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Church apathy concerns pastor

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published May 23, 2007


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The Rev. Phillip Miller-Evans is frustrated that local faith groups seem to have little interest in launching a cooperative effort to fight homelessness in the community.

A few weeks ago, five people showed up for a meeting - he was one of the five - to discuss forming an interfaith group to address the issue. He was disappointed but not surprised by the turnout, Miller-Evans said.

"It's typical. It's very, very difficult to get churches to commit even to dialogue, " he said. "I think St. Petersburg has got a problem within its churches of not working in cooperative ministry. The Rotary Club and Kiwanis are actually doing more in quantifiable results than any of the ministerial groups, " said the pastor of American Baptist Church of the Beatitudes, at 2812 Eighth St. N.

Area faith leaders had been invited by e-mail through the St. Petersburg Ministerial Association.

Faith communities are called to address issues like homelessness, Miller-Evans said. He also is concerned about recent changes made to the bylaws of the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless. The organization's long-standing interfaith committee has been joined with a larger one, eliminating faith leaders' "distinctive voice, " he said.

Sarah K. Snyder, executive director of the homeless coalition, disagrees. She said the new, larger committee has two chairmen, one representing the faith-based community.

"It's still going to be an independent group. We reorganized the committee around the four goals of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. We had hoped that the faith-based group would become more actively involved in the coalition, " she said.

"I understand that they're concerned that their voice is going to be lost. We certainly don't anticipate that happening, but we will continue to work with them however we can."

Michael Amidei of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Clearwater is the co-chairman of the coalition's new, larger committee.

"I think the words we use to say how we organize ourselves are not as important as the work that needs to be done within the committee, " Amidei said. "I think our goal was to make sure the faith-based perspective is recognized for its own right, and I'm persisting in that effort."

He is working closely with Miller-Evans, he said.

"It's not like he is doing one thing and I'm doing another. I'm working within the system and outside the system, " said Amidei, who also heads the countywide Faith Love and Spiritual Harmony, or FLASH, homeless effort through the Episcopal Church of the Ascension.

Miller-Evans' new Interfaith Group on Homelessness proposes to be a moral voice to speak directly to county and city governments and the public about homeless issues. At its inaugural May 9 breakfast meeting at King of Peace Metropolitan Community Church, those few who showed up discussed a draft of a vision statement.

A final version completed this week says the group will live out the "justice call" of members' faiths. "We gather in common cause because we believe our moral prophetic voices are stronger together than separate, " the vision statement says.

Miller-Evans says he first became active with homeless issues last year, when St. Petersburg proposed an ordinance that would move the homeless off public property if shelter was available.

The pastor's small congregation feeds more than 250 people every week.

"If we had every congregation contributing at that level, we could make a huge impact on this community. And what I see is a city move to limit and to hinder those kinds of outreaches by the small churches that do try to make a difference, " he said. "I'm really concerned about the city's image about being cold and inhumane to those who are less fortunate.

"There is not a single place in the county where you can use the restroom after 11 p.m., and then we arrest people for defecating in the streets."

This year, when the homeless gathered in a tent city on St. Vincent de Paul property, Miller-Evans' church paid for the city garbage bins they used. In January, when two homeless men were slain, Miller-Evans and the Rev. Bruce Wright, who has a homeless ministry, presided over a memorial service for them.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at 892-2283 or moore@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

To help

- Interfaith Group on Homelessness: Call the Rev. Phillip Miller-Evans, 727 898-7178.

- Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless: (727) 528-5763.

Did you know?

3, 974 - Homeless individuals and families in places like shelters and transitional housing.

1, 221 - Homeless individuals and families living on the streets, in cars and woods.

There's a shortage of 500 beds on any night in the county.

Source: Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless

[Last modified May 22, 2007, 19:56:32]


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