What should we do? The ethics of responding to panhandling

The Episcopal Lead asks the question, following up on an article about Sacramento churches that includes some info about Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The Very Rev’d Brian Baker’s response is very much in keeping with my own. I tell parishioners that anyone asking for assistance on Sunday should be brought to me. We have a list available of meals programs, and I used to say, before the Salvation Army quit serving breakfast, that on Sundays you could eat for free in downtown Madison pretty much all day long.

I don’t want to be crass or insensitive to people’s needs, but I do think it’s important that people be allowed to worship and take part in Sunday programs free of harassment. We have homeless people who come to services and to coffee hour, and occasionally, they will hit parishioners up for money. It’s hard to say no, especially when the gospel that day has something to do with selling all and giving to the poor. But panhandling can be a nuisance, especially in Madison. One parishioner who works downtown carries new pairs of socks in his coat pockets in winter, and when asked for money, offers socks instead.

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