Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News has a poignant column today about Violet Little, a pastor who with other clergy provides holy communion and then coffee and pastry to the homeless (and others) on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Little fears that Mayor Michael Nutter's ban on feeding the homeless could threaten this ministry, and she's filing suit to prevent that from happening:
The Welcome Church is so named because all are welcome to gather around the card table they use as an altar. Overwhelmingly, congregants are the homeless men and women who wander the Parkway. But passers-by, too, have yielded to serendipity, seduced by the hymn of prayers on a breeze. Or the way leaf-filtered light glints like stained glass.
Anywhere from 20 to 200 have taken part in the bread-and-grape-juice communion and stayed for hospitality hour, when coffee and danish are served.
"I wonder if this will be regarded as ‘feeding the homeless,'?" says Little, 59, thinking ahead to the next service, on June 24 at 3 p.m. "I hope not."
But she's not taking chances.
Last week, Little joined the leaders of three other religious organizations — Chosen 300 Ministries, the King's Jubilee and Philly Restart — in a federal lawsuit claiming that the feeding ban violates their right to freedom of speech and religion. Their feeding activities, the lawsuit argues, are an expression of their faith. "They feel that what they're doing is a direct extension of their principal purpose, which is religious observance," says civil-rights attorney Paul Messing, who filed the suit.
"By feeding the poor outside, they're putting a public face on a problem that a lot of people prefer would just disappear. They send an important message about the plight of those in need. They engender sympathy and get people involved in extending help."