By Leonard Freeman
Distributing socks, opening the door for showers, and advising “don’t share the bong” are some of the tools used by St. Timothy’s Church in Brookings, Oregon during this time of pandemic, says the Rev. Bernie Lindley.
A part-time vicar and commercial fisherman, Fr. Bernie serves the church where he was baptized. He was ordained in the park across the street from the church, the same park where he graduated from high school. He and his congregation respond to the needs of the neediest in their small coastal community, stepping up their front-line efforts in this time of pandemic.
“We’re a small congregation but with a heart for outreach,” says Lindley. “Where we live, five miles north of the California border, is pretty remote. There’s no shopping mall within 100 miles, no Walmart, no hospital in our community; but 14,000 people with only two grocery stores and a food bank, and a significant homeless population.” So, the church steps up.
“A lot of what we’re doing now is built upon what we were doing before. showers for the homeless, a food bank, pastoral care, and a sock ministry … but more of it. And with an extra emphasis on safety.”
“We use lots of protocols for safe distancing and social distancing. It’s hard with a homeless population, some of whom have mental or addiction difficulties. Marijuana is legal in California and Oregon — we try to emphasize to them not to share the bong, not to share the pipe, not to share the bottle.”
A few years ago the church added a shower in one of their bathrooms so that the homeless in the area could get clean, opening the doors for showers three mornings a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 to noon “We only allow five people in the building at a time for safe distancing; but keeping clean is more important than ever in this crisis,’ says Lindley, “especially because, in the face of all this, a lot of the homeless are hiding out.
“We have about the same total number of showers taken each week, but by a larger range of people now. People we used to see two or three times a week are scared and come in only sporadically, but others are now coming because they too are trying to stay clean.”
That works with the sock ministry that St. Timothy’s moved into when they became participants in the Bombas Sock company’s program. The company donates one brand new pair of socks for every pair purchased. “Socks are the most requested clothing item in homeless shelters” notes Fr. Bernie, and St. Timothy’s has given out nearly 5,000 pairs in the past two years. “What makes me smile is that the socks they sent us feature [Sesame Street’s] Oscar the Grouch!”
Part of the congregation’s hope is that by practicing safe distancing as they serve their neighbors — six feet apart, only one person in the office at a time— “when they leave us, they’ll remember and maintain it for themselves. These are God’s people; in this pandemic we’re trying to do what we can to keep them safe.”