Penny: Hello St. Paul’s. This week I’m talking with Jen Jow, the coordinator of our Outreach Ministries. The Outreach area involves several activities, including Showers of Blessings. You’ve probably heard about the possibility of us constructing an outreach center underneath the chapel as part of a capital project. I am going to focus more narrowly on that in a future letter. But today, I wanted to offer you a broad survey of our Outreach Ministries. And so that’s why I invited Jen along. So, Jen, please tell us a little about yourself.
Jen: Hi, I’m Jennifer Jow and I’ve attended St. Paul since 2007. Currently, right now, I serve as the outreach chair, but I also serve on other multiple ministries and committees throughout the cathedral. The focus, as Penny has said, is we’re going to be discussing my role as the outreach chair and what and how we serve our neighbors.
Penny: What does outreach ministry mean to you?
Jen: For me, outreach ministry means serving any population or any demographic with services and resources that they might not get from anywhere else. It’s also filling in the gap of some of the services that they get from our mainstream places, and we are there to help provide that service to them, because not everybody knows where to go, and how to find resources. So that’s what it means to me. And it also means that we might have to identify some of those people that are underserved, such as the homeless, such as the seniors, such as veterans, children, and maybe even their pets, their animals. Also, there’s a couple other things that outreach ministry means to me too: understanding the people that you are serving, and listening, providing them a space for grace, to those that may be facing personal difficulties, because that’s really important. A lot of the people that we serve at the cathedral are mostly homeless.
Penny: Do you feel that outreach ministry feeds your spiritual life?
Jen: It does, it does feed my spiritual life, because I do work a lot with the homeless people. But I also work with seniors and seniors who don’t have an advocate, somebody that they need, somebody to help them with stuff like understanding Medicare, Medicaid, because they’re so scared about losing their social security. And for me, I like helping them because I don’t like the fact that the government people take advantage of them. Because they feel scared that they’re gonna lose their money. And they don’t really hear well, they don’t understand what’s going on. I barely understand what’s going on. You know, so if I can’t understand, I don’t know how they can; but that really serves my spirit.
Penny: What role would you say outreach plays in the mission of the church?
Jen: I believe that the outreach helps people; it helps our community, to make the people that are outside of our church know who God is. It sounds probably like the E word that people don’t like to use, which is Evangelism. But it really is, because outreach isn’t just about helping people and being there, and helping them with their needs. But it’s also about sharing who God is and helping them understand who is God and how they can be blessed by having God in their life and Jesus in their life.
Penny: Yeah, I think it’s really critical to the health of a church, that it looks outside of itself and serves the community around it. Sometimes people have asked me, Why should we help these people, if they don’t deserve our help? And my answer is, we help them because of who we are, because Jesus told us to, and not because of anything anybody deserves, right?
Jen: It’s about who we are, and not about who they are, is right.
Penny: Do you have a favorite scripture story that you think is especially relevant to outreach?
Jen: Well, I think the parable of the Good Samaritan is a good one. I mean, I’m sure everybody knows this one. A traveler is going down the road and he was beaten, robbed and left on the road for dead. And then I think a priest and some other church people walked by and they just kind of looked at him and just said, oh, we’re not going to help them. They avoided him. And then I guess back in those days, the Samaritans and the Jews despised each other and, but there was this one Samaritan that I guess I won’t want to say drive by, they didn’t drive by, but they walked by. And they looked at the man, and he helped him.
Penny: And that was really unexpected, wasn’t it? Because they were on different sides of the tracks.
Jen: Right? And so that, to me, sends a good feeling. I’m sure the Samaritan had a great feeling he was helping somebody else regardless of who he was.
Penny: Yeah, and without expectation of reward.
Jen: Right? I mean, he didn’t even have to stop. Right. Other church people didn’t even stop.
Penny: So let’s think about Outreach at St. Paul’s. Tell us a little bit about the outreach committee, what it is, who constitutes the committee.
Jen: They are outreach leaders, outreach ministry leaders, such as: we have simpler living. We have showers of blessings. So every one of these ministries, we have a leader that attends the committee. And we have fair trade. We have Episcopal Relief and Development, we have Refugeenet, we have what we call a liaison person that works with that particular group; like in showers of blessings we have Claudia Dixon, and she’s like our liaison with the with the homeless people that come in, our homeless guests.
Penny: Do we have someone from God’s Extended Hand?
Jen: Oh, yeah, we have. Yeah, there’s a there’s a bunch of ministries; we have Downtown Fellowship, we have Episcopal Community Services. We have FOMOS, which is the Friends of the Military Outreach Services. I can go on and on. And then the main ones that come are about six, seven people that come to the committee, and oh, and Peace and Justice, I forgot about them.
Penny: The committee meets regularly.
Jen: Yeah, we meet once a month, and we met all during last year, even though we were virtual, we still met. Because I felt that it was important, and so did the rest of the committee leaders, that we stayed together through this time. And also, even though we couldn’t help some people, maybe there were things we can do from the internet, such as ECS safe haven, which is about a block away: they were sheltered in place, but the people there, couldn’t get out, couldn’t go out and get refreshments. They wanted some junk food. And so what we did was work with ECS and align the page in Amazon, so that people who wanted to could donate and they didn’t have to go anywhere. And you know, since we didn’t couldn’t go anywhere, they could just order stuff online and have it delivered there.
Penny: That’s awesome. So we have a junk food ministry I didn’t even know! It’s one of the things that I love about our Outreach Ministries: it’s grassroots led. It’s completely lay led, and and it’s led by people who are passionate about their ministries. And I love this, the broad scope of our outreach activities. You know, we’ve mentioned God’s extended hand, which is an evangelical ministry that we just we participate in, or ECS, which is an Episcopal organization, or – I don’t know if Vida Joven is still a part of our outreach group, or if they’re kind of out on their own now,
Jen: No, they’re out on their own. And then sometimes we also get Pat Kreder, who comes from St. Paul’s Senior Homes, you know, so we talk about the elderly people; and then for the friends of the military, we work sometimes with the Veterans Village, through all kinds of populations.
Penny: Right. And what I’m hearing is, there’s a mix of hands on volunteering and donations. I know you’ve done regular donation drives for stuff, and for money. Is that right?
Jen: Yes, that’s correct. So sometimes, that depends on the organization. That’s what we called a monthly ask when we were in person, but we haven’t done too many monthly asks because you would have to show up to church and put it in the yellow bin. And plus we weren’t really meeting in person, but you know, pre COVID what we would do is, like the whole month we wanted to collect for the friends of military that are down at Balboa hospital. We would save for the whole month; we would collect anything non perishable, put it in the yellow bin, bring whatever you know that you can. And then also paper products, and then we would collect it all. And then we would go over there and deliver the stuff to them. It was called Fisher House. And sometimes we would provide dinners, like pizza.
Penny: That’s a place where the family members of people who are patients in the hospital can stay, right, like the Ronald McDonald House.
Jen: Yes, correct. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Penny: It’s looking after the people who are looking after the people sometimes.
Jen: That’s right, right. Yeah. And the families, you know, they can stay right there on site next to their loved one, just go across the street to the hospital visit. You know, I’m sure they stay there for a long period of time. And then they go back to the Fisher House where they spend the night but they can cook the meal if they want to eat, and it’s not just Top Ramen and stuff. It’s really good food that they have for them. And somebody provides I think, every night a pizza or sandwiches.
Penny: Our outreach has always been an important part of the life of St. Paul’s, and there are a couple of invested funds where the proceeds the income from those funds is directed to outreach. And we use that for the donations, sometimes from the church itself. And then, the recent big change in our outreach ministry, our big expansion was with the Showers of Blessings. And that started what five years ago now? maybe six?
Jen: I think it was probably six years. I think it’s about six years ago. I mean, I was there when it first started. I think it was six years ago. I remember. I didn’t know what to do.
Penny: a couple came to me and they thought I was going to say no. And they said, we want to do something for the unsheltered people in the park. And we can borrow this trailer with showers and you know, would you allow us to do this in the courtyard? And so it got started with several incredibly committed people. And then it grew. And the Methodists joined in and started providing breakfast. And then there were hairdressers who came and gave haircuts and it and sometimes there were 100 people on a Saturday morning.
Jen: We start early. Well, at one time, I remember we were getting there at 5:30 in the morning, to set up, but people were already standing in line because we were only allowed to give like 35 showers. And so you know, people who really wanted to shower, got there early and got their numbers. So right. But before haircuts and all that it was really just showers. And one of us volunteers would bring in bagels or doughnuts. So it has really grown now. I mean, now we have like 45 volunteers now.
Penny: What I’ve loved about it (and this is all of course before the pandemic), but it’s going to the Showers of Blessings morning and seeing people just having conversations over a cup of coffee; a parishioner is chatting with our guests and the guests relaxing and smiling and realizing that they’re being treated with dignity, and being able to leave their stuff, their cart or whatever, in a corner of the courtyard where it was safe for a couple of hours, and giving that dignity to people. And that fellowship was so important. It was very hard that we had to stop for the pandemic. And then we started the construction. And now we no longer control the Sixth Avenue courtyard, and so we no longer have that space to do what we used to do. That’s one of the reasons we’re looking at building showers in the undercroft under the chapel, so that we can get back to showers of blessings and do it properly, do it well.
Jen: Right, right. Well, and you know, the thing is, it’s probably. and I would say this for probably most of the volunteers in any of these ministries, especially with the showers of blessing, it’s more of a gift for us than us giving them a gift. because like you said we are providing them dignity and stuff, but then we also show them that there is just love and care for them too.
Penny: It expands our hearts when we do, right? As we come towards the end of our time, is there a favorite story you have about someone who’s been a part of our Outreach Ministries?
Jen: Sure there is. I remember a couple. I remember this about a couple of years ago. And I remember it being like summertime, but there was this one gentleman that came all the time, came every month, didn’t take a shower, he just came and ate and just wanted to chat, right. And so I remember a parishioner would go and sit next to him. And then they would chat. And then he would go. And he still continued coming every month. And then one day, and this is a parishioner telling me, she told me that he asked her for help. So I guess there must have been some trust built, right? So he felt comfortable to talk to her and he said, “Hey, I need my birth certificate and ID and I don’t know how to get it. And I need that because” and he explained he needed it because he wasn’t getting any of the support or any medical help or anything from the government and from Medicare, or anyone because he didn’t have an ID and he didn’t have his birth certificate. So he was wandering.
So she helped him with that, and found a way to get him his birth certificate, I believe she told me he lived in Texas. So trying to find how to get a birth certificate from Texas was interesting. But she was able to do that. And then after they got the birth certificate, she connected back with him. And then they went and filed for an ID at the DMV. So this was obviously pre-pandemic. So he finally got his driver’s license, or rather he got his ID. And then he was able to go to, I believe she told me, UCSD or somewhere to go talk to a social worker, and try to get Medicare and MediCal. And it was just that somebody just stopped and cared.
Penny: And it changed his life.
Jen: And it changed his life. And so that was just the beginning for him. So he started getting that.
Penny: That’s a great story. Well, before we end, is there anything you’d like to add about our Outreach Ministries?
Jen: I’m just very grateful for the people that show up and continue to show up. You know, sometimes it’s hard to show up every month for a meeting. But I’m glad that we do. And we also get a chance to collaborate with one another and what we can do together, you know, synergize ourselves, and we’re all trying to do the same thing, but in different avenues and different ministries. But the coolest part is that we take the time to communicate and collaborate and what we can do more together than apart.
Penny: Yeah, that’s awesome. And everybody is invited to participate. There’s something for everyone to do. There’s no special knowledge or qualifications to participate in our Outreach Ministries.
Jen: No. And you know what: anybody can come to our meetings, just like we have for Chapter, anybody can come to our meetings. It’s on the third Tuesday from 4:30 until six o’clock. So I have it published on the bulletin. And, you know, we always are looking for more people to volunteer, or if they want to know more about a ministry, you know, we’ll be more than happy to tell them what they can do if they want to, or if they just want to see what goes on at Showers of Blessings.
Penny: Awesome. I am so grateful to you, Jen, for your leadership and to all of our dedicated lay ministers for the work that everyone does to serve our neighbors. And as we return to in person activities. I’m filled with hope for our future efforts. And I’m really looking forward to new opportunities for us all to learn and grow through service. So thank you.
Jen: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you. Thanks for the time.
Penny: And to our cathedral community: see you on Sunday!