Friday, August 12, 2011

Benevolence Chronicles: Offshore drilling and game design.

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.

So long.


Anonymous said...

The man usually sends his pregnant wife in to ask for money and he, the kids, the cigarettes, and the cell phone stay in the car. We had a staff member in charge of this and he always walked them out to their car. You would never believe some of the things he saw.

Dave Miller said...

Handling transients who appear or call is a big problem. Every time I have ever checked one of these out, it turns out to be a scam. I just hate dealing with it, because I feel bad about saying no, but I am convicted that giving money to most of these people is the equivalent of giving alcohol to a drunk. They like it, but it doesn't really help them.

William Thornton said...

Dave, I'll write on it later but we always offer food - free, no application needed, nothing to fill out. The church is happy to keep a pantry and give as much to as many as come around.

I feel bad about saying no about once ever five years.

Matt said...

So, would you have done anything different today, now that you have more experience?

A similar scenario plays out for me ever so often, and I always tell myself I am going to be better prepared next time. I usually end up doing the same thing you did.

Anonymous said...

You can't fix everyones' problems is the lesson I wish I learned long ago. Being able to always offer something, in our case food, helps.


David said...

Sounds like what I've experience scores of times. Early on in my ministry, I was very soft hearted and gave much. As I matured and as the years past, I became a bit more resistant to the obvious untrue stories. These people know how to play the game to the hilt.

As Dave observed above, these situations are generally scams. Ninety percent of the time, they have plenty of gas money. They make their way across the land scamming for more gas money at every nook and cranny they pass through. Been there, done that. I know your feelings.

Bdw said...

Some years ago a fella stopped by my uncle's DC area FBC. Said he had just been released from Virginia jail, etc etc

Guy told my Uncle his name was Frank Larry.

The Yankee Killer

The guy looked like Frank Larry, knew everything about Larry's career, etc. My uncle got a handful of autographs and helped Larry out with some benevolence

A year later a church member read in a newspaper about a guy impersonating Frank Larry. The impersonator was the guy my uncle had helped out. The Real Larry family admitted though that the impersonator was quite convincing

Anonymous said...


I've never had anyone impersonating anyone except a needy person. Lots of those.