Opinion

MI Clergy: Bringing Tent City is a way of living our faith

Rev. Dale Sewall
Island Forum

Tent City 4 is coming to Mercer Island this summer. The hosting of this homeless community in our community is the result of discussions that began in the Mercer Island Clergy Association two years ago, and involved dialogue with City of Mercer Island staff, representatives of SHARE/WHEEL, which supervises Tent City 4, and resident leaders of Tent City 4. We have been impressed with the people and the quality of leadership in all three organizations.

The clergy actively involved in the Clergy Association are unanimous in our conviction that we need to host Tent City 4 on Mercer Island. And while one congregation will act as host, all Mercer Island congregations will be invited to participate in supporting Tent City’s presence. This joint effort is a unique opportunity to show the solidarity of the faith community in offering hospitality to a community of homeless people.

It is our conviction as leaders of the faith community that hosting Tent City 4 is a way of living our faith, of offering our help in practical ways, of welcoming and respecting people who do not have our advantages, and of being faithful to our calling to do as God asks us to do. Though we represent several faith traditions, our faiths have in common the mandate to love our neighbors and especially our neighbors in need. We are challenged by our scriptures and God’s Spirit to think beyond ourselves, to put ourselves into other people’s situations, to be generous and merciful, and to share what we have. If we don’t find ways to do this, we are not living our faith. Hosting Tent City on Mercer Island is a way to live the convictions of our faith.

Our faith calls us to share what we have with people in need. One thing we have on Mercer Island is a safe place to reside, and a safe place is something that the residents of Tent City 4 need. Some critics say that tent cities do nothing to solve the problem of homelessness and should not be supported. This ignores the fact that while more permanent solutions to homelessness are being addressed, homeless people need a safe place right now. To be alone and homeless in our city is dangerous. What Tent City 4 accomplishes is the provision of a safe place for homeless people. It is a valuable gift to give, and we can give it. It is our conviction that giving this gift is an act of faithfulness to God, while withholding it is a denial of our faith.

We know that the arrival of Tent City in a neighborhood for the first time creates anxiety in the community. We are sympathetic with these anxieties as they are based on concerns for the safety of our loved ones. But all of our investigations show that hosting Tent City does not endanger our community. Our conversations with previous host congregations and from the Police Chief of Mercer Island indicated that no significant issues have been created by the presence of Tent City 4 in any community.

When our fears lead to denial of something that others badly need, our fears become oppressive to those in need. Then we must overcome fear and act in faithfulness to God’s call for compassion. Let us act with compassion this summer. We invite Mercer Island residents of all faiths and all humanitarian convictions to join us in welcoming the residents of Tent City 4 to Mercer Island.

Rev. Dale Sewall is a member of the Mercer Island Clergy Association.

Signed by the Mercer Island Clergy Association members:

Rev. Samuel Sawitski, Congregational Church of Mercer Island

Rev. Kathleen Anderson, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Rev. Leslie Ann Knight, Mercer Island United Methodist Church

Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos, Mercer Island Covenant Church

Rev. Dale Sewall, Mercer Island Presbyterian Church

Bishop Stewart Vassau, Mercer Island Ward, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation

Rev. Marlowe Shoop, Chaplain, Covenant Shores Retirement Community

Kristin Jamerson, Representative, First Church of Christ Scientist

Rev. Bill Clements, Redeemer Lutheran Church

Deacon Jack Warfield, Deacon Larry McDonald, St. Monica Church

Rev. Arienne Davison, Emmanuel Episcopal Church

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