“Master … When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help? His answer: “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me — you failed to do it to me.” — Matthew 25:44-45, The Message
Some of the most powerful moments of my life have been in prison. During the prison riots of 1972 at Walpole Prison, Massachusetts, I was assigned to spend the night alone with the only inmate in the infirmary. He greeted me by putting his fingers around my neck and said, “Hello, I’m Albert DeSalvo, but most folks call me The Boston Strangler.” Clearly, I stayed quite awake that night and listened intently to his life story.
Over the past five decades, I have spent sacred time in prisons and jails with a wide swath of humanity, but mostly just common folks like you and me. I also have spent a lot of time in Bible studies, so I also have come to understand that being in prison is quite Biblical – just remember Joseph, Samson, Daniel, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John, Paul, and, yes, even Jesus, who was held in jail between his arrest and execution; and, in our own time, Martin Luther King Jr., Fr. Daniel Berrigan, and even a number of our local businessmen, husbands, fathers, friends, and neighbors right here in Delaware County.
Incarceration is sometimes an equal opportunity dynamic in our society, but, truth be told, it is not all that equal. Most folks who go to jail are poorer, darker, and less educated than the rest of us. What is even more unequal is what happens to anyone released from prison or jail with nowhere to lay their head, as Jesus might say.
Delaware is one of the richest, fastest growing counties in Ohio, yet we have preciously few resources to address this inequity. Some very faithful ministries help as best they can, but we still have no dedicated shelter for single men.
That is about to change, blessed be! The Saint Vincent DePaul Men’s Shelter of Delaware County, Inc. is here! MSDC will shelter homeless men with temporary housing, especially those men released from jail or prison, and will assist them to re-enter society through spiritual care, financial counsel and support, educational and life-skills mentoring, and genuine friendship. This will be a community housing environment built on the faith-based rock of integrity, dignity, wide community support, and mutual respect.
Can this really happen in our community? As a Christian, interfaith, and civic leader in Delaware County for the past 32 years, I am convinced in my bones that this will, indeed, become a powerful and successful resource for all of us in our county. We truly have the capacity and will to create the necessary sustainable funding; we have the will and wisdom to create a strong framework of widespread community support; we have the know-how and experience necessary to create this vision in a safe and nurturing environment; and we have the business acumen required to ensure a solid system of accountability for such a vision.
Finally, but perhaps foremost in my pastoral heart and mind, we in Delaware County have a growing interfaith collaboration among our very diverse sisters and brothers of Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, and Atheist faith and non-faith communities. I have seen and served with the amazing grace of these giftedly diverse communities as we have come together through Family Promise, Meals on Wheels, Ecumenical Youth Group, Common Ground Free Store, Andrew’s House, Salvation Army, People in Need, Muslim Family Services, Lutheran Social Services, Open Table, HelpLine, and so many more.
So can we do this? We are doing this! By whatever sacred nudge you may feel in your heart, please join us at www.mensshelterdelco.org. Blessed be.
The Rev. Jon R. Powers is chaplain emeritus at Ohio Wesleyan University.