Putting faith to the test

Lawrence clergy to challenge congregations to fight homelessness.

By: Lea Kahn
   Lawrence Township’s religious leaders may differ on the finer points of theology, but on one thing they have agreed — the need to provide adequate housing for the homeless.
   Next weekend, the religious leaders of nine Christian and Jewish congregations, Baha’i Faith of Lawrence Township and two chaplains at Rider University plan to call on their members to step forward and help the homeless.
   The members of the Clergy of Lawrence Township plan to read a group letter to their congregants and to publish it in their newsletters, said the Rev. Mac Schafer, youth minister of the Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church.
   The letter, which the Rev. Schafer helped draft for COLT, calls on the congregants to form an interfaith committee that would take the initiative to understand and address the needs of the working poor and the homeless in Lawrence Township, some of whom live in area motels.
   The letter had its genesis in a series of presentations to COLT from Dennis Macai, Mercer County’s director of social services, and Connie Mercer, the executive director of HomeFront.
   Mercer County places homeless families in the motels on Brunswick Pike, such as the Trent Motel and the Sleepy Hollow Motel. HomeFront is a nonprofit organization helps the homeless. The group’s headquarters is located on Brunswick Pike.
   "At COLT, we bring in people to educate us. For a long time, the clergy have heard from Mr. Macai and Ms. Mercer and various other people who have dealt with the motels," the the Rev. Schafer said. COLT learned of the need to provide more transitional housing for the homeless.
   COLT members agreed that they wanted to bring an awareness of the plight of the homeless to their respective congregants, but they were unsure how to approach it, the Rev. Schafer said.
   The Rev. Dana Fearon III, minister of the Lawrenceville Presbyterian Church, suggested writing a group letter calling for action to help the homeless, he said. The letter would be read at churches and synagogues on the same weekend.
   The interfaith committee that COLT members hope congregants will form would work toward creating transitional housing for people who live in Mercer County, the Rev. Schafer said.
   Although COLT is committed to the issue of the homeless, the Rev. Schafer said the religious leaders in the group are not in a position to take on this problem themselves.
   "We are jumping in 25 different directions as pastors," he said. "Hopefully, we are a vehicle to help raise the issue."
   The Rev. Schafer said COLT members hope the letter will motivate members of congregations who might have a passion for this issue and who might want to dedicate their free time to it.
   There is precedent for members of different congregations to work together to help the needy, he said, pointing to last year’s joint effort to build a Habitat for Humanity home.
   Some people might argue that because most of the homeless families are from Trenton, it is not Lawrence residents’ responsibility to provide for them, the Rev. Schafer said. But it is their responsibility, because the motels are in Lawrence and the township is part of Mercer County, he said.
   "All of our faiths believe that we have to reach out for those in need, who struggle," he said. "That’s where we found the common thread. All of our traditions call for us to care for the stranger and to show hospitality. It is in our scriptures and in our historic traditions."
   The Clergy of Lawrence Township letter on the homeless has been signed by Sr. Beth Dempsey, the Rev. Vincent Gartland and Gary Maccaroni of the Church of St. Ann; the Rev. Frederick Mechowski of the Church of Our Saviour Polish National Catholic; the Rev. Nancy Schluter and the Rev. Bruno Ugliano, chaplains at Rider University; Dr. H. Dana Fearon III, the Rev. Schafer and Joan Semenuk of the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville; Rabbi Ellen Greenspan of Temple Micah; the Rev. Nina Reeder of Lawrence Road Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Robert Wittik of Harvest Chapel; the Rev. Floyd Fletcher of Slackwood Presbyterian Church; Rabbi Daniel Grossman of Adath Israel Congregation; Brett Smith of Baha’i Faith of Lawrence Township and Dr. Scott Turansky of Calvary Chapel of Mercer County. The full text of the letter will appear in the April 11 edition of The Lawrence Ledger.