January 30, 2019
Earlier this month, the Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs partnered with the University of Washington Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies to sponsor a presentation and discussion entitled “Wounds of Love: Faith-Based Responses to Homelessness in Seattle.”
The event was moderated by James Wellman, Chair of the Jackson School’s Comparative Religion Program and Global Christianity project, and featured a presentation by Center scholar Paul Blankenship, followed by reflections from a panel of community partners, and concluding remarks from Center Director Manuel Mejido, who also led a general discussion with attendees.
The Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs, which seeks to integrate the scholarly examination of pressing social problems with solution-oriented responses initiated by communities of faith and their organizations, was pleased to co-sponsor this opportunity for a public dialogue with scholars, faith-based practitioners, students, and community partners.
Mr. Blankenship opened the event by presenting narratives from his two years of ethnographic fieldwork with unhoused people in Seattle and reflecting specifically on the role of spirituality in the lives of both unhoused people and housed Christians.
Following this presentation, a panel of community partners, comprised of Mr. Ben Curtis of Operation Nightwatch, Ms. Kae Eaton of Mental Health Chaplaincy and Rev. Kelle Brown of Plymouth Church, provided their responses and reflections. These practitioners articulated the theological and ethical approaches that underpin their respective organizations’ work, affirming the importance of notions of presence, listening, and accompaniment in their ministries, in addition to the provision of material care and being a prophetic voice for systemic change.
Center Director Manuel Mejido then offered brief remarks, outlining three themes that inform the Center’s work and highlight the unique contributions faith-based organizations (FBOs) make to addressing homelessness and other pressing social issues: One theme has to do with how the convictions and hopes of religious traditions orient the different theological rationales for integrating spiritual and material care for unhoused individuals. A second theme has to do with how FBOs contribute to reimagining the common good, envisioning a society where all individuals have a house and home. And a third theme has to do with FBOs as key community problem solvers, as stakeholders that are exploring innovative ways to more effectively provide for the immediate needs of individuals experiencing homelessness while aspiring to address the systemic causes of this social issue such as unaffordable housing and inequalities of opportunity.
Further exploring these three dimensions of faith-based community development, the Center is currently leading a thematic working group process for a cohort of Puget Sound FBOs, bringing them together to problem-solve collectively with the goal of implementing innovative solutions. This process will conclude in June, with working group members’ presentations at a professional development workshop, “Problem-Solving to Enhance Faith-Based Responses to Homelessness (June 19-21).”
Photos courtesy of Ryan Hoover, Program Coordinator, Center for Global Studies, Comparative Religion Program, University of Washington.