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Column: New Fox Valley church points to homeless man’s death as ‘casualty of a broken system”

The name is simple: Becoming.

But the decision to form this new church in our area is more complicated. At least it would appear to be so from the controversy surrounding two events in Aurora which contributed to the launching of this young Oswego-based congregation.

Likely you remember them both: A busload of refugees, most wearing light clothing and sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, arrived unexpectedly in late December to the Aurora Transportation Center, which was followed by a city decree meant to thwart other efforts to drop off asylum seekers on their way to Chicago’s landing zone.

The second event occurred less than a month later when the city unexpectedly closed down its warming center at the transportation center after a police incident involving a man accused of wielding a gun, which sent aid groups and other advocates scrambling to find alternatives for those left out in the cold.

Both headlines produced a slew of criticism from grassroots organizations that viewed these actions of Aurora as a slap in the face to those seeking shelter from literal and figurative storms.

The Rev. Patrick Fish, who is pastor of this new church, told me the seeds of Becoming actually were planted on All Saints Day in November, but took on more urgency as it became apparent to those like him that local leaders, including those from the faith community, were not doing enough to keep the most vulnerable from falling through the cracks.

Fish, who was pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Aurora for 15 years, points to the Ash Wednesday memorial service he attended for a middle-aged homeless man as an example of “a casualty of this broken system.” Gino had been living on the outside and receiving services from places like Hesed House and Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry, the pastor said, when he was found dead in January inside his tent.

The service was attended by other clergy and advocates, as well as the man’s encampment community, who “collectively did not want him to die in vain,” Fish said.

“We did not provide enough and Gino was a casualty … we all need to do better.”

Gino’s death, he continued, led to more angst among people who believe that officials are not doing enough to help the most vulnerable. Nor are churches, Fish said, which tend to “stay in their own lanes” rather than become too involved in “real relationships or activism.”

It’s easy to proclaim diversity as being a good thing but still “only stay in our own tribes,” said Fish, who as a 35-year-old father of three describes himself as an “endangered species” in “white institutional churches” that are losing members because they are failing to welcome “the neglected, shunned and shamed.”

The solution, however, is not to point fingers, he insisted, but to start open and honest dialogues between all groups – nonprofits and government alike that will build networks to address those hard issues.

“We are not trying to recreate the wheel,” Fish continued, but “to be that bridge” to building networks and partnerships.

Those interested in finding out more about Becoming are invited to attend an open house from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, March 10, at 113 Main St, a downtown Oswego restaurant with that same address.

Interested residents meet with leaders of a new Oswego-based church called Becoming, which wants to be "a bridge" that will bring more people together to help the community's most vulnerable. (Courtesy of Becoming church)
Interested residents meet with leaders of a new Oswego-based church called Becoming, which wants to be “a bridge” that will bring more people together to help the community’s most vulnerable. (Courtesy of Becoming church)

The 11-member “Lead and Launch Team,” which Fish describes as a “horizontal model” that does not put one person, including the pastor, any higher than another, is already well established in the community, he said. According to Becoming’s newsletter, groups are meeting, networks are connecting and partnerships are sprouting.

Among that team is Joe Jackson, executive director of Hesed House in Aurora, who was recently part of a $3 million collaborative effort with the homeless shelter, Association for Individual Development and The Neighbor Project to bring supportive housing to local residents.

In a column written in the days following the refugees’ short bus stop in Aurora, Jackson noted the need for a “lead church” to step up and serve as the point.

“I envision this being a church of action that seeks out those in greatest need and wants to end their suffering. Faith isn’t something constrained to four walls and a steeple. Faith should be action. That is how Hesed House started and continues to this day,” Jackson insisted.

“I see suffering every day I go to work. I’m so proud to help launch a church that seeks out that suffering and focuses on alleviating it.”

[email protected]

Denise Crosby , 2024-03-10 11:00:21

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