Michigan Church Stays Committed to Homeless Outreach

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Third Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., continues to support Martha’s Table, an ecumenical ministry to Kalamazoo’s poor and homeless, even though three other local churches have left in disagreement with the host church’s policy of inclusiveness for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons.

Martha’s Table brings partner churches and up to 100 homeless guests together on Sunday afternoons to experience Christian fellowship through worship and a meal at First Congregational Church in downtown Kalamazoo. Third CRC has been involved with Martha’s Table since the ministry’s start in 2007.

Rev. Ken Baker, pastor of Third CRC and chair of the board of Faith Alive Christian Resources, which governs The Banner, said Martha’s Table is more than a place for homeless people to eat.

“These are resourceful folks who can find meals,” he said, “but it is special when they find themselves part of a community where others respect them and sit to converse with them for a while.”

The departure of the other three churches—Agape Christian Church, Word for Life Church of God, and Centerpoint Church (formerly Third Reformed)—came in the wake of the November 2009 approval by Kalamazoo voters of an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The months leading up to the vote were marked by emotional lobbying on both sides of the issue. Rev. Matt Laney, pastor of First Congregational, was an outspoken advocate for passage of the measure.

“The divergent strength of convictions on both sides was no surprise,” Baker said. “But I was not aware that for the three churches this represented a threat to their continued involvement in this ministry to the poor and homeless in Kalamazoo.”

Ecumenical ventures are always challenging, Baker said, because they draw Christians into cooperation with other believers whose views may be quite different—but he said there is no questioning the three departing churches’ heart for the poor.

Baker said that members at Third CRC are able to keep their personal convictions related to the Kalamazoo ordinance and issues of sexuality from affecting the congregation’s ongoing commitment to Martha’s Table.

Baker has written to the three churches, asking them to reconsider and come back to the Martha’s Table. Their return, he said, would be “wonderful as a testimony to Christian grace and charity.”

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