I wonder if it has ever occurred to you that one of the hardest jobs of a pastor is having to decide who to help and who NOT to help. It should come as no surprise to you that we get a pretty steady stream of people who call or come by the church seeking financial help. It ranges from help with rent and utilities to help with food and medicine and gas. Often times it is for a place to stay at night. If you are involved with this sort of “rubber meets the road” ministry, you also know that it gets complicated.
Take utilities, for instance. If someone calls us or comes by asking for help with utilities because NES has threatened to cancel their service, that almost always means they are one or two months behind, already. And that usually means needing several hundred dollars just to get caught up so they can keep their electricity running. And if it happens to be 25 degrees outside like it has been lately, then you can imagine the fear of having no heat in your home.
To complicate matters even further, we have a limited amount of funds available at any given time. Our “benevolence fund” is supported solely by communion offerings dedicated for that fund and most of you know that we don’t designate every communion offering toward that fund—in fact, we probably dedicate only half of those 12 communion offerings a year to the benevolent fund. If you make a decision to help one person with a three-months-in-arrears electric bill, you could easily spend 10 to 25% of your available funds on one person.
Another stark reality is that we get calls from folks from all over Nashville. Some of these are “professional beggars”, but it’s very hard to determine that over the phone.
One more thing—sometimes the people who come to the church in person can become angry or belligerent if you tell them you can’t assist them. This has put church staff and church members in occasionally awkward—and even potentially dangerous—situations.
So, we have established a policy for dealing with those who need help. Given the limited amount of resources we have available, we have decided that only the pastoral staff may determine to whom and how much aid can be given. The pastoral staff has the most experience dealing with folks who have this need. This policy includes letting everyone know (church staff and members) that if you are confronted by someone at the church or in the parking lot after worship, we are asking you to gently let these folks know that only a pastor is authorized to offer aid. If it so happens neither Sam or I are available at that moment, we ask that you let them know they will need to wait until they can see one of us—even if that means asking them to come back the next day.
Our policy also includes a stipulation that we are going to try to help those in our immediate neighborhood, first. This is simply a matter of conservation of energy and resources. If we get a call from someone who lives in Madison, we encourage them to try getting assistance from the many churches in their immediate area. This doesn’t mean we don’t think they need help—they probably do. But we feel more responsibility for those who live in the three zip codes that are closest to our church.
We truly do feel a need to help anyone who comes by or calls the church. The list of genuine needs around us are many. We will do the best we can and ask that you keep us in prayer as we try our best to represent the Church of Jesus Christ in the world—as well as the believers of Belle Meade UMC.