Service Recording: November 22, 2020
After the service, we will have Adult Forum in a Zoom video conference. Details for joining will be shared via email and at the end of the live stream.
The Building is Closed and the Church is Open
While we have restricted access to the building, Peace Church is very much open to ministry—working to respond to our own congregation, as well as the needs of our neighbors and community. Please consider giving either to Peace Church general fund or the Gabriel Fund – which is used to meet the needs in the community.
We recognize that in this time, people’s financial situations may have changed. We ask you to prayerfully consider what you can give. If you use electronic giving, we thank you for your constancy of support. If you would like to give through our online form, we would be grateful. For all the contributions from our members and friends—whether financial, time, or prayer—we ask God’s blessings on those gifts that Peace Church may be healing balm in this time when we are living in our own Gilead.
November 22, 2020 ⁂ 10:30am
The People of Peace Church
Doug Bowen-Bailey, ASL Interpreter
Jim Pospisil, Lay Leader/Music Director
Lee Stuart, Executive Director of Chum
Rev. Kathryn Nelson
Announcements and Ringing of the Peace Bells
God is Revealed as We Gather
Responsive Call to Worship (based on Psalm 100)
Shout with joy to God, all the earth!
Remember that our God is the only God— the One who made us, the One who sustains us, the One whose Spirit lives within us.
Let us enter God’s house with thanksgiving; and come into God’s presence with praise.
For God is good, with unfailing love that lasts forever and faithfulness that extends to all generations.
*Opening Hymn “Come, O Thankful People, Come” (#422)
Unison Prayer of Confession
Loving God, too often, we overlook the needs of people around us while we proclaim our devotion to you. We could do so much more to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger, and heal the sick. We fail to see how our prison system diminishes the humanity of all of us, how our medical system denies healing to the poor, how legal obstacles keep the strangers at a distance.
Open our eyes to see your presence in every person, Open our hearts to do what we can with what we have been so graciously given by you. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon
Story for All Ages
God is Revealed in the Word
God’s Word in the Gospel: Matthew 25:31–40
Special Music “Deep River” sung by Jennifer Boyle, interpreted by Judy Hlina
Sermon Lee Stuart, Executive Director of Chum
Remarks by Lee Stuart for Peace Church, Nov. 21, 2020
Good morning, and thank you, Pastor Kathy and the Peace community for inviting me to speak with you today. I’m isolating at home after a positive COVID test, but my symptoms are very mild; not even at the level of a bad cold. I appreciate the outpouring of concern!
I’m here today to share something extraordinary that has come from COVID. The passages from Matthew might as well be CHUM’s theme scriptures: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit people in prison, welcoming the stranger. We do these things day in and day out, and we try to welcome each person as our brother, sister, aunt, uncle, family, not stopping at neighbor. That was and remains our ground of being, our ground of action, and so with COVID, I thought, well, “Double down and carry on.”
What actually happened blew my mind. For the first time in my professional life, “the last shall be first” is our direct experience at CHUM. Long ago at South Bronx Churches, I remember my first exposure to people who actually believed and acted as if they were living inside scriptures today. Not that they were something that happened long ago, and were metaphors for today, but actually happening. That we were part of salvation history, not back then, but right now. Maybe that’s a normal progression as one matures in faith, but I remember sitting in the basement of Our Lady of Victory Church, and literally exploding with the possibility that part of our work as people of faith was to make those stories, those miracles, the witness, come alive, become current, and oh so powerful. Because it is powerful when people experience miracles – it is liberating, it brings hope, and it reminds us that the Holy Spirit is moving, and when she does, it’s always surprising, even though it’s a promise of our faith. “I will send you an advocate.”
The story of CHUM during the pandemic is a miracle. The tables have been turned. The last have become first.
As most of you know, my background is as a scientist, and an awful lot of my approach to things is still rooted in those disciplines: hypotheses, data, experiments, evaluation, and I’m pretty eclectic about trying new things and trying to analyze things from a systems viewpoint to cover all bases.
So back in January when news of the novel coronavirus started circulating I knew it was most likely coming our way and that I’d better learn as much as I could as fast as I could. After all, modeling viral spread is an early lesson in population biology – I made my first R-nought calculations in 1972!
In February, HUD of all places, helped me out. They sent out links to articles about infectious disease control in shelters, encampments and among the homeless community in general. I read them all, and the first step in all of them was: Contact your local public health officials and coordinate with them.
So, I called up Amy Westbrook who is in charge of St. Louis County Public Health, and said, “Amy, I’m taking step one from HUD to protect shelters during COVID, and they said to call you. Now what?”
In short order, Amy had created a five-member task force just for CHUM. Folks on that task force had expertise in public health education, risk safety, mental health, housing, and contracts. Amy knew there would be money and contracts involved and so she took care of that day one. Other organizations got their own task forces and public health liaisons, too.
Starting in the beginning of March, we laid plans to deal with a massive and rapid outbreak in the homeless community. We started building the capacity for isolation and quarantine, and thinking about how we could mitigate transmission if we had an outbreak at CHUM.
On March 25th, with the first stay at home order, the action and response started immediately.
First, there was a call from the Charlson Foundation in the Twin Cities, offering a $10,000 grant to help get the Steve O’Neil childcare programs safe from Covid. I think we’re the only organization outside the Twin Cities that they fund. Then came a call from the Ordean Foundation, with $20,000; from Medica with $50,000; shortly the Community Foundation with $10,000. Within 48 hours, we had $90,000 in unsolicited general contributions to make sure we could armor CHUM in terms of sanitizing, PPE, and extra staffing. Whatever we needed. Within minutes of us announcing that we had to cancel the Rhubarb Festival, we received an unsolicited, entirely anonymous individual contribution of $70,000 to cover the revenues that generally come in with the festival.
I don’t know what other states did, but within days, the Minnesota Legislature created a $26 million fund specifically for Covid response for people experiencing homelessness. Rather than the sort of 141 page RFPs that often accompany state proposals, this had a two-page explanation, and was basically, a Google Form. We could apply for funding for shelter expansion, health and hygiene and staffing.
The county applied for funding to rent the entire Radisson Annex – 72 rooms, so that if we had an outbreak, we could move people safely into isolation and quarantine. CHUM applied for funding to staff it 24-7. I put another google form out on CHUM’s website to hire those staff, and the most extraordinary group of people – mostly newly laid off from their jobs because of COVID, rose to the team. There were pharmacy students who knew CHUM from HOPE Clinic, people who knew of us from HDC, people who had used our shelter or food shelf, people young, old, diverse, generous and wanting to help.
Another recommendation from those early HUD documents was that we identify people who were particularly vulnerable at CHUM, for example, the elderly, with underlying medical conditions, and if possible, reduce the density in our congregate settings and improving their safety by finding them an alternative place to stay. This is when the City of Duluth stepped in. They applied for funding and did all the negotiations to rent the first floor of the Downtown Duluth Inn, 22 rooms for this group of people. Again, CHUM applied for funding for people and food, the City for the space.
The whole process made me think of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. There was a fixed amount of money. It sounded huge – $26 million dollars. We were asked to apply for 30-day needs, but were not required to do that. I wondered: should I apply for EVERYTHING, go all in, get as much as I could for CHUM, or should I be a cooperator, and apply for what we needed. Well, I’m always the cooperator in Prisoner’s Dilemma – so I applied for what we would need, given my best guess at a worse-case scenario of major outbreak at CHUM. CHUM received about $197,000 in our first application.
To my complete astonishment: every homeless organization, municipality and county that applied for that funding were cooperators. No one hogged the resources. The entire homelessness response community in the State of Minnesota opted to share. Incredible. And so, month after month, we were able to apply for funding for what we needed, and this first pot lasted from May until September. Then they added another $22 million and we’re working through that through December. And another pot just opened for between January and June. I’m all over it.
My favorite story about this time came from a time I was jolted awake in the middle of the night, when I realized that with Damiano choosing to close, and only distributing sandwiches, that most people experiencing homelessness had nowhere to eat! Food is very important to me, and so I called up the state regulators and asked if food could be included as an expansion of shelter services. They said yes.
Then I emailed Tom Hanson at the Duluth Grill and asked him if he could make me a menu for half his regular price point, and if so, and we were funded, could he start providing food to CHUM? He and his team put together a remarkable menu. Our funding requests have always been funded in full, and so from May through the end of December, we’ve been able to offer 3 meals a day, 7 days a week from the Duluth Grill at CHUM! For most of May and June, CHUM was the only place in Duluth where people experiencing homelessness could get a hot meal. And what’s great – is this helped keep the Duluth Grill afloat, helped them keep people employed, helped pay their vendors, and their staff are pleased to be of use. CHUM used the economic stimulus that we received to multiply it down the line.
After the State initiatives, came the CARES funding to the City of Duluth and to St. Louis County.
Again, all the normally onerous practices of RFPs, multiple page proposals – all went on simple mode. In the first tranche of CARES from the City, we received $200,000 to take over the lease for the Duluth Inn, $95,000 to remodel our bathrooms and kitchen in the drop to make it easier to clean; $37,000 to double the size of the freezer in the food shelf, and $50,000 to support Steve O’Neil Apartments. We received funding from the County to install fire-proof curtains as dividers between our bunks as a partial barrier to viral transmission, and they put aside a million dollars in case we want to buy the Duluth Inn and turn it into permanent housing for 43 people.
I wrote a proposal for Damiano to submit to acquire a six-unit portable shower and toilet trailer to answer the constant cry for hygiene facilities for people experiencing homelessness. That too was funded and the trailer is on its way here. They build them in South Carolina, and we’re getting the “winter package” for sure.
Over all, CHUM has received about $1.35 million dollars since May to mitigate the pandemic among us.
The outpouring of support goes on.
It is something of a miracle that we have been able to keep COVID at bay in the homeless community so long. Prior to last week, we’d had about 50 people staying at isolation and quarantine with us, but only 5 of them were referrals from CHUM, and none of those were positive. There were ten people who were potentially exposed in the first week at Loaves and Fishes, but the remainder were here in Duluth, mainly for medical, mental health or chemical health treatment, or as part of a corrections discharge plan – and released COVID positive, and homeless, to CHUM. No kidding, we have had referrals from 7 non-profit agencies who think that we’re their Covid response plan. That was ok in May. Not so ok now.
CHUM is the organization that doesn’t say no – and so we have welcomed the people they have rejected. That’s how we roll. But in the past few days, I’ve been firmer with my counterparts: at this point in the pandemic, their shelters, treatment facilities, and half-way houses should have a Covid response plan that does not include the word CHUM anywhere. We’ll see how that goes.
So what’s going on now? Last week, a couple of senior staff at CHUM were tested and found to be positive and someone staying in CHUM Shelter also tested positive. I was on a four-day hiking trip in the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan, and so didn’t know any of that until I got home. The back-up system for mobilizing isolation and quarantine worked perfectly, and the staff followed our agreed upon protocols for staff cases. I thought it would be prudent for me to get tested, so I did, and on Thursday my test came back positive. That’s why I’m recording this.
Back in July we worked with St. Luke’s on how we would handle an outbreak at CHUM. When we hit the trigger for what’s called a Point Prevalence Survey (one staff member or one guest with a clinically confirmed case) we rolled out our plan for mass testing that we had created months ago. We sent people from the shelter to the isolation hotel; a St. Luke’s team was there to conduct on-site testing; folks then went to their private room to await results. It stretched my capacity as a control freak not to be on site, but the planning was rock solid and I’d give us a 95% on the effort.
CHUM Shelter is closed until Monday. We’re doing deep cleaning so as to be ready when the first people (those with negative results) return from isolation. Anyone who tests positives can stay at the isolation place as long as indicated by public health.
What I really want you to know in all of this – is at every level, the last have become first. There has been no expense, no obstacle, nothing that has caused us to have a glitch in our response. Usually, CHUM is the only organization I can count on to say yes, or at least get to yes. My experience, and again, first time ever in my career is that almost everyone – city, state, county, foundations, hospitals – we’re all starting from yes.
It is quite astonishing.
I also want to acknowledge that it could not have been so if CHUM hadn’t been in the mix. The reputation we have built, our recognized integrity, the way we build partnerships and relational power rather than factions – all of this work over our entire history has culminated in us being able to respond the way we have. And not just respond – to initiate the response and coordination that is required to protect our most vulnerable.
So thank you, Peace Church – for your support, your leadership, your example of standing up for those who have no voice, who have no money, who have no family or place to live. CHUM operates in your space, and you give the organization an unparalleled capacity for generosity and service.
Please share in this good news in the midst of bad news. I’m not minimizing the severity of what is going on. We’re a long way from done with this. As a country, we’ve lost more than half the people we lost in all of World War II, in only about 7 months. We are in a deadly surge here in Minnesota and St. Louis County.
You can count on CHUM to stay true, to keep responding, to take every step we can to build our capacity for response, for shelter, for food, for hygiene, health – anything to put the needs of our guests first. We can’t do it without you – and we do it in your name.
When did we see you hungry and feed you? When did we welcome you as a stranger and give you shelter? When did you see you naked and clothe you?
Each and every day at CHUM. We did double down and we did carry on with COVID. We did not stumble.
May this lighten your hearts and burn in your hearts as an example of love and faith in action. Peace Church is doing this work as certainly as I am doing it. Please share the joy – the last are indeed, first. We have lived to witness this.
I hear a voice in my own darkness – you know it won’t last, it’s not perfect, it hasn’t all been smooth, there are still obstacles, the normal systems will return, people will die, just wait for what happens at the state with a budget forecast of a 4 billion deficit, etc. etc. etc. To this – I would say, get thee behind me Satan.
For me, the 13th verse of Psalm 27 has been fulfilled:
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
And, I proclaim:
The Lord has done great things for us, and Holy is His Name.
Hymn “I Was Hungry” by Sara Thomsen sung by Nathan Holst
We Respond to God’s Presence
Sharing Our Prayer Concerns, Silent Prayer, Pastoral Prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and Choral Amen
Sharing our Offerings
Offertory Wendy Durrwachter, piano
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise God all creatures here below
Praise God for all that love has done
Creator, Christ and Spirit, One.
*Prayer of Dedication
*Closing Hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” (#419)