I suppose there are some preachers who are so focused they can move smoothly from one point to the next when delivering a sermon. I, on the other hand, find that it’s not uncommon for me to interrupt myself. It’s one thing to interrupt oneself during the course of a 20- or 25-minute sermon. But today, I find I’m interrupting a train of thought concerning a “Church Goer’s Bill of Rights” I started six weeks ago in my last column. A new world record!
As important as a “Church Goer’s Bill of Rights” might be, it must take a backseat to the very critical issue of homelessness in our county. When Mountain of Faith, or any other church, gets a request for emergency assistance from someone who is unsheltered, there is no place in Tooele County to which we can refer them.
If their situation requires more than putting them up for a night or two in a local motel, there is not much we can do. Most congregations in Tooele County are not equipped to deal with the much larger problem of families or individuals who find themselves without shelter for an extended period.
When people call who have lost their home because they can no longer pay the mortgage, we don’t have the resources to help. If someone, because of illness or injury can’t make rent payments and loses their apartment, we have nothing to offer. Yet, Jesus’ command in Matthew 25 to minister to the “least of these” calls us to action.
With that in mind, a grassroots campaign has begun to explore different possibilities for dealing with homelessness in our county. The inter-faith community of believers represented by the Tooele Valley Community Faith Council, other concerned citizens, and different government agencies at the local and state levels, are working together to make a difference.
Earlier this year, the Utah Department of Workforce Services introduced us to Switchpoint Community Resources Center in St. George. Switchpoint takes a comprehensive approach to dealing with the homeless issue and gets both support and praise from the public and private sectors. Put simply, Workforce Services identified Switchpoint as a model for dealing with homelessness that works. We want to find out what makes Switchpoint so effective.
We invited Carol Hollowell, executive director of Switchpoint, to do a presentation for us here in Tooele Valley and she has agreed. We are calling this the “Tooele County Homeless Summit.” It will be held Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. in the basement auditorium of the Tooele County Building, 47 S. Main Street, Tooele. The public is invited.
We expect the summit to be a broad-based gathering with representation from the Tooele City Mayor’s office, the state department of Workforce Services, the Tooele County Commission and possibly the Governor or Lt. Governor’s office.
In addition, invitations have been extended to all the faith communities in the area. When the Tooele Local Homeless Coordinating Council meets in September, I will be inviting them to participate also.
Jesus took five loaves of bread and two small fish and fed over 5,000 people in Mark, Chapter 6. This reminds us that God can take what at first might seem to be meager gifts and multiply them to solve huge problems to the benefit of many. The issue of homelessness may seem to be one of those huge, complex issues beyond the scope and resources of any local community. It is not. I have been in ministry long enough to have first-hand experience of how God multiplies gifts over and above whatever we could hope or imagine.
Working together, people of faith and good will can bless others who may not able to help themselves. The Tooele County Homeless Summit on Oct. 9 provides us with a unique opportunity. In these days where there is so much division in our land, the good people of Tooele Valley can come together to deal with one of the significant issues of our time. Working together, people of different faiths, political beliefs, economic status, races, and ages can make a difference.
Make plans to attend the Oct. 9 summit. For additional details about this event, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m anxious to see a good turnout and how our community responds.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.