One of the thousand things I wish I knew when I took my first church as a pastor was how to handle benevolence requests. I had no staff experience at the time and very little exposure to what is routine for almost all churches, certainly to churches that have an office staff and pastors who keep some office hours at the church. I will tell some of my stories, ones that have helped to educate me. There are a vast number of pastors and staff who excel in this far beyond me, partly because they are smarter, have more experience, and/or are more gifted in the relevant areas.
It’s Wednesday evening and I’m with a modest crowd of adults at church. It so happens that we are preparing for our Homecoming Sunday service and meal and folks are pitching in to clean up, fix up, and help us look our best for Sunday. For a hundred man/woman hours of volunteer labor, I’m having the church spend $60 or so on pizza…comes out to under a buck an hour. I'm cheap.
Couple of guys, not like us, come into our Fellowship Hall. One is a young dude, probably not 20. The other is older, maybe 40ish with really bad teeth. That age with bad dentition around here might mean meth, but let’s not make any rash presumptions.
Morbid obesity. Calories are cheap. He obviously can afford his share.
Whiff of stale tobacco. Plodder can't hear so great but the ol' olfactory department is working just fine.
I’m there. I know what they are here for, some kind of need, so I meet, greet, and the conversation begins.
They are uncle and nephew, traveling from somewhere in Louisiana to somewhere in GA. Texas and South Carolina are mentioned but I'm not sure why.
Uncle whispers, I can barely hear him, a torrent of misfortune pours out - plans haven’t worked out, no place to stay, no money, no job. He’s up on the local shelters –turned away, got there too late or too early.
Nephew’s turn. Used to do offshore drilling rig work but, alas, no offshore jobs around here, a thousand miles from the nearest oil well. Someone has died. He dug the grave himself, still cost $10,000. Stepfather, girlfriend, drugs, greener pastures suddenly turned brown. More people die. Melville next? "And I only am escaped alone to tell thee..."
While Uncle was taking his turn, Nephew was working on his laptop computer. Laptop?
Online course - game design, starting salary $60k. No home, no wi-fi, no coursework, no game design degree, no $60k job, no easy street. Things are tough.
Plodder is flummoxed. He's been flummoxed before. King of Flummox.
We talk a bit. There’s enough pizza. We do supper together. Talk some more.
Sorry, fellows. This is the best I can do. No motel. No rent. No cash.
Oh, no gas? Can’t get to the next town, about 10 miles. It’s a wonder of nature that our fair city is far enough away from anywhere that people are always out of gas when they get here.
Sure, I’ll put a little gas in your car.