Monday, September 28, 2009

When Law Enforcement Disrupts the Peace


By Fr. Glenn B. Jenks

The setting was a beautiful small white pueblo-style Episcopal Church located 35 miles north of Phoenix. Every morning, a group of Hispanic migrant day workers, numbering between 35 and 65, would gather in the church parking lot before sunrise. They were greeted by several church volunteers who had already set out the coffee and the day-old pastries donated by a couple of local coffee shops.

The Day Worker Ministry of this small church was started in an effort to provide a solution to a difficult situation in the town of Cave Creek.

The town had a problem with literally dozens of migrant workers walking in groups along the roads and streets. The town council was frustrated because, while the migrants were not committing any crimes, their mere presence aroused the ire of local residents. That was when Good Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church stepped up and offered itself and its facilities to operate a day worker center, away from the streets and local businesses.

In this way, the Day Worker Program of the Church was born. It operated successfully for almost nine years. It helped workers get medical and dental care. The program weeded out "trouble makers," alcoholics and drug users, so that when someone hired a worker they could have confidence that the person they hired was safe, reliable and honest.

Not surprisingly, over time the church became very controversial. For some, it was perceived as having provided a creative solution to a difficult problem. Others felt that by operating this ministry the church itself had become the problem. The local newspaper called the church and its priest the "bad shepherds," and much worse, for befriending what the paper referred to as these "vermin."

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