A letter for Lent

Dear Friends — The Season of Lent, a time for self-denial and compassion, is upon us. In the words of our Book of Common Prayer, “I invite you … in the name of the Church, to the observance of a Holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial.” As we reflect on our need for God’s forgiveness, we should also reflect on how we, as the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of California, have responded to the call to minister to those in need.

In 1983, then-Mayor of San Francisco Dianne Feinstein asked the Episcopal Church to help address the growing numbers of homeless people. In response, parishioners from Grace Cathedral, St. Mary the Virgin, and other Episcopal churches worked together to house and feed 40 homeless adults on a nightly basis. Eventually this nightly shelter was moved to its own location and later merged with the Canon Kip Community House to form Episcopal Community Services.

For 30 years, Episcopal Community Services has provided vital services to an increasing number of the Bay Area’s most vulnerable—people who are homeless, disabled, elderly, and impoverished. Today ECS serves over 14,000 people yearly, including 1,000 in permanent housing, 4,000 in shelters, 500 with education and job training, and 9,000 with senior services.

The Episcopal Church prides itself on being responsive to the needs of our community, and yet our Lenten practice reminds us that we can do better. Lenten discipline turns us away from our own self-gratification, but it can also turn us toward others in need, those in whom Jesus saw himself when he said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me a drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and in prison and you visited me.” [Matthew 25:35-36]

Episcopal Community Services helps us connect our Lenten practice of self-denial to services that feed, clothe, and house the poor. So whatever you choose to give up for Lent, choose also to give to. A gift to Episcopal Community Services will help create 290,000 meals this year for hungry people. A gift to ECS will help keep 5,000 people warm and off the streets throughout the year. Volunteering your time and talents at ECS will empower homeless and low-income people to improve their lives with good nutrition and enhanced life and job skills.

We all do better when the most vulnerable among us does better. This teaching is at the heart of our faith and the impetus for our Lenten examination. We are called to repentance so that we can be more like Christ and extend Christ’s compassion to our world.

+Marc Handley Andrus

photos: © Episcopal Community Services of San Francisco