Sunday, December 19, 2010

Interfaith Action Initiative considers headquarters space

The Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Initiative will meet on Friday, Jan. 21, at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of North Adams. (Use the Eagle Street entrance).

At this meeting we will decide whether to accept the generous offer of free use of an 800-square-foot storefront on Eagle Street. Several members of the Initiative toured the space during the Dec. 17 meeting. This storefront includes a bathroom, room for an office and space for storage.

In addition to giving the Initiative a visible presence downtown, the space may be suited to be a distribution hub — though not a storage facility or large-scale services center — for information, food, clothing, and other necessities. All this and more will be discussed at the January meeting.

Also at the January meeting, we will have a presentation of northern Berkshire asset maps by a representative of the Western Mass. Food Bank. This likely will give us a better idea of what needs such a space might help fill and how we could go about it.

By the end of January, the Initiative hopes to have given all northern Berkshire faith communities a chance to respond to our survey on what they are doing to meet basic human needs. We see definite trends in the nature of assistance in our preliminary results, and likely will make our final findings public in early February.

Our talks about providing volunteer assistance for clients of Louison House have moved forward, and a report on this will be on the Jan. 21 meeting agenda.

At our Dec. 17 meetng, we heard from the Rev. Peter Elvin, of St. John’s Church in Williamstown, about the voucher system for people in need which had worked well in that community, but which will stop as the Williamstown Ecumenical Association ceases. Discussing the possibility of continuinig this system on a wider scale will be on the agenda for the Jan. 21 Initiative meeting.

All are welcome to participate in the Initiative. To get on the Initiative’s e-mail announcement list, send an e-mail to or call Mark at 664-0130. To learn more about the Initiative, visit our blog at

Monday, December 13, 2010

Opportunities Knock

The Dec. 17 meeting will be important. We have some exciting news. There is a possibility that we will get the use of storefront in North Adams. This will be a main item on our agenda. The person who made the offer has expressed interest in this Interfaith effort from the start and will attend the meeting. We likely will take a brief “field trip” to see the space.

On Monday I saw this 800-square-foot-space, with restroom, space for an office and ample storage space and am quite impressed with it.

As for the survey of what local faith communities are doing to meet basic human needs, an analysis of the results so far of our survey reveals several interesting patterns that show more exciting opportunities. For instance, some of the churches we have surveyed have food pantries from which they distribute food on a periodic basis. Two we have surveyed so far actually make trips to the Western Massachusetts Food Bank to pick up food to distribute. While great, these efforts are not coordinated with each other and could be expanded beyond once a month.

At last Friday's meeting of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (NBCC), a representative of the Western Mass Food Bank expressed interest in working with us on distributing their food through faith communities.

So there is an opportunity for us to be instrumental in widening the availabllity of food through faith communities in Northern Berkshire. The space we will visit could play a part. Many churches in Northern Berkshire already collatorate in the Take and Eat program, delivering Meals on Wheels to the elderly, the ill and shut-ins on weekends and holidays. I participate through the St. Anthony Kitchen at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in North Adams. This new opportunity could allow us to make more food available to families and those who do not receive Meals on Wheels.

I think to be most effective in establising what we can do on food distribution — and other areas such as providing clothing — we should try to wrap up our faith community survey by the end of January. We already have a great start. I hope on Friday to provide a list of communities we have not yet connected with. I think we should give every faith community the opportunity to comment on our survey.

When we have gathered as much information from faith communities as we can, then we can summarize and publicize our findings. I have already produced a three-page informal summary that I used as notes for the Dec. 10 meeting, which I would be happy to share with anyone interested. So producing an analysis we can publicize when our survey is complete should not take long. I will bring my preliminary summary to Friday’s meeting.

I think a positive result of our effort so far has been more of a place at the table for the faith perspective: at the North Adams downtown celebration, at the Coalition discussion of the tattered social services safety net and, upcoming, the new Systems of Care effort that the NBCC is helping start, which I mentioned in the last post. The invitation I received for this mentioned that they wanted to have the faith community represented. With clergy being stretched enough as it is, the existence of the Interfaith Action Initiative allows for greater faith representation at various community efforts and discussions.

I mentioned in the last post the end of the Williamstown Ecumenical Association and the end of its voucher system. It was suggested to me by Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser that we invite someone with knowledge of the voucher program, such as the Rev. Peter Elvin, of St. John's Episcopal in Williamstown. I think this would be a good idea, especially as the nature of this voucher program will necessitate strong clergy involvement if it continues.

I also think we should consider inviting someone from the Western Mass Food Bank, since they are interested in our effort, and from Greater Bennington Interfaith Community Services, which runs a food and fuel fund and a free medical clinic in Bennington.

Also, we should consider going to Pittsfield for a meeting of Co-Act, which is involved in interfaith service (one of their members has came to our last meeting); and perhaps visiting Brattleboro, where there is a strong interfaith effort.

There are a couple of exciting upcoming events to mention. MLK Day in January, which will once again be a community service day. And the North County Christmas Concert willl be held at First Congregational Church in North Adams (at Monument Square) on Sunday. Dec. 19, at 4 p.m. Proceeds will benefit the St. Anthony and St. Vincent de Paul Kitchens (part of Take and Eat program) and the Berkshire Food Project.

Well, there's a lot going on to think — and pray — about.

As always feel free to comment. I hope to see you Friday.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Interesting Happenings, Exciting Opportunities

Interesting happenings, exciting opportunities

Our Nov. 19 meeting was interesting. Though several of our regular attendees could not be present because of the funeral of Edna Rudnick, who worked very hard for our community in many ways during her long life, we still had more than 10 people in attendence.

(Our next meeting will be held at the First Baptist Church in North Adams at 10 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 17. Use Eagle Street entrance.)

At the last meeting, I gave an update on the status of our survey of what area houses of worship are doing to meet basic human needs. As of this writing, Wednesday, Dec. 8, we have results back from 12 Northern Berkshire houses of worship, 14 if you count churches in different communities that have joined together.

Obviously we still have a lot to do, and I hope that after the new year we will have a surge of activity to get this effort completed and published.

Which brings me to an important point. This Friday, Dec. 10, at 10 a.m., at the First Baptist Church in North Adams, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition will hold a discussion on repairing our fraying social safety net as part of its monthly forum. I would encourage all who are involved with the Interfaith effort to attend.

I participated in two planning meetings for this meeting, and what faith communities are doing and can do to meet basic human needs in our community will be a part of this forum, along with a large contribution to the discussion by Community Action, among others.

I know that heating assistance is going to be a major need this winter, and there are many others.

Getting back to the Nov. 19 meeting, Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser noted that the Williamstown Ecumenical Association has disbanded. They had a sort of group voucher system that was coordinated among the churches and helped people in need. It was thought this could be something our group could possibly continue and expand.

It is worth considering, though I think that there would have to be a strong clergy component, because this is something that would usually or often be coordinated by church/synagogue office secretaries, as calls from those in need would likely go directly to a house of worship. I know that people at times would/will show up at the office and rectories of the Catholic Churches looking for help.

Which brings me to a comment I have heard a couple of times recently: That many people just won’t go to churches to seek help. It wasn’t explained to me why, though I can make some guesses. I suppose some people might expect a judgemental attitude and perhaps attempts to be converted. Speaking for faith-based efforts I have been involved in around here, that isn’t so. But it’s worth keeping in mind as we move forward.

Also Nov. 19, our faith sharing component evolved into a political discussion. It was interesting. Also on Nov. 19, I shared my late grandfather’s French-language prayer book he was given at his first Communion in 1912. Priscilla Northrup shared her thoughts on the expression: “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.”

Anyone with a faith or spirituality-related thought or inspiration or item of interest for the December meeting is encouraged to share.

In addition to moving ahead with our survey, and considering the voucher system idea, we need to continue our exploration of cooperating and assisting area agencies. And discuss the nature of this assistance. My preference remains not to tie ourself to one or two agencies, serving as a kind of fundraising arm. Rather I would see us providing volunteers for special tasks, encouraging wider volunteerism in the community, and possibly sponsoring one-and-off fundraising events.

As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I should also note that the new Systems of Care effort is looking for the participation of members of the faith community. I have said I will participate. There will be a meeting in January. I do not have the time here to explain what this is about (and I need to learn more myself) but I hope to get into more detail in a future blog post.

As always, feel free to comment on this blog. Or contact me at or or at 664-0130 (please leave a message if I’m not there).