazy-talking people around might scare off people. I understand the sentiment for it is very common. Nonetheless, step back a bit and let’s run this through again: the church is not the place for the mentally ill, particularly not those who might make others uncomfortable. Hmmm…interesting.

    Personally, my faith tells me that people need help and support every day, not just weekdays. I wonder what Jesus might do if he were to encounter the modern-day mentally ill in the church. Does anyone think he would ask them to leave? That he would be more concerned about the church being seen as clean and safe to those who are comfortable? I believe he would be more interested in providing help to the mentally ill and homeless. That he might just turn the church into a sanctuary for the down and out. That instead of apologizing to the newcomers, he would softly explain that the least among us need our support and kindness most of all. But then that is just me and I could certainly be wrong.

  41. Love thy neighbor as thy self. Homeless people are just that – people. The church is supposed to be sanctuary, and turning away people for not fitting into your aesthetic seems decidedly unchristian. And besides – do you really want to be or attract the kind of person who judge people with less fortunate circumstances than them? Religion is supposed to be a balm for the wounded, hope for hopeless. What kind of Christian are you to turn your back? To worry over upsetting the “normal” folk…. what would Jesus do?

    I also want to note that many people who suffer from depression, OCD, ODD, ADHD, and other less visible conditions are also mentally ill. Just because those with psychosis or schizophrenia are more visible does not mean these two groups are different, or any different than a “normal” person – we are people with an illness. Would you turn away someone with cancer because they were shabby, looked ill, seemed out of it? Mental illness is an inherent medical condition. Why is a disorder of a brain any different than a disorder of the liver, pancreas, heart?

    You should worry less about your reputation and how you are perceived, and more about helping everyone possible.

  42. Wow, what a snot you are. Now we can’t have the poor victimized mentally ill people chase away all those young professionals with big bucks can we padre? Nope. Since money is the church’s life blood (how many billions have all you a-holes made off of forced adoption and selling babies to screwed up infertiles? How much money have you made thinking you are freekin God and changing someone’s identity? WAY to many that’s how many..)
    I have known some schizophrenics who are much nicer than you stuck up Christians and your façade called a religion. (and no, I’m not talking about gays, who are always evil). How about you and your church members help pay for an apartment for your “wanders”? Nope, you’d never do that. Ever offer them a shower, clean clothes, acceptance? Nope you brats won’t do that either. I have an idea for all of you. Why don’t all of you just be atheists instead. You don’t act like you believe in Christ anyway..

  43. NAMI just recruits patients for psychiatrists to abuse. How Christian of them..

  44. Most of the combative comments seemed to be coming from the holier than thou sitting on their high horse looking down on the people who have engaged the tired and poor – and suffered for it. I was encouraged to read the response of the lady who smiled at a homeless man in her pew and soon found herself in distress and near panic because of this innocent gesture. The odds are, if you allow the street people an opening by showing kindness, they will:

    – conclude you are a fool and

    – NEVER stop trying to take advantage of you.

    My church has become at outreach to what our priest might refer to as “societie’s rejects”. I encounter and engage them all the time as part of my commitment to the church. Their tactics vary but their intent is the same: get as much as you can as fast as you can and then move on when you’ve wrung the last dime out of these patsies. Example: I had an needy entire family come over to help cleanup after my house was flooded. I paid premium wages, bought their meals and even provided transportation. In return, they were on their phones whenever I was not present, did pitifully poor workmanship, ruined tools and equipment and left when they had cash in hand and the job was far from finished. Condemn me for saying these things. They got a second chance. I financed most of the celebration when their teen daughter “came of age”. I tricked into doing this but followed through. However, the mother continued asking for more contributions and later I found out she was doing this with other church members. The woman was a grifter of the church congregation and the men were just lazy opportunists.

    There are more stories of me being taken. The highest ranks in our church seem to be unaware of the behavior of the downtrodden when out or their sight, and discount any evidence. Certain of these players have become sacred cows in our church, beyond reproach. One in particular has been elevated to church leadership and directs multiple programs. This person while pleasing to the priest, insults and drives off those she doesn’t care for.

    The bottom line for me is:

    If the church’s priority is to serve and promote the homeless and rejected – say that and do that, because by not stating it you have a congregation that attends for their own spiritual growth, tithes to build the church but gets taken by the sacred cows fawned over by the priest (and others, like most of the respondents to this article) who sits on his high horse.

  45. Got news for ya, pal. Here it is:

    James 2:2-4 (NIV)

    2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

  46. You should have a separate facility to walk them over to, to assess each individual need even while worship service is in progress. there should be no certain day or time to deal with their condition or needs. we have to change with the times we live in. A special team of people who are trained within the church who are capable of handling the mentally ill and homeless. And pray like crazy for GOD’S wisdom and guidance. And what does the bible say about it.

  47. dude calm down. Obviously this is a sensitive topic. There’s nothing wrong with having a healthy conversation. Just be respectful.

  48. I hope you have figured out you problem, I would create a committee in the church that would immediately connect with the homeless person, sit with them through the service and instruct them that coming in and out is disruptive, and needs to stop. If they need shelter, maybe you could open the kitchen area at the same time you open the Sanctuary and just give them coffee. But I read this in Odyssey, a Christian website: “A simple way to say it is, I am quick to judge. My immediate reaction is to run from trials but that is where the Lord is most present.” Maybe also you should add at the beginning of your sermon: “We welcome all, we pray for all, we remember Christ’s love in all we do.
    God bless, Nancy

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