06 March 2008
The Church of The Rising Son is an African-American congregation led by a self-styled pastor named Edgar Brown. His congregation addresses him as Reverend, although he holds no divinity degree, nor has he attended any formal pastoral training. He actually inherited a property in Walnut Hills that included retail storefront space, and with loans and donations from his wife and in-laws, he founded Church of The Rising Son. Reverend Brown and several members of the congregation have volunteered to prepare and serve dinner to the residents of Harkavy Hall, all of whom are mentally ill, all of whom have been homeless prior to living at Harkavy. Tender Mercies, which operates Harkavy, has been meticulous about not advocating for any particular religious belief or denomination. No test of religious conviction is required to qualify for shelter. The volunteer coordinator explains this to all groups who bring meals to Harkavy residents. Which is peremptorily ignored by Reverend Brown. As several Rising Son ladies set up the serving tables, the Reverend works the big common room, passing out religious tracts, authored and printed by himself. Then he orders the staffer on duty to turn off the television, and to call a halt to all conversations. The staffer is apparently conditioned to accept instructions from clergy without question, ignores her training, and turns off a closely contested Kentucky basketball game. There is much grumbling and confusion. Then there is much noise. The Reverend and his ladies break into a loud, rousing gospel hymn, one of the Reverend's own compositions. There are shouts and claps and tambourines. This is followed by a prayer, led by the Reverend, that will bring Jesus into our hearts. Present among the hungry residents are two Muslims, a Jew, and several Roman Catholics. There are also various believers without portfolio, people who prefer not to embrace any specific denomination. Several people who have food stamp cards walk out. Others who have not yet qualified for food cards wait for the ostentatious display to conclude. Everybody queues up. The dinner tonight consists of overcooked beef strips with undercooked rice. The beverage is sickly sweet ice tea. Most of the residents appear to dislike what they are eating, and some of the older people without teeth are unable to chew the beef. The whole serving, if you can chew it, is probably 300-400 calories. Three meals a day like this would provide about half the daily calories needed by the average adult. Over the next few days, the volunteer coordinator hears from several of the Harkavy residents with better cognitive functioning. The consensus seems to be: We should not be required to come to Jesus just to eat a meal. Some of us are not even Christian. And the Wildcats had a one-point lead with two minutes left! The volunteer coordinator calls Reverend Brown. Gently, she explains to the Reverend --- again --- about Tender Mercies policy of no religious observance during meals. If individual residents want to pray, they are permitted to, but requiring people to cease their activities and join a religious observance is not appropriate. The Reverend claims to understand. He assures the volunteer coordinator that the Church of The Rising Son will return next month on its scheduled serving day. But that is not entirely true. One month later, a van from Church of the Rising Son pulls up in front of Harkavy. A lady from the church carries two trays of overcooked beef and undercooked rice inside and leaves it with the staffer at the desk. The church lady raises her head proud and high as she wordlessly, solemnly, walks out. We cannot be saved. We will not come to Jesus. And we can serve ourselves. Somewhere, somebody is praying for us.
Posted by David Carney at 19:52