Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Tanya Tyler: Always saying ‘yes’ to the needy isn’t easy, thanks to the few you can’t trust
Just about every day, someone rings the doorbell at our church and asks for help. It may a request for money to pay an electric bill or rent or to get gas or a motel room. We listen carefully to each request and fulfill the ones we can with proceeds from our Love Fund, but many times we have to tell the people no, we can’t give them any money.
I hate doing that. I hate having to turn people away. But the reality is that sometimes people lie. Yes, believe it or not, people lie even to churches in an effort to get money. While I try not to be suspicious of anybody that comes to our doorstep seeking help, you sometimes hear stories that make you wonder just how much truth is being told. Like the guy who said he had walked to London from Richmond that very day. That’s more than 30 miles, and he would have had to cross the Rockcastle River, so it isn’t very likely that he’d actually done that.
Our secretary has access to a program that lets her know if someone has been making the rounds at local churches soliciting money or if we have helped the person recently. Before we give someone any money, we ask them to go to the police station and get a warrant check. When they don’t return, we figure one of two things happened: They decided not to bother, knowing their record, or they had a warrant out on them and were put in jail right then and there.
We will also ask for the phone number of their landlord so we can call and verify that the person lives at that address and the rent is indeed overdue. Funny how sometimes the landlord sounds exactly like the person who has come to the church seeking assistance.
I hate having to be suspicious. I want to my church be more generous. I don’t want us to be known as the church that says no to people in need. I’d rather we be known as the church that says yes – to people who are genuinely in need. A handful of people have spoiled it for others. Because of their mooching, untruthful ways, churches have to be careful. Because these few have squandered churches’ generosity, they have made it hard for churches to trust other people who might truly need some help. We will give people a check for the overdue utility or electric bill, but we’re adamant about writing it directly to the company or the landlord – not to the person requesting the funds and definitely not to “cash.” We got burned once with a Greyhound bus ticket. We bought it for someone who wanted to go home to Tennessee, but the person cashed the ticket in.
The dilemma is this: Do we give because we can and trust that what we give will be used for the purpose we’ve been told it would be used for? Is it really up to us as a church to dictate what other people can and can’t do with the funds we give them? What would Jesus do? What do other ministers and churches do? I’d love to hear your ideas and your policies. Perhaps together we can be one great big church that always says yes!
In addition to being an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Tanya Tyler is a freelance writer and editor. She is currently serving as interim minister at First Christian Church in London.