[Hpn] Tent-city idea causes church rift

William CharlesTinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 10 Jan 2005 10:55:30 -0500

Tent-city idea causes church rift

Full story:

 By Rachel Tuinstra
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

 When Sunday service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Bellevue concludes
tomorrow morning, Gay Saunders plans to go from worship to protest.

 Saunders, 81, lives across the street from Holy Cross, and often runs
errands for the church or volunteers her time for church functions. But in
recent weeks, Saunders has become disenchanted with her place of worship
over a single issue: Tent City 4.

 Ever since the church, in the Factoria neighborhood, began discussing the
possibility of hosting the homeless encampment, some longtime church
members, such as Saunders, have been upset, saying they are considering
leaving Holy Cross for good.

 "I have nothing against the church, I love the church, but I don't want
this in my back garden," Saunders said.

Saunders is among a growing number who find the mere suggestion of hosting
the camp, which they regard as unsafe and unsightly, enough to spur them to
protest. They say the only way to keep the tent city out is by protesting
early and forcefully. Picketing the church now, they say, is the only way to
ensure that a camp will not move into their neighborhood.

 But the new strategy has also created rifts in congregations before
decisions have even been made. Church officials and other congregants say
they have been surprised at the reaction. All they want, they say, is to
have an honest, open discussion about allowing a tent city to set up
temporary residence.

 "It's getting hard for us to hear God's voice, with everyone else wanting
to have a say," said Kimberly Kivey, president of the church council. "I
wish we had more time among the congregation to consider what we wanted to
do, without the political aspect to it."

 And tent-city organizers say that's now par for the course.

 "Every time, without exception, that word leaks out about a possible site
being discussed, the opposition kicks into high gear," said Don Goodwin, who
has lived at Tent City 4 since August.

 Tent City 4 is now at St. John Mary Vianney Catholic Church on Finn Hill
near Kirkland, and organizers have applied for an extension to their permit
until Feb. 20. Beyond that, the encampment hasn't found its next  site,
although organizers are in discussions with other churches besides Holy
Cross, Goodwin said.

 Even if Holy Cross, on 129th Place Southeast, agreed to host tent city, it
could not be the next site, said the Rev. Kevin Duggan, Holy Cross' pastor.
It would probably  take months for the church to decide  whether to host it.

Church member Larry Severance suggested hosting tent city while sitting on a
committee that sets annual goals for the church.

 "We decided we wanted to focus on children and homeless as potential
outreach objectives," Severance said.

"It came to mind that we have an orchard, a nice piece of property which has
gone unused and undeveloped, and would provide a suitable location for tent
city. It occurred to me that we have an obvious resource we could provide
them with."

 Severance said he had envisioned an open dialogue among church members.
Instead, he said, some people seem to have made up their minds immediately.

 "I thought we were approaching this issue from a spiritual perspective," he
said. "I was hoping this was an opportunity for people to grow in the way
they think about these things."

 But at the core of the issue lies different philosophical perspectives on
how to handle homelessness in general, Severance said.

"There are two visions here," he said. "One is of a community that is
fearful and wants to put away anything that is arousing that fear. The other
is an outpouring of passion toward people who are in the same human
continuum but ended up in different circumstances."

 That's easy to say if you don't live nearby, said Tonya King, who has been
a member of Holy Cross for 12 years.  She felt her neighbors should know
what the church was considering.

 "I agonized over this and prayed over it," King said. "I see this as an
issue between people who feel compelled to offer homeless people some kind
of refuge. But they won't look out their window and see 50 to 100 homeless
people for 90 days."

 As for Saunders, the issue is quite simple.

 "I think the people who want this think this is a good Christian thing to
do, to feed the homeless and the poor," she said.

 "And I will help feed the homeless and the poor, but not here. If they
allow tent city to move in, I'll leave. I'll go sit at St. Margaret's
Episcopal Church."

 Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

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