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Posts published in “Day: October 25, 2021”

Devil’s in the details

meador

On the other side of Oregon, in a small coastal town, a deceptively important vote is taking place tonight.

The COVID age has brought out the best and the worst in people. As I’ve described countless times, I live in an unusually generous town, McMinnville, a city united in its commitment to helping others. Here, churches spanning the spectrum from conservative to progressive host numerous ministries offering clothing, firewood, pantry items, meals and more to anyone in need. When I moved to McMinnville over 25 years ago, I noted the community’s generosity right away. It’s evident everywhere.

For over a decade, I have been involved in the feeding ministry my own church sponsors. Five days a week, the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas provides hot, healthy and delicious meals to anyone who is hungry, no questions asked. For over 30 years, the soup kitchen has fed the hungry of Yamhill County. The soup kitchen ordinarily serves restaurant-style but COVID has temporarily required the ministry to switch to a carry-out-only format.

Being closely involved in a feeding ministry means I am familiar with the issues that accompany such an endeavor. While people frequently associate a soup kitchen with homelessness, it’s important to note that most of the guests served at St. Barnabas are not homeless — they’re working families or individuals. A few guests come for fellowship as much as food. Of course, local homeless folks also come but they’re neither the focus of nor the major part of the ministry.

Unfortunately, many people assume the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas is a ministry for the homeless. This incorrect assumption leads to a series of additional assumptions in which the ministry takes on a false front — then people start to see “evidence” of menace and even criminal behavior, usually greatly exaggerated from what’s actually occurring.

This is not to say there is no impact from living near a feeding ministry — I should know — in addition to being involved in the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas, I live next door to it. I’ve lived adjacent for over 25 years so you could probably consider me an expert on living next door to a popular and very heavily-used ministry to feed the hungry.

This is why I am distressed to see the city of Brookings, Oregon considering legislation that could hobble their local feeding ministries.

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church hosts a ministry very much like the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas. In fact, St. Timothy’s and St. Barnabas are both part of the same diocese, subject to the same oversight. Complaints by neighbors of St. Tim’s seemed to reach a head when COVID forced the closure of every feeding ministry in town except St. Tim’s. Last June, Fr. Bernie Lindley, rector at St. Timothy, asked other churches to step up — two did. Currently, three Brookings churches provide free meals.

The Episcopal Bishop of Oregon, the Rt. Rev. Diana D. Akiyama, is worried enough she paid a visit to St. Timothy last week. She described the feeding ministry as “highly organized, well-staffed, and attentive to detail.” Akiyama said the volunteers at St. Timothy serve with a heartfelt commitment to those in need.

“From the nurses giving vaccines, to the folks cooking in the kitchen, to volunteers swabbing for COVID tests,” said Akiyama. “Each and every person is clearly serving because they want to participate in the way in which Christ’s body is being made known to the community.” Akiyama said volunteers care about helping others because many were once on the receiving end of the same services. “Their gratitude is an endless source of fuel to become part of the love extended in feeding, vaccinating, and testing,” she said.

The Brookings City Planning Commission has voted to recommend that the city council pass an ordinance requiring churches to obtain a “benevolent meal” permit in order to continue serving meals to the hungry and homeless. The city council will vote on the ordinance tonight.

The benevolent meal permit is effectively a conditional use permit, costing $3,014 each. The city is discussing waiving all or part of the fee for the churches.

But as with so many things, the devil is in the details. The ordinance also limits each church to serving a maximum of two days per week — currently, the need is such that St. Tim’s is serving seven days per week. Additionally, the ordinance requires churches to essentially meet restaurant standards of service which, if commercial-grade kitchens are mandated, will be prohibitively expensive.

Further, off-street parking with adequate noise screening will be required, along with other undefined measures to combat undefined impacts. The measure requires buildings to meet all structural and fire codes which is likely the least impactful part since, as houses of worship, the buildings probably already are in compliance.

Finally, each church will be required to organize under the 501(c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Code. Added to all the other mandates, this creates an onerous burden for churches that just want to feed hungry people.

Seriously, constraining meal service to just two days effectively hobbles St. Timothy’s efforts to feed the hungry. Akiyama is urging the faithful to pray today. “Let’s all remind St. Timothy’s, the city of Brookings and each other of the wondrous work revealed when we awaken to the truth that what we ‘do to the least of these, you do to me,’” she said.

Having been closely involved with the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas and having lived next door to it for 25 years, as I said, I am intimately familiar with the impact a feeding ministry has on neighbors. Given that McMinnville has a population over five times that of Brookings — 34,000 versus 6,700 — I can’t help but think St. Timothy’s neighbors are suffering from a bad case of NIMBY (not in my backyard). Sure, there are a handful of minor annoyances from time to time but the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas accomplishes so much good — the benefits outweigh the tiny inconveniences by far.

Worse, I’m guessing neighbors have adopted the demonstrably false position that hordes of homeless people are descending on Brookings just to take advantage of all the free food. I would wager the vast bulk of guests served at St. Tim’s are local working families and individuals whose income is tight. I would bet most of them — even the actual homeless guests — are local folks, not expats from far off cities.

The efforts underway in Brookings are decidedly uncharitable, in my opinion. The Rev. Betty McWhorter, rector at St. Barnabas in McMinnville, agrees. She asked her parishioners to pray for the council vote in Brookings tonight. “We’re deeply concerned about the situation in Brookings,” said McWhorter. “It’s difficult to imagine St. Timothy being able to feed the hungry in Curry County if the constraints proposed in Brookings are suddenly imposed.”

The Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas beat its own COVID record for meals served last Friday — the need is real in these trying times.

It’s unfortunate neighbors of St. Timothy chose to take their case to the city council instead of conducting a vigorous and honest effort to work out their differences with the ministry. I know what goes on when your house sits next to a soup kitchen — I know with certainty the problems could’ve been worked out with effort and patience as opposed to oppressive legislation.

I am grateful for my generous community. I am thankful the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas gets along well with its neighbors. I am worried about the hungry in Brookings. I am worried an uncharitable group in another city might find inspiration in Brookings’ lead and enact crippling mandates on feeding ministries.

Like I said before, the COVID age seems to bring out the best and the worst in people.
 

Lieutenant troubles

jones

Idaho made headlines across the country when wanna-be governor Janice McGeachin signed an executive order on October 5 to prohibit mandatory Covid-19 testing in our schools. Although nobody was advocating such mandatory tests, McGeachin could not resist the opportunity to try to score some political points by usurping gubernatorial power. She claimed she has the right to rule our State whenever Governor Little steps across the state line. It just ain’t so.

The Idaho Constitution could be more explicit on the issue, but common sense tells us the Governor does not lose the power to govern every time his foot crosses the border. The Constitution says that the Lt. Governor can take over if the Governor dies, resigns, gets impeached, is convicted of “treason, felony, or other infamous crime,” or in case of his “absence from the state.”

At first glance, a court would wonder how such a trivial matter as leaving the state for a short period of time could equate with the other serious conditions that would switch governmental control to the second chair. The Constitution then says that power goes back to the Governor when the “disability shall cease.” The constitutional framers back in 1889 obviously meant that “absence from the state” would have to be coupled with a “disability” to govern before the second banana could take over.

That interpretation makes sense when you think of the framers’ experience at the time they were drafting the Constitution. During the twenty-seven years that Idaho was a territory, sixteen men were appointed as Territorial Governor by the President. Four of them never took office, six stayed for less than a year, only eight served for more than a year. One grabbed forty-one thousand dollars from the treasury and skedaddled to Hong Kong and Paris.

Even if a Territorial Governor actually stayed around to perform the job, an absence to conduct business in Washington could take them out of state for weeks and, because of poor communications, they would have been unable to govern. That is likely why the framers coupled an inability to govern with the conditions that would place governmental power in the Lt. Governor’s hands. With instantaneous communications today, our Governor could even run the State from Elon Musk’s rocket ship.

Governor Little says that McGreachin did not have the authority to issue her pointless ban on Covid testing, or her earlier and equally-meaningless order prohibiting mandatory masking, because he was not “effectively” absent from the State. That is, he was physically outside of Idaho but was not in any way disabled from governing. The Missouri Supreme Court has interpreted a clause similar to Idaho’s to require a Governor’s “effective absence” from the state before the Lt. Governor can run amok. It is clearly the most legally sound interpretation of the language.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden recently released a scholarly analysis of the issue, pointing out the arguments on both sides. As usual, Lawrence approached the question in a dispassionate manner, like competent lawyers must do. He concluded that a reviewing court could determine that Governor Little’s position is correct.

It is not likely that the issue will be litigated in Idaho because the Governor can simply undo whatever McGeachin does while he’s gone, much like a patient parent disciplining an impetuous child upon returning home from work. Should McGeachin do something that cannot easily be undone, like appointing one of her radical supporters to a public office or spending public funds for an unauthorized purpose, the issue will be brought to court. She can rest assured of that. It is more than likely that she will conclusively lose the argument in a court of law.