The Rising Sun-Reflections of A Roman Catholic Woman Priest on a Christmas Ministry
The Rising Sun-Reflections on a Christmas Ministry
And Last Report on Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Fl, INC
“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high (the Rising Sun) shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet into the way of peace” Luke 1:78-79 NAB-TIB-“Rising Sun”)
In this year’s Christmas eve Scripture Zechariah, the father of the prophet John, sings a canticle about his newborn son John who is to “go before the Lord to prepare his way…”(verse 76). God’s tender compassion is breaking through into history. Through Jesus- the Christ of Christmas- God has entered the world in a new way, has come closer than ever to being one of us, bringing the light of dawn and rising sun in the night of darkness.
The Hebrew Scripture reading for Christmas Eve, 2 Samuel 7 reflects on David the young shepherd king chosen by God to lead God’s people. And in Luke 2: 8-20, the traditional Christmas Scripture, gives poor shepherds the shock and blessing of being the first to welcome Jesus into our world, responding to amazing events in the night sky, as a baby laying in a manger, a feeding trough for the cows. The image here is not only poor rough simple folks receiving the Good News and passing it on, nor the poverty of Jesus’ birth in union with most of the world’s struggling children and families but that the Shepherd Leader/king sent to the world by God is here! God is with us in a new way, in a way we can see and feel and emulate. If we but have the faith and courage, if we know his voice as the sheep know the shepherd’s voice and respond, and if we can see the light in the darkness.
Mary Marrocco (Living with Christ-Today’s Good News, December 2016, p. 162) reflects “In Christ, God gives a shepherd who knows and loves his people, goes where they go and lays down his life for them. How fitting that a group of shepherds are the first in this world to greet him. He does not rule from above; he claims his own by being born into the midst of them-of us. Christ our shepherd, come close to us”. (Emphasis mine)
Our Good Shepherd Ministries
We believe that our Shepherd is close to us this year and abides with us through illness and getting older and the need for change in our ministry and in our lives because of new bouts with cancer appearing in February and June of 2016. We believe that Light completely changes darkness. I have faced my second cancer this year and it, like the first one three years ago, was handled primarily by surgery. Judy Beaumont’s is a return of a blood cancer probably secondary to the chemotherapy given for her earlier blood cancer, APL, which was cured over ten years ago. Ten years cancer free was more precious than we knew. This one is held at bay by a strong chemo that is a monthly event. Hers is an ongoing battle necessitating our courage and strength, time and focus. This chemo beats back the blasts that could rise to AML (Leukemia) and it IS working, thank God, but takes a monthly toll. God is with us as we transform ourselves and our current Good Shepherd Ministry from a 501c3, tax exempt ministry existing since 2008 to returning to our lives offered as ministry. In a way it is a full circle, for before we ever declared a ministry with a name and a tax exempt status we simply served, especially the poor and the outcast, the broken and the beautiful different people of God.
Our Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Florida came into existence in 2003 to continue our call to shelter the homeless and to follow the Shepherd and offer guidance, care, and light to the poor and homeless of greater Fort Myers. In 2003 Judy Beaumont and I bought a small humble home to shelter a homeless family and later a homeless mentally ill woman. We sold this when their needs were met but continued to serve doing pastoral work in a Mission church serving poor African American and Caribbean and Hispanic and mixed communities, and later in a larger parish church.
In 2007 we joined with Lamb of God, an Episcopal Lutheran church Youth Group that fed the homeless and hungry in the local park. As time went on and the Youth Group moved on leaving one strong family to continue we became known as Good Shepherd Ministries once again and responded to need by moving our ministry to a different night so there would be feeding and community worship on more than one night. In 2008 we incorporated into a 501c3 ministry so donations could be tax exempt. We have had a wonderful Board of Directors over the years with several of the original members remaining. So many dedicated people have served with us in the ministry and in giving to the ministry, that it would take pages to name them and I would be afraid of forgetting one. But they know who they are and how much we thank them.
In July 2008 I became an ordained Roman Catholic Woman Priest and served sacramentally as well as in our Matthew 25 ministerial ways. Judy Beaumont was ordained as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest in 2012 and we continued to share the responsibilities of our wonderfully blessed ministry. In late 2008 Judy and I bought a house for the ministry with our own funds. In late 2009 we stopped our service in the park leaving that to other groups as we developed our Ministry House. Most people we serve just call it “the Church”. There we had feeding on Tuesdays and Sundays, worship, Sunday School and Youth work, counselling, free clothing and limited financial assistance and social services in the front part of the house. In the rear we developed first a transitional living facility and later a Hospitality House. In all until now in December of 2016 we have served 51 individuals living in “the church” for various periods of time. This includes individual women and men of all ages and families with children from toddlers to young adults and several pets. Presently it is the home of a woman Roman Catholic Priest from Latin America who also ministers. The beat is different but the beat goes on. The Sun is still rising.
A Last Report- July – December 2016
As of December 31, 2016 out of our own choice our 501c3 ministry will be dissolved but our service as God directs us will go on forever. We will not be tax exempt and minister on a large scale but our priesthood as servant leaders will never end. This is the Last Report on the Good Shepherd 501c3 ministry but it is not the last word on our ministry, God is still writing that story.
We gave a six month notice to our church community and continued our services as we began to phase out some of our activities. In July 2016 we reluctantly stopped our Sunday church services/Mass, our children’s and youth work and our Tuesday services. We had a graduation service for the youth recognizing their achievements and meaningfully prepared them for continued faith learning. To that point we had already served over 600 meals without counting seconds and take-home meals. We provided instruction and guidance for twenty children and youth. We brought an adult and youth class of seven to the Sacrament of Confirmation in June of 2016. With those confirmed in 2014, 23 of our individuals were Confirmed in their Christian faith and desire to follow Christ and we had baptized 21 from infancy to old age in our eight years as Church. We anointed many sick and dying and continued doing this in the last six months as well. We made sure that all we served had access to other churches, pastors, counselors and social agencies. We encouraged and facilitated reaching out to other churches and agencies. Then from July to now we continued to serve individuals and families with needs. We continued pastoral and counselling relationships with many and we met many material needs.
We helped a young adult attending college and working establish her own apartment where she would have space and peace to study. We helped two other young adults with transportation so they could get to work. We counselled and gave support to a young man with mental illness as he attempted job preparation programs. One of our teens was accepted into a special fine arts program and we helped her with art supplies. One of our members and Board members is shepherding two of our teens in tutoring and other enrichment activities that leads to academic success and work possibilities. We were able to take a group of children, teens and grandparents to see The Wizard of Oz at Broadway Palm Dinner Theater. Joelle, our nine year old said “This is the BEST!” We also gave summer learning packets full of learning and fun materials to all of the children.
One of our most pleasant tasks was to help one of our very hard working mothers to buy her first home for her family of four by contributing to closing costs and some repairs and set up of utilities services. Another of our formerly homeless women had to move from her apartment as she could no longer afford the raised rent of a new landlord. We helped her with Security and first month’s rent as well as furniture and also paid for her pets’ vaccinations and health needs. We assisted two others from the same development in finding and securing new housing. Pastor Judy Beaumont assisted her seven payees in obtaining other Rep. payees and in money management in their new rooms and situations. She helped make the transition easier for them. Two are now supported by family members.
Debbie and her family of four now have a new home that is their own, Thanks be to Debbie’s hard work and our gracious God!
Another pleasant task was facilitating the move of Pat S. from her room in the church to permanent subsidized Senior housing. Pat who had formerly lived in the woods with her small cat Sarah had become a real part of our community since February of 2016. She was confirmed with the group in June 2016. And Pastor Marina became her beloved housemate and catechist, teaching her to pray. She lets us know that we are in her prayers always and we are thankful. It was hard for her to leave, and we miss her too but her new home is a lovely ground floor apartment and she is very thankful for our help. She is slowly and regularly paying back the costs of her move, including old bill payback, rent, security, pet deposit, utilities set up and furniture. She is also actively ministering to others in her Senior community. We helped three others with Senior and handicapped housing applications and referrals.
The newly Confirmed with Bishop Andrea Johnson. Left to right are Brenda, Debbie with Courtney, and Joelle, Gaspare in rear, Bishop Andrea, Pat, Quay in rear and Grandma Jolinda Harmon and myself.
This is Pat in her new home in Senior Housing- Her church housemates Pastor Marina and Felice facilitated the move.
One of our most difficult situations during this time was assisting a family of seven where the mother, age 39, was stricken with advanced cancer in August. We have helped this family with emotional and spiritual support and rent, utilities and appropriate referrals and individual needs for the last few years and this continued through this period of time. They were active church members. It was hard to experience their grief of “losing the church” even as they coped with the new diagnosis of advanced cancer and the accompanying pain and treatment regimes. I attended a session with the oncologist with the couple and helped them to understand what the Doctor was conveying. I also intervened when pain issues necessitated another level of pain management so treatment could continue. With this dear family and with one of our other members who has had a recent mastectomy our own experiences with cancer forge a special bond of understanding. And, we try to be there for each one as they are able to talk about it. We mediated with another pastor and attended a church in their local area with the Grandmother and three of the children, three of the young cousins and three of our other church members. We also took them out to celebrate four birthdays on that day. We are hoping this Pastor and church will reach out to them and that transportation issues can be worked out.
(Below are the triplets with Grandma and cousins and myself on their 8th birthday , November 4,2016.)
We will continue to walk with this Mom and family although the financial support will have to be significantly less. We are hopeful for their greater independence while remaining there for them with pastoral support.
We helped several others with rent or Utility bills and with appropriate referrals. We have been shepherding one woman back into mental health treatment so she is eligible for subsidized housing in that system and so she can negotiate other helping systems. She is back on her meds and so far compliant and more hopeful.
In this Christmas season we were extremely blessed to have our Board member Gini Beecroft and her Red Thread Reading group from the Breckinridge Community to donate almost $1300 for gift cards and monetary gifts. We have dispersed these gifts and others earmarked for Christmas to twenty-five children and youth and thirteen formerly homeless and very low income adults. We did not accept gifts for the children from other individuals or agencies but had many gifts saved from the bounty of last year that made big Christmas bags for three large families and a few adults as well. One special donation enabled us to buy a new bike for Mike M. one of our formerly homeless disabled Veterans who has maintained his housing since 2009 after living at our Joshua House transitional residence. Mike also helps rescue cats and kittens that abound in his community. We have kept in touch over the years. This brings us full circle as an important part of our ministry in Lion’s Park was our bicycle ministry and Mike received his first bike from us then. Our Kathy Roddy was able to pick him up and take him to buy the bike. Her joyful appreciation for the second Christmas in her own home after losing everything is a joy to behold. The greatest joy for us is to see how mutual aid works so beautifully in our group where we are all ministers. This a truly Merry Christmas for us all despite the transitions we have now completed and continue to face.
Gini Beecroft presenting the gifts of the Red Thread Spiritual Reading Group from the Breckinridge Community
The Good Shepherd Ministries will continue as we all continue to give our lives in service.
Christ our Shepherd stay close to us. Christ, our Light continue to shine in the darkness of poverty and homelessness, brokenness, illness, despair and doubt. Continue to be Love for us, turn our tears into joy and our hands into life giving service. Turn our faces toward the brilliance of the Rising Sun.
A blessed Christmas and Happy and Healthy New Year to All.
With much love and gratitude,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP and Pastor Judy Beaumont, RCWP
Co-Pastors and Directors of Good shepherd Ministries of Southwest Florida