Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ordination, Anti-Oppression Work, and Worship– What does it all mean?

While ordination in the Lutheran church looks a lot like the priesthood of the 16th century, pastors in this tradition are called to a particular role rather than to a state of holiness or vocation other than that of all people. There’s no blue gas that turns people into pastors, no ontological state-of-being change, no magic that turns a person into a pastor. Ordination in the Lutheran church involves discernment of a personal call to ministry, other groups of church members and seminary professors validating that call, a whole lot of education and experience, and having a congregation/ministry decide to call (hire) you to serve in the role of pastor with them.

Pastoral care and counseling, leading worship, preaching and teaching are the tasks of a pastor. Officially, I’ll get to preside over communion, preach God’s word, and baptize people into faith. Lutherans believe that sharing God’s love and mercy is the call of all who believe, only the tasks and the roles differ. The church and the world needs us all to share God’s love, to speak out against injustice and oppression, and to share mercy and forgiveness, moving into liberation for all.

I’m particularly aware of the privilege involved with reaching the point where ordination is possible. The reality is, most people in our world, whether called by God to public ministry or not, do not have access to graduate degrees, financial support to take “good experience” internships and jobs, or the healthcare that middle class family employment provides to stay healthy enough to get there. While I’ve worked hard toward ordination, I am humbled every day by the Welcome Ministry guests with whom I minister, who are far more effective than me at sharing God. I see their witness to the rest of our church communities, a challenge to the clericalism that has based the god of power in the clergy and disempowered the masses. Lutheran theology calls all of us to “the priesthood of all believers,” and Paul writes that “we are all one body in Jesus Christ,” but so often the structure and culture of our churches do not empower this radical ministry call of all who gather. Our jobs and tasks differ depending on our gifts and circumstances as to whether we’re called to be children in school, homeless recyclers, bishops, street preachers, doctors, parents, lovers, teachers, or even pastors (or all of these at different times in our lives). But in Lutheran theology, we are all called to bring love and reconciliation to the world, to share love with our neighbor, and to tell God’s good news of grace through faith.

Being a postmodern Lutheran with anti-oppression beliefs, I acknowledge that I and we have a long way to go and much to confess for the ways in which we have fallen short of being God’s body on earth. This is especially relevant within our Christian traditions which have a history of imperialism, racism and cultural appropriation, among many other forms of cultural oppression. I ask all of us to continue examining our histories and current practices, the ways in which we can tell our stories of privilege and oppression to and with each other, and ways to move toward greater liberation and equity.

I have been denied ordination and work in the church due to discrimination about being transgender, queer, and disabled. I’ve encountered bits and pieces of oppression in life that I can name as sexism, heterosexism, and ableism, but those stories have been the exceptions to a lifetime of lots of privilege. The combined effects of growing up in a white middle class nuclear family in the US meant that I had access to education, a home, love, and relatively respectful treatment and easy access to resources in most of the areas of my life.

I can tell stories about being denied participation in sixth grade gym class due to ableism, about being teased or about being asked to leave restrooms due to sexism and heterosexism, but really, these are the oppressions of someone who is used to having access to most every part of public life.

I’ve written some about my personal journey discovering power and privilege on the Welcome Ministry blog, but I’d like to say it here too. I urge you to consider continuing this dialogue, and welcome your thoughts.

So while I celebrate ordination, particularly through and to the faithfully vibrant communities of faith in First United, the Welcome Ministry, and Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, I also confess, and seek to challenge being part of a system of clerical ministry which currently denies:

-Regular ordination to people of diverse gender and sexual identities, based on oppressive and unrealistic sexual ethics set forth with the goal of oppressing gay and lesbian people who were called to ministry.

-The one-track classist, ableist, racist, and elitist system which over-privileges specific kinds of inaccessible education and experience as the main evidence of ministry capabilities.

-The history of the Christian church which has yet to apologize or seek to remedy the cultural and religious imperialism which exported a Christianity, wiped out cultures and populations, supported slavery, and contributes to worldwide oppression of millions of people today.

-Ableist (over-privileging of certain abilities, or disability discrimination) and sexist structural requirements and cultural norms which devalue the ministries of disabled pastors and limit women’s gifts in/from ordained ministry.

-The racism and ethnocentrism in the Lutheran church in all its forms.

-The silence of the church on issues of oppression and the silencing of pastors and congregations who seek the justice of the prophets.

As part of anti-oppression work, most of which I enter into as a privileged ally, it’s important to me entering into a more privileged power arrangement as a pastor to be clear both about the power that comes with the office as well as the ways in which it has been abused in our history, how I benefit from that, and what I intend to do to avoid abusing that power and to give it up when possible to empower others.

And this is where we move from what Lutheran’s traditionally call “the law,” or the brokenness of our world, to the Good News of the gospel. We have a God whose history and relationship has dealt with this very problem, a record of which exists for us in scripture. Shortly before the 2nd text, Paul writes that God valued the relationship with humans so much that our God gave up god-ness to dwell with us as a human, “Christ, though in the image of God, didn’t deem equality with God as something to be clung to—but instead became completely empty and took on the image of oppressed humankind…” (Phil. 26-7a). God, in Jesus, reconciled to us, empowering us with the ability to be in real risky relationship with others, defined throughout scripture as sharing in both the joys and burdens of our neighbors. The Holy Spirit, “Lady Wisdom” or Sophia in the original languages, blows like the wind, refreshing our faith and our relationship-building power. I don’t claim to know how this all works, but I know this: that in Jesus’s reconciling work, we are moved into a relationship with God that allows us to love, reconcile, and simply be. We Lutherans speak of being “saved by grace through faith” in Jesus Christ, meaning that it’s not the work we do or even the belief, but the relationship with a faithful God which brings us life and wholeness.

We don’t earn God’s grace through our working for justice, rather, it’s what happens when we allow God’s grace to move through us in true, radical reconciliation with our neighbors. We, together, form the body of Christ on earth.

Justice work flows from radical reconciliation with God, neighbor, and earth; the confessing of brokenness and experience of forgiveness. Yet, this call to justice is a human call, not Christian.

Let us experiment with experiencing God in the midst of our naming oppression like the prophets and the Holy Spirit, and rejoice in the reconciliation through Jesus. May you be empowered to share in relationship with God and your neighbor. -Jay

Please join us at Jay's ordination on December 6th. Learn more at:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Questioning Thanksgiving

I remember this November the realities of genocide and destruction that we have chosen to forget in claiming "Thanksgiving:"
Resource on myths about Thanksgiving
Longer version with more references

In San Francisco, I remember that we live on land stolen from the the Ohlone people, and the people who were exploited in the Mission era. I remember the legacy of disproportionate poverty and hunger, homelessness and addiction which Europe brought to this land, which we who participate in America's economy maintain. On this Thanksgiving, I ask you to reflect on ways that we can join together in the struggle against these continued abuses of power and privilege.

Another perspective- it can be helpful to some homeless people to have access to big Thanksgiving holiday dinners, but it does little to solve the real problems of hunger, homelessness, substandard and non-existent housing, isolation, and respect. Here's a video from a New York homeless solidarity organization (the address for the event at the end is for NYC):

More info about community Thanksgiving meals in San Francisco if you are a person for whom this would be helpful.

What does this mean for us? One great thing about holidays is the tendency for people to want to donate to charities that serve the poor, playing on guilty feelings about people not having somewhere to celebrate. While this is useful to many homeless people, we urge you to instead or also think about what it would look like to pledge on Thanksgiving or December holidays to give year round, to work to advocate for justice and housing, and to work to counter the oppression in our society that leads people to get stuck in despairing situations without hope by organizing communities of liberation. We get plenty of donations in November and December, but remember that February and March are particularly cold and wet months in San Francisco- what about a pledge with your December gift to provide 10 blankets in February, or to join us in writing letters to the government to not leave poverty help out of the state/national budget?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Now more than ever, we are all beggars!

Greetings friends of the Welcome Ministry:

It seems like all we are hearing about lately is the financial crisis and stock market bailout, so you may be surprised that I’m sending you a letter to beg you for money. Some of you are experiencing real loses or growing concerns about your budgets, homes, jobs and gas tanks. Now more than ever, you may understand how close we all are to homelessness.

Others of you are experiencing economic growth, have a new appreciation for your job security or the gift of good financial planning and wise housing decisions. Now more than ever, you may understand the privilege you have and your responsibility to give back and help others.

The Welcome Ministry is celebrating that we have been able to raise more money this year than any other in our 12 year history. We've needed to in order to hire Jay Wilson, both a pastor and social worker. But, the Welcome Ministry receives more than 90% of its funding from foundations whose funds are primarily dependent upon stock market returns . Now more than ever we need your support.

Regardless of your personal finances, you support the Welcome Ministry because you know we help the homeless, many that have been homeless for more than 20 years, improve their quality of life. Since April we have: helped 98 of our friends move indoors; provided pastoral counseling for more than 652 individuals and families; and fed more than 5300 hungry members of our community.

We have been able to do all this great work because you have invested in us. Thank you for supporting our work and sharing it with your friends. I beg you to support our work on behalf of those who for too long have had to beg for their daily bread. I ask, knowing that it may be financially difficult, because I know what a big difference it makes to the lives of our guests.

$50 will feed 422 people;
$100 helps one individual get their identification (the key to accessing health care, shelters, housing, food stamps and the ability to vote);
$250 provides 52 pastoral counseling sessions
$1,000 enables 150 individuals to attend classes to learn about health, budgeting, mental health management and addiction issues
$2,000 provides individual support for 20 individuals work on getting disability benefits and to move indoors

Thanks in advance for your generosity!

Rev. Megan Rohrer
The Welcome Ministry

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Abusive Language

In our last Health Skill Share at the Welcome Ministry, we talked about all the ways in which our guests experience oppression, and resources to come together to oppose oppression. One of the topics that the group choose to focus on was how being labeled with a mental health disability or cognitive disability was one locus of oppression in their lives. We talked about some ways to come together to work against specific forms of this oppression, and ways to challenge the assumptions and policies behind it on societal/systemic levels.

One topic that came up was the way in which people are dismissed by being called "crazy" or "retarded." This was often part of a cycle of oppression, which at this level comes down to individuals being intentionally cruel or demeaning. A less-obvious manifestation of this use of violent language is when these words are used to denigrate ideas or persons who would not otherwise be labeled as such-- big words meaning when things are said like "that's so retarded" or "you're crazy!"

What happens when these words that have real meanings specific to certain labeled individuals are transferred to metaphors means that the assumptions behind those labels become suddenly clearer. Try asking next time you hear someone using crazy or retarded "what do you mean by that?" Common answers would be "bad," "out of control," "stupid" (itself a metaphor referring to the same group of people), or other negative connotations. But rather than just simply expressing a negative thought, the transferring back happens too--those who have been labeled with the term that is being used are then re-traumatized with those connotations with the extra force of acquired meanings.

And in case you're wondering what this has to do with the serious oppressions that seem so much bigger than language, lets look at the history of the label retarded. Did you know that IQ tests (still the measure for the current label of "mental retardation") were devised for the purpose of weeding out immigrants and people of color as well as disabled people in the US? Not just incidentally, but on purpose, the tests that were created were biased in terms of experience and class, racist and clasist so that science could legitimize the assumed inferiority of people deemed not to belong in America. The racist, classist, and ableist history of institutionalization reads that a label of mental illness or retardation was one way to get rid of people inconvenient to those in power by moving them out of sight, forcing sterilization, inflicting physical and mental abuse, and taking away all choice and control. *See resources on Eugenics below

These words are used as direct abuse, too, when someone is taunted, battered (often without protection of Hate Crime laws), bullied, raped, and belittled due to their label or the assumption of a label. People inflicting violence (verbal or physical) don't check IQ scores before the violence, but rather make assumptions based on society's stereotypes, which are strengthened every time these words are used to represent undesirability.

Regarding the homeless and hungry people who we work with, we can ask many of the same questions. Our experience shows that many of the people who are homeless have been labeled as crazy or retarded, hobos or users, or other terms specific to cultural or clasist slurs. We need to ask ourselves why we use the language we do, both informally and when we volunteer/work/participate at the Welcome Ministry.
-How does our language affect what we believe?
-What language is more empowering?
-How can we talk about tough realities without using abusive language or labeling people for life?
-How can our conversations with people help to question the stereotypes that control their options?
-How can each of us use our privilege to advocate with each other when we are labeled or languaged in oppressive ways?

So what can we do?
-Everyone can monitor their own language use and stop using words in ways that lead to abuse. This might require rethinking your associations with these words- if what you mean is "worthless" and what comes out of your mouth is "retarded," you're associating people labeled with retardation as being worthless.

-You can choose to challenge language that is abusive. You can do this in a million ways- politely, in confrontation, screaming, writing, whispering, in a group, alone, by commenting loudly to another person, by asking an advocate to assist you...
If you're uncomfortable with this, practice with a friend, write a short script, or get some of these free "Words Hit Like a Fist" cards. They're almost out, but Jay has ordered some which should arrive soon.

-You can work with or as self-advocates toward changes in the way that disability labeling happens, work to change public assumptions, work to help youth with disabilities develop positive self-esteem and pride, end institutionalization, or
redefine the labels. Try seeking groups like Advocating Change Together, The Icarus Project, Self Advocates Becoming Empowered, TASH, People First chapter, or your local Center for Independent Living.

Inspiration and Resources:
Video from ACT in Minneapolis about the use of the word "retard," interviewing community members, self-advocates, disability industry workers, and family members. See the 10 min. clip online or order the 29 min. full version.
Blog post from Self-Advocacy Movement participant Dave Hingsburger about his use of the cards above.
ACT resource list about Tropic Thunder controversy.
Research and Training Center on Community Living at the University of MN has much good information about the contributions and options of people with disabilities in the community.
Anti-Oppression activist Eli Clare thinking about the response to "retard" as hate speech, Eli Clare excerpt about evaluating privilege, and Eli's first book Exile and Pride which talks a lot about coming to terms with abusive language and oppressive assumptions.
Ballastexistenz blog from autistic community on topic of the use of "Retard"

Eugenics Resources:

Facing History articles about the legacy of eugenics
History online museum exhibits about disability and eugenics
article about eugenics and disability
More resources about the histories of eugenics movements
Race in Science resources

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

9/27 Saturday Community Dinner Cancelled, Free Portraits

There will be no Community Dinner this week.
Both of the spaces we have used are not available.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

Community Dinners will resume at Old First Presbyterian
(1751 Sacramento Street) beginning October 11, continuing the 2nd and 4th Saturday each month.
See Free Eats chartfor other meal options.

In better news...
9/30 Tuesday we will have free professional photos! Individuals who would like to get a free portrait please come between 2-3:30.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Old First and Welcome Ministry Staff and Volunteers:

The Welcome Ministry staff, Pastor Megan and Jay, thank you for helping us create consistent boundaries for our guests and volunteers! We continuously evaluate how our programs support or create barriers for the homeless and hungry who are trying to improve their quality of life. We hope this will make our expectations more clear and provide a safer space for all who participate in the life and ministry of Old First.

Remember that it’s Jay and Megan’s job to work with individual requests, so if you have any questions or uncertainty, just refer them to us!

-We accept usable donations from anyone, provided we have room to store them.

Many times, we are aware of unusual individual or community needs for donations that seem unhelpful to others. For example, one guest donated a broken stereo which another guest was able to fix and use. So if a Welcome Ministry guest wants to donate something, please let us know and we can gladly accept it (or not, if we need to decline the 8 foot tall paper mache elephant). That doesn’t mean that everything is usable or redistributed, but many donations from church/community members aren’t usable either. One of the ways in which the Welcome Ministry is a community and an empowerment ministry (rather than a traditional charity) is that we encourage, welcome, and assist people to give back when they can. If we’re not here, and the items are small, put them in our offices, under the green benches, or ask the person to come back when we’re here.

-Please do not sub-contract work to guests.

If you want to employ a guest to do a one-time or ongoing job, you need to follow employment laws, pay at least minimum wage and go through Pastor Megan or Barry to do so. It is illegal, not ethical, and patronizing to pay homeless people under the table to do your work for you. It is even more unethical to ask guests to do your work for you for free, or to occasionally give them a small amount of cash to do your work for free. If you have more work than you can realistically do in your job at Old First or in volunteering, you need to discuss ways to solve this with your supervisor.

We welcome guests to volunteer, like we welcome anyone else to volunteer. Volunteer work is not paid, not professional-level work, and is entered into with a clear understanding of no pay.

It can be helpful and wonderful to help our guests to get real work for real pay, but please make sure that you are doing so in a way that is not keeping them from taking charge of their own life. All employees must be held to the same legal and performance standards -to do otherwise is discrimination. Remember that work can affect government benefits, so check with Jay to help a guest explore how to legally keep their benefits in good standing. However, Jay is not allowed to discuss details of guests’ finances with you without their written permission.

-Do not let Welcome Ministry guests (or others wanting to talk to Jay or Megan) in the building!

It may seem helpful to let people in and then inform us, but it is really unhelpful. We may be meeting with someone else, need a few minutes to prepare to meet with the person, or have already told the person we cannot meet their request and now must convince them to leave again. Also do not assume that because you know someone or because they often volunteer that they should be let in the building. We may have asked a regular volunteer to help in different ways or asked them not to come in early any more.

Megan and Jay are responsible for guests when in they are in the building, but it is difficult to be responsible when we don’t know who is in the building, where they are, or who let them in. The official waiting area for the Welcome Ministry is outdoors, not in the lobby. We hope some day to have a space where we have a waiting area and drop-in room, but for now this is how we try to be good stewards of the gift of the OFPC building and all who use it.

During regular office hours, there is really no reason that non-Welcome Ministry staff need to answer the door for our guests at all. If you do feel compelled to answer the door, simply ask them to ring the “Social Hall” button for Jay or “Welcome Ministry” button for Megan, or say, “I’ll go get Jay (or Megan),” and ask them to wait outside. You do not need to hear their request/story, give them anything, or ask what they need. It would be preferable to simply let us know the door needs to be answered. Often we are on our way to answer it before we hear from anyone, and then three people are trying to answer the door at once.

This is the same rule for everyone! Some church members (including Welcome Ministry guests) have keys if they have a need to be in the building, but most people who come to the church need to be let in. It’s helpful to enforce the rules clearly and consistently rather than selectively. Remember that choosing who you do and do not enforce a rule with based on whether you like someone, politeness, whether or not they look homeless, their grammar, or how cleanly they’re dressed is discrimination. If you let them in because they have a legitimate reason that they need to be in the building, regardless of these factors, that is not discrimination but doing business—just watch that your judgment of this is based on reasons and facts rather than stereotypes or rules that only are applied to people who look homeless.

Anytime you let someone in the building to use the bathroom or for another group (Welcome Ministry, Concerts or AA), you should wait with them until they leave the building or someone from the group they are with comes to greet them.

If Megan and Jay are not in the building, you can let a guest know that our activities are posted on the door and additional information about how to make an appointment is posted outside in the display case by the elevator door. Guests who call the church office should be directed to Jay at 424-3536 or Megan at 567-2661.

-Please do not give cash to guests/volunteers!

We want to make it clear that the Welcome Ministry does not give cash to guests. Instead, we help individuals with specific money problems, such as budgeting help, getting a payee, getting discounted services, helping with food/clothing/toiletries, referrals to community agencies, or getting addiction help.

The Welcome Ministry says “no” to all requests for money, and we ask all members and staff of the church to do the same. We also ask our guests not to ask for money in the church. When people give money to the few individuals who do ask for money, it is not fair to guests that follow the rules. Additionally, by giving cash, we teach them to keep coming to us for cash and the root of their problems never get solved.

If someone asks you for money, we encourage you to say something like “no, we don’t give cash, but you can talk to Jay about other ways you can meet your need.” Please DO NOT say, “ask Jay or Megan,” since you know our answer has to be no. It’s more helpful for people to hear a consistent “No.” If you feel compelled to personally give cash, do not do it on church grounds and make clear that it’s not from the church or the Welcome Ministry.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Skill Share Schedule

Our first quarter of Health Skill Shares has exciting, informative, and well-attended! Our first three months grew, starting with 3 and seeing regularly 5-10 participants each week. Evaluations have showed that people have liked the topics, format, and that the level of information was "just right."
Participants have shared experiences, learned skills both in health and in group participation, and posed questions and topics for future Skill Shares.

For the next three months, we've got two special guests, 6 topics suggested by guests, and a variety of health topics applicable to all people, from the perspective of people living in poverty. We'd love to see participants and volunteers from Welcome Ministry, Senior Center, and Old First Presbyterian, as well as the larger community.
Feel free to comment on topics you'd like to see, or skills you'd like to share!

Medical Marijuana-Special Guest Alex Darr

What are the risks and benefits of medicinal marijuana use?

How to access it safely and legally?

Resources and your questions answered.

Wed. September 10,


Discrimination, Prejudice, and Your Health-

-What is oppression and what can we do about it?

-What are common forms of oppressions in our communities?

-How does oppression effect everyone's health and safety?

-How can we work against oppression that threatens our health?

Wed. September 17,


Drugs and Alcohol- Use, Abuse, and Help

Special guest Randall Ehrbar, Doctorate in Psychology of

New Leaf: Services for Our Community

He'll be talking about a variety of topics related to assessing your own use, risks and benefits to continuing to use chemicals, how and when people might decide to make changes, and what options you have for getting help. He'll be sharing information about Harm Reduction and Stages of Change. Bring your experiences and questions!

Wed. October 8, 4:30-5:30

Avoiding Isolation-

Feel like you have no family or friends?

Get lonely, even in this city packed with people?

Wonder how to get started building a support network?

We'll talk about how and why people living in poverty may become isolated, why it's harmful to our health, and how to avoid isolation by finding community and creating a support network.

Wed. October 15,



-What kinds of exercise are healthiest, and how can you access them?

-How do you know if you're getting the right amount of the right kinds of exercise for your body?

-What about exercise when your body is strained from the realities of homelessness?

-What are the choices, challenges, risks, and benefits to exercising with disabilities?

Wed. November 12 , 4:30-5:30

Too much Stuff & Clutter- Health, Safety, Housing Risks & Resources

Wondering if you've got too much stuff? Not sure what you need?

Whether you're in a home you own or living on the streets, it can be hard to manage belongings and where you keep them. If you need help with cleaning, making decisions about what to keep, or anxiety related to stuff, we've got ideas and resources to help.

Wed. November 19, 4:30-5:30

Monday, August 11, 2008

Volunteers, Donations and Contributions Needed

Volunteers Needed
Every Tuesday
  • Cook (11am - 2pm)
  • Servers (1pm - 4pm)
  • Clean Up (3:30pm - 4:30pm)
Every 2nd and 3rd Wednesday
  • Set up (4pm - 2pm)
  • Computer Room Helper (5:30pm - 6:30pm)
  • Drop In Volunteers (5:30pm - 6:30pm)
  • Clean up (6pm-7pm)
Every 2nd and 4th Saturday
  • Servers (4pm - 7pm)
  • Clean Up (6:30pm - 7:30pm)
  • Computer Room Helper (6pm-7pm)

Volunteers may drop-in or email for more information.

Donations Needed

  • Men's clothing of all sizes
  • Toiletries
  • Scent-Free Toiletries (please store in a Ziploc)
  • Staples, Spices and Non-perishable food products.
  • Socks (white with gray athletic toes and heels)
Financial support is always needed to sustain our work. You can donate online or by mail:
The Welcome Ministry
1751 Sacramento St
San Francisco CA 94109

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thinking about Privilege in Ministry

In these last 5 months since I've started at the Welcome Ministry, I often think about privilege. The other night, after locking my keys in my office for the 3rd time, I chose between asking a neighbor to let me in to sit in my building or using my key card to sit in the comfortable Munro Room at Old First. Eventually I found someone with keys, who graciously let me in and allowed me to get on with my evening resting after a few hours of inconvenience.

The same night, one of our homeless guests slept outside after waiting for hours in a crowded dirty waiting room to get a shelter bed that never materialized. Many of our guests do not get let into public buildings to use the restroom, let alone to wait for two hours for keys to arrive.

My enormous unearned privilege as a white, middle-class, over-educated professional who does not personally know addiction, mental health disabilities, or poverty sent the message to my co-workers, acquaintances, and strangers that I was not a threat and would follow the rules. But this is based on our prejudices as well as our experiences.

Why talk about this privilege at all? Why not feel comfort in the hard work I did in school, the employment with which I earn my income, or the time I took to improve my hygiene, and say that I earned the right to be treated respectfully? Because the reality is that I didn't earn it any more than my neighbors, and I don't work nearly as hard as our guests who recycle all day long, travel according to the schedule of which meal site is open for which meal, panhandle as the only source of income, or engage in sex work because they feel there is no other way to sleep inside or to have food to feed their family.

Yet, the little bits of the oppression our guests face have touched my life, which may be why I'm noticing these differences:
-As a transgender and queer person, I have experienced discrimination in the church and employment, as well as stigma at times in my life. Yet my ability to relocate to supportive communities and my other privileges have led me to be employed and housed. At times in my life when I did not have sufficient income to cover my expenses, my family has been available to assist, and I can be reasonably sure this will continue, allowing me to take risks to pursue careers based on interests and schooling rather than economic need.
-I recently celebrated 20 years of diabetes without complications- complications that I avoided due to excellent medical care and health insurance, disability discrimination protections, stable clean housing, consistent access to healthy food, and not being addicted. But I see family members for whom one or two of these missing who have not avoided complications, and I wonder how our guests with diabetes survive. Imagine injecting insulin when you can only shower once a week and have no privacy or bed- if you can manage to get the insulin and supplies in the first place.
-As a person on the autistic spectrum, I have experienced discrimination in employment as well as social stigma. But as someone with access to education, I have been able to find places where my disability is mitigated by privilege. Having access to housing has meant that I can avoid many of my sensory triggers- imagine sleeping in a shelter when loud sounds hurt your ears and you can't read the danger signs from other residents! Far too many people on the autistic spectrum, let alone people with cognitive, brain injury, or mental health disabilities are institutionalized or limited to few choices for independence and autonomy. Yes, today, even adults with physical disabilities are institutionalized not due to necessities of their disability care, but due to a combination of lack of social/medical support, social value, and poverty.
-As a person who grew up as a girl, I have seen sexism. As an adult who identifies as genderqueer but passes as male, I can avoid being minimized due to my gender as long as I don't out myself. But I am acutely aware that women, particularly women living in poverty, are still treated as children, steered into lower-paying work, silenced in education systems, and subject to violence and rape.

This is a short list, but an important one. We who are privileged to have jobs where we work in positions of power with people who have experienced great oppression must always consider these questions:
-What privileges do I experience?
-What power do I have over others?
-How can I use that power and privilege to get out of the way of the power of others, to convince others that this oppression is wrong, and to work towards truer equality?
-What power must I personally give up to do this?

I pray today confessing my abuses of power and privilege, and asking that the God who gave up all power in order to enter into our human suffering forgive me and empower me to enter into my neighbors' suffering. Let me be open to sharing the gifts of our guests and neighbors, and to work that the world might also know these gifts. God of the Israelites, of Jacob and of Paul, liberate us from our oppressing! Amen.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New Resources on Respectful Service

Serving respectfully and responsively are two priorities in our work with the Welcome Ministry.
One way we do this is by listening and responding to the requests of individuals, and another way we can do this is to draw on the wisdom of research in homeless and poverty communities, particularly when this research starts and ends with the people.

Invisible Men: FTMs and Homelessness in Toronto

In Toronto, the FTM Shelter Research Team asked homeless female-to-male spectrum transgender residents (as well as using their experiences as FTM shelter workers) how the shelter system was inadequate for protecting safety and promoting identity expression, and what could be done about it.

SAMHSA's Homelessness Resource Center
This is a broad resource highlighting best practice for homelessness services. As it is published by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, it focuesses on the role that substance abuse treatment can have, while also looking at the broader picture of culturally competent homeless services. For a government resource, it's remarkable in how it stresses looking to the population served to play key roles in all aspects of service, from volunteering for daily tasks to running boards of directors and research.

If you have ideas about how the Welcome Ministry can use these materials to broaden and deepen our welcome, comment here!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Remembering David

Last week I presided over a memorial service for David. I must confess, coming up with a sermon was more difficult than normal because I didn’t really know David. I knew that he was playful and funny and that each week he came to share lunch he would pretend he couldn’t remember our names. I knew David’s name very well, since he received mail at the church. After he passed, I learned that David knew my name well too. In fact, the medical examiner informed me that on his contact information at the hospital he had listed my name on the line that said “home.”

While only four of us gathered to remember David’s life, we were joyful that David was not one of the hundreds of homeless individuals who die in San Francisco each year without anyone to remember them.

I often say that my most important job at the Welcome Ministry is to learn people’s names. After all, my journey to become a pastor began when God remembered my name and it was marked on my forehead with water.

The Welcome Ministry not only learns people’s names, we help them gain an identity. In the short term we help people get their state issued identification and birth certificates, but in the longer term we help them to improve their quality of life, to advocate for their needs and to gain the quality of life that all humans deserve.

Today, I invite you to support the vital work of the Welcome Ministry. I also hope that with your gift you will share the name of someone who has been important to your life, faith or identity. Whether you are able to give a lot or a little, remember that the little I was able to share with David was big enough to create a sense of home.


Rev. Megan Rohrer

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Skill Share SCHEDULE

Here is the schedule for summer Skill Share workshops. See post below for more information.

If you have ideas for topics, questions, or would like to share a skill, contact Jay.

Stress reduction in real life-

Poverty and homelessness are stressful! Stressing can make it hard to get/stay healthy, control mental health symptoms, and get/maintain housing or employment.

Learn free ways to reduce stressing in tough circumstances.

Wed. June 18, 4:30-5:30

How do I get and use health insurance?

Health insurance can open doors to preventative health care, ability to choose doctors and clinics, medical and adaptive equipment, alternative medicine, and disability services.

Many people are eligible for free/low cost health care through state and federal programs. If you have MediCal or Medicare, learn what is covered so you can get it. If you don't learn how to get insurance and how we can help.

Wed. July 9, 4:30-5:30

Healthy eating at convenience stores-

In our neighborhood for people without much money, it can be difficult to find healthy food. But even in convenience stores, dumpsters, and food shelves, you can make healthy food choices. Learn how to spot healthy options.

Satisfy your food needs and wants in healthier ways from the places you really get food.

Wed. July 16, 4:30-5:30

Options for managing mental health symptoms-

These days, I hear a lot that medication is the main tool most people have for managing mental health symptoms. But there are many other tools and options, many of which are low cost, free, or covered by MediCal. Learn about different kinds of counseling which work well, case management, natural/alternative options, journaling/art/music therapy, harm reduction, and many other useful tools for your mental health toolbox.

Wed. August 13,


Stretching your money and staying housed with money help-

Having trouble making your money stretch all month? Get confused by math and numbers? Lost your housing due to not paying rent? Learn about the options for getting money help.

You can get help to do or learn how to: plan a budget, make sure your rent gets paid, or save money for something you want to buy. If you decide on your own to get this help, you can control who helps you, what kind of help you want, and even how exactly you want your money spent.

Wed. August 20,


Health Skill Share Workshops

Starting June 18, Welcome Ministry will be offering time to learn and share skills about health topics.

Skill Shares will happen 4:30-5:30 pm on Evening Outreach Nights prior to the meal- that's the 2nd and 3rd Wednesday of each month.


Assistant Director Jay Wilson or visiting educators will facilitate, and the hope is that people who have specific skills will want to share their knowledge. If you see a topic that you want to help with, contact Jay.


Come with your questions, skills, and suggestions for topics. We hope that a mix of people will come to each Skill Share, people of all levels of skills. Want to come but see a barrier? Talk to Jay to find a way.


In order to be able to offer a safe, comfortable, and effective place to share skills, in addition to the regular Welcome Ministry rules, we also ask that participants:

-Step up and step back- if you are reluctant to participate, STEP UP to try it.

If you know that you like to talk and other people haven't had a chance, STEP BACK to allow everyone to participate.

-Only one person talks at a time, no shouting- so that we can hear and respect everyone who speaks.

-Speak from your own experience, no erasing- You are an expert in your own experiences, so share them (remember this is a public space). Do not speak for other people, whole groups, or erase someone else's perspective.

-No racism, homophobia, ageism, or other ways of oppressing people.

-Jay cannot help you with an individual problem, get items or mail for you, or make appointments while we meet. Please see him before or after the presentation if you need to meet.

These rules are communication skills in themselves, so Jay will assist in remembering and following them.


See next post for schedule for the summer!

Contact Jay for more information, for questions, or if you'd like to share some skills.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Why do economy downturns have to hit the poor the hardest?

Mayor Newsom released a budget today that will terminate critical health and human services, while pumping up salaries for police by 25% and adding many new high paid patronage positions into his own administration.

Some highlights of the devastating impact of the budget include:

1) Closure Ella Hill Hutch shelter serving up to 100 people every night in the Western Addition.
2) Closure of Caduceus Outreach Services, a mental health treatment and wrap around support program for severely disabled homeless adults with co-existing addictive disorders.
3) Almost total elimination (66% cut) of SRO Families United program for families with dependent children living in hotels.
4) Cut of 22% to residential substance abuse and mental health treatment programs budgets.
a. Removal of support from Conard supportive housing program for severe psychiatric disabilities.
b. Closure of Cortland Acute Diversion Unit for individuals in psychiatric crisis.
c. Loss of 12 out of 24 community based medically supported detox beds.
d. Many more residential cuts yet to be determined.

5) Cut of 30% to all outpatient substance abuse and mental health treatment
6) Almost total elimination of STOP treatment program.
7) 1,600 people lose psychiatric treatment through Private Provider Network.
8) Closure of Tenderloin Health, homeless multi-service center in the Tenderloin serving over 300 people a day, 16,000 unduplicated people a year. Program provides health services, HIV case management, HIV prevention, mental health services, harm reduction work, improving quality of life by getting people out of rain, providing hygiene kits, bathrooms, snacks, crisis intervention, 30, 000 shelter reservations a year.

Brought to you by the People's Budget Collaborative

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Homeless Identification Project

The Welcome Ministry recently initiated a new project to help homeless people who do not have govern-ment identification. All government resources and many private resources for the poor require government-issued identification as a prerequisite for service. Additionally, the government requires that businesses see identification before hiring, giving permanent or temporary tenancy or providing financial services (e.g., cashing checks and establishing bank accounts). At the same time, the government has made it more difficult and costly to obtain these documents.

Common barriers that make it difficult to obtain identification:

• In order to get California state-issued ID, you are required to have your birth certificate. In order to get your birth certificate, you need a copy of your state-issued ID.

• In order to get a copy of your Social Security card you must have a copy of both your birth certificate and your state-issued ID. Additionally, the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 states that you may only request a copy of your Social Security card five times in your lifetime.

• If you have a copy of your birth certificate that was issued before 2004, it will be considered invalid because it is printed on the wrong type of paper (even if it has a seal).

• Ordering a birth certificate costs $15 to $75; it can take up to a month to arrive. The requirements to obtain your birth certificate vary based on the birth state.

• Many states require that a notary witness your signature when you request a birth certificate, but without proper identification a notary cannot witness a signature unless they personally know the individual.

• You must have a mailing address to receive your state-issued ID, birth certificate or Social Security card. Often when you order a birth certificate, the address it is mailed to must match the address on the credit card that is paying for it.

• You must pay by credit card or check with the same address where the identification will be mailed.

Companioning someone while they secure the identification they need is more than just paperwork. It is an opportunity to advocate for people as a religious leader and to provide pastoral counseling in ways that many people never experience. When a homeless person, who previously has had little or no support, and a chaplain share that person’s birth history, spend two or three hours together on the bus and in the DMV or Social Security office, an incredible amount of spiritual care takes place and friendship develops. Having a compassionate chaplain listen to your stories, fears, joys and hopes can be life-changing.

To staff the Homeless Identification Project, the Welcome Ministry has created a second staff position that is responsible for getting acquainted with people needing ID, establishing a mutually trusting relationship and gaining sufficient personal history information to begin the ID application process. The position also coordinates volunteer participation in the ID project and publicity to attract people who need help and people interested in supporting the project.

Jay Wilson started as the new Assistant Director April 1st. Jay has Master of Divinity and Master of Social Work degrees. He is experienced in assisting individuals and families to access services and understand state, county, Social Security, and educational systems.

-Barry Clagett, Welcome Ministry Treasurer

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

"It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of The Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of The Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of The Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." (Isaiah 2:2-4 RSV)

Today I am remembering all the veterans that have and are serving our country. We know that at least 23% of all of the homeless are veterans.

We also know that 18 vets commit suicide each day.

I am the child and granddaughter of veterans who recovered from the ravages of war in alcoholism. I wonder how many generations are affected by the traumas of war?

This year I'm getting special training to help people who have post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans of nearly every war, have suffered from PTSD. Trauma is something that nearly everyone has experienced. The homeless, like veterans experience multiple traumas.

This Memorial Day I remember that another cost of war is the way that lives are forever changed. As a pastor, I hope to help all people recover from the daily battles that distract people from God(dess). As a pastor to the homeless I daily walk with people hoping that each step we take together will improve their quality of life.

-Rev. Megan Rohrer
My PhotoMegan has been the Director of The Welcome Ministry (a ministry to the homeless and hungry in the Polk Gultch District of San Francisco, CA) at Old First Presbyterian Church since June of 2001 - and has been called to this ministry by a joint call from Ebenezer Lutheran Church, Christ Church Lutheran, St. Francis Lutheran and Sts. Mary and Martha Lutheran.