The District of Columbia has reduced homelessness, including among the single homeless men and women we know best at Grace, in the last couple of years. A report on DC’s proposed budget for FY 2018, prepared by the Good Faith Communities Coalition (read the GFCC summary – it’s brief!), holds out hope for the continuation of this initiative. It’s especially gratifying to report that of the 15 persons housed by the Congregation-based Shelter at Grace and other churches this past winter, 12 are either in housing or in the pipeline to be housed soon. This is the highest percentage anyone can remember, by some margin. The work is far from over – indeed, homelessness is so woven into human experience that there can never be a “mission accomplished” moment, in my view – but there’s certainly been progress.
This progress is owing, in no small part, to “koinonia”, a Greek word often translated as “community” or “fellowship”. We know the word from the small groups organized here at Grace for conversation over shared meals.
The eminent historian of ancient Greek civilization, M.I. Finley, writes that koinonia is characterized by a “sense of shared destiny and shared faith”. Such a community binds together homeless and housed here in DC. From the efforts of those who prepare and serve meals for homeless neighbors, befriend and talk with them, and send emails and make phone calls on their behalf to elected officials, a sense of shared destiny and shared faith has arisen. Over time, it has come to carry weight in the places where policy is made.
The First Amendment to the Constitution decrees that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The first provision makes the second possible, and the free exercise of religious faith in the public arena accounts for many of the noblest movements and moments in our nation’s history. Bringing to bear the authority of koinonia on the issue of housing the homeless, engaging in the free exercise of faith, Grace Church and many others have affected our common life for the better.