Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The chains are locked and tied across the door, Part II

Here's an update about the First Congregation Church in Long Beach, CA, that I wrote about a few days ago:
LONG BEACH - It's become something of an annual rite of winter. The temperatures drop and homeless residents bed down near the First Congregational Church in downtown Long Beach.

For each of the last two years, the city has warned the church at 241 Cedar Ave. that it is a violation of municipal and penal codes to allow the homeless to camp out on church property and asked it to "abate the nuisance" or face the possibility of daily fines of up to $1,000 per day.

Last year, the church acquiesced.

This year, however, Rev. Jerry Stinson has decided he will not comply, arguing the city is trying to abridge the church's ability to fulfill its mission and practice its faith.

"The real issue isn't the homeless; it's a state and church issue," Stinson says. "Administering to the homeless is a vital part of our religion."

. . .

"I didn't intend for this to be about homeless people," Castillo said. "I'm trying to make things better for everyone."

Stinson is not convinced. He says there have been no crimes committed on church property and that custodians clean the area daily. He added he is willing to discuss installing portable toilets in an unobtrusive location on church property.

However, he doesn't plan to stop allowing the homeless to camp out.

The church has a history of working with the homeless and the poor downtown.

In 2004, the city's winter emergency homeless shelter was housed in the basement of the church. In past years, the church has also housed a "rainy day shelter" during inclement weather and each week the church hosts a Sunday drop-in center and feeding that 150 to 400 homeless attend.

Parishioners at the church back Stinson. On Jan. 7, Stinson delivered a sermon about the issue in which he vowed to fight the city and was greeted with a standing ovation, according to the church secretary.

Excellent work, Rev. Stinson.

Here's how Rev. Stinson ends his greeting on the church web site:

The First Congregational Church is a vibrant and exciting faith community located in the heart of downtown Long Beach. There's a place for you here. Come and join us.


Jerry Stinson, Senior Minister