Re: Are mandatory prayer meetings fair at free church meals?

Flower Child (
Fri, 27 Nov 1998 15:04:00 -0700

Dear Tom and HPN,

I think it's fair for providers to do it the way they want.  It's
too bad if they don't have a way for input from the people they
are serving, and even have them on the staff involved.  The most
successful seem to be doing that.  Dignity and respect must be on
both sides of human relationships or the bits of food given may
well taste sour.  If you don't like those you're helping, you
will not pay the correct attention when preparing the servings.
This life must be about relationships we have in living it, not
just about the quantity of material goods transferred one way or
another.  When the food or the clothing is gone, what endures are
the relationships, the feelings of respect which were given or
the lack of them experienced.  I think it is unconscionable to
have hungry people sit for an hour in front of food already
served.  It may get contaminated in that situation, it may get
cold, and some people may be so hungry that they start to eat and
what are you going to do then?  Punishment, ejection, disruption
of the 'services'?  I can say factually that some people will be
in such a worn-out state bordering on mental illness that they
will not understand what is going on, only that food they need is
in front of them.  It's one thing to promise a 'carrot' to people
to get them to do what you want, but to dangle it in front of
their noses for such a time seems to be wrong.  And in this
situation where the 'service' is long and followed by
'testimonies,' most people must be 'praying' indeed, that Joe, or
whoever, will just shut up and cut it short so everyone can start
eating, and having 'hope' that no one else will volunteer to
testify.  What kind of atmosphere has been created here, and what
is it's message?

             Flower Child         from alt.gathering.rainbow

-----Original Message-----
From: Tom Boland <>
To: <>
Date: Friday, November 27, 1998 12:57 AM
Subject: Are mandatory prayer meetings fair at free church meals?

Is it fair for churches to require that people attend relegious
before they can eat free meals?  Why or why not?

For an current example, see the article below:
FWD  Associated Press - Wednesday November 25, 1998

By John Curran - Associated Press Writer

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - At 11:30 a.m., the hungry beggars and
crapped-out gamblers begin lining up.

Standing along Pacific Avenue, a poker chip's throw from Resorts
Hotel, they rub their hands to keep warm. They shuffle ahead, one
step at a
time, eyes on the church door, hoping the line keeps moving so
they can get
in for the first lunch sitting.

In this world of uncertainty, they know two things for sure: One
is that
they are hungry. Two is that ``Sister Jean'' will feed them, just
as she
always has, no questions asked.

Then the door swings open and Jean Webster welcomes them. They
file in and
sit down, 10 to a table, for a hot lunch of scalloped potatoes,
soup, sliced pears and barbecued chicken.

``I see you made it back,'' she tells one man, smiling broadly
and clapping
him on the back as he pulls out a folding chair. ``Uh huh,'' he

Ripe from living on the street, his stench overwhelms the aroma
wafting out
of the kitchen. Webster doesn't flinch.

Why should she? After a dozen years feeding Atlantic City's
poor - first
out of her home, now out of First Presbyterian Church - Jean
Webster has
seen and smelled it all.

A former casino chef, Webster, 63, found her calling when she saw
a man
rummaging through a garbage can in search of food. Now she runs a
kitchen that feeds up to 400 people a day, five days a week.

She tends to the other half in this gambling mecca, the ones who
don't even
have enough money to get into the $4.99 casino buffets.

They call her ``Sister Jean'' or ``Saint Jean'' or ``the Mother
Teresa of

``She doesn't get turned off by offensive looks. She cares for
them and
tells them somebody loves them,'' said Kent Pipes, executive
director of
the Salt and Light Corp., a nonprofit charity.

``She is a living miracle, in terms of the blessings she gives to
said Redenia Gilliam-Mosee, senior vice president at Bally's Park
Casino Hotel, who has known Webster for 20 years.

Born in New York, Webster moved here at age 5 with her father, a
She worked as a chef at Caesars Atlantic City, Trump Taj Mahal
and the
Playboy Casino.

Then came that day in 1986.

``I saw a man eating out of a garbage can when I was on my way to
work at
the Playboy Casino. I took him to Pizza King and told them to
give him
whatever he wanted. Then I gave him some more later at my home,''
she said.

She didn't stop there. With her own money, Webster fed up to 35
people a
day out of her home, even spending money for her heart medicine.

Talk about irony: Her big heart has trouble working. By Webster's
she has had 17 heart attacks in 15 years, the last one in early

Her cardiologist looks at her health a bit differently. ``It's
not real
heart attacks, but she gets these spells where she requires
hospitalization,'' said Dr. Rashmikant Desai, who wouldn't

``In a nonscientific way, though, she has a great heart. She's a
woman and she loves people.''

In 1995, the new owner of Webster's rented home evicted her. Salt
and Light
Corp., based in Mount Holly, stepped in.

The city sold a house to the charity - for Webster's use - for
$1. But the
neighbors didn't want the homeless there, so Salt and Light
contacted the
church, which offered its kitchen and chapel.

Meanwhile, word spread further. Supporters established The
Friends of Jean
Webster. Her operation employs a half-dozen volunteers. Casino
donate leftover food. Businesses and individuals donate money and

At the heart of it all is Webster - a bespectacled 5-foot tall
woman in a
T-shirt, apron, sweat pants and running shoes.

``I like it better here,'' she says of the church. ``I can feed
more. I
have the commercial-sized oven and I can cook much faster,''
Webster said
one day recently, shaking a salt shaker over a tray of steaming
scalloped potatoes.

But the first order of business isn't food.

When Webster's clients sit down at the tables at noon, there is a
bowl of
sliced pears and a donut waiting along with a napkin, silverware
and four
laminated sheets of paper labeled ``Sing Along With Jesus and
Jean.'' Each
contains typewritten lyrics - ``Amazing Grace,'' ``His Eye Is On
Sparrow'' and other spirituals.

Hungry as they are, they do not touch the food. Rules are rules.

``We feed them spiritually first,'' said Christy Browne, a
volunteer. ``If
we did it the other way, they might not appreciate it.''

Volunteers take microphones and play the piano for a rousing
service. Hard-luck diners are asked to ``testify'' about their
love for God.

Some, too tired, sleep in their chairs. Others take the

``I had no food in my cabinet,'' a young man says. ``Someone had
told me
about Sister Jean, so I came here. I thank the Lord there's
someone out
there who is gonna look out for me.''

After the songs and the testimony and the preaching, it is time
to eat.

``If it wasn't for her, seven out of 10 people here would be dead
sitting up in the penitentiary,'' says Donald, 48, a lunch
regular. ``The
woman's heart is made out of 24-karat gold.''

Come Thanksgiving, the operation feeds up to 1,000 people.

Along with the crowds come awards - $50,000 from toy maker Russ
Berrie for
``making a difference'' (she bought 380 pairs of socks and dozens
of pairs
of shoes for her clients), a humanitarian award from the New
Association, induction into the Atlantic County Women's Hall of

To Webster, she is just following orders.

``God, he's the one who told me to do it. It seems like nobody
wants to
help these people, but they're human beings,'' she said.

After this meal, she says, the cupboard will be bare. ``We've got
in the kitty,'' Webster said. But she's not worried.

``I just rely on God. It's like the loaves and the fishes. He
never lets me
go dry.''

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