Viewpoint: Affordable housing is a matter of our faith

St. Ambrose Episcopal Church rector Jessie Smith. Courier photo/Steven Felschundneff

By the Rev. Jessie Smith

For more than 10 years, St. Ambrose Episcopal Church has served our houseless neighbors in Claremont by offering showers and hot meals several times a week. This has been a meaningful and life-changing ministry for us and for our guests.

But, as the parable goes, “We shouldn’t just be pulling people out of the river. We should go upstream to find out who’s pushing them in.” So, our congregation began asking some bigger questions about the struggle of our houseless guests.

Although factors leading to homelessness are numerous and varied, the lack of affordable housing was clearly the culprit behind many working class folks who ended up marginally housed, showering at St. Ambrose, and getting trapped in cycles of poverty.

Theologian Frederick Buechner defines vocation as the place where “your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” After several years of meetings, prayer, and reflection, we discerned that the asset of our underutilized land (our south parking lot), our passion for serving those in need, a deep joy of the St. Ambrose community, and the world’s deep hunger for affordable housing meet. Our collective vocation became clear: We concluded developing affordable housing was the next expression of ministry to which God was calling us.

Our Scriptures are full of themes that address economic exploitation, lack of care for the most vulnerable in society, and the growing gap between rich and poor. These realities are in stark contrast to God’s intention for all people to live with dignity, which for us means to be adequately housed and given access to needed services.

About two years ago, we decided to partner with National CORE, which both develops and manages affordable housing and has worked with several other Episcopal congregations in this region. Given our location in Claremont, surrounded by several senior communities, we decided affordable senior housing would make the most sense for our site.

It has been an exciting time for our congregation, which has seen this housing development as a natural extension of our ministry in Claremont and now an integral part of our identity as the active hands and feet of Christ in the world.

For those of us who follow Jesus, we believe that our faith calls us to “do unto the least of these” what we do to Jesus himself (Matt. 25:40). The development of affordable housing on church property not only serves our neighbor as we would serve Jesus, but fulfills our broader commitment to social justice, community empowerment, and human flourishing.

Additionally, our tradition holds a high reverence for creation, which means we strive to practice stewardship of our resources whenever we can. Utilizing land for dense, multi-family, energy efficient housing reflects our values as a faith community.

The community of St. Ambrose Episcopal Church is committed to this development of affordable housing as an expression of our faith, our care for creation, and love of God and neighbor. We believe this is our call.

So for you, Claremont, I will leave you with the question, whether you follow a religion, walk your own spiritual path, or just believe in the basics of human goodness: Where do your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet?

The Rev. Jessie Smith is rector at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church.


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