At Portland Friends Meeting's May 2017 meeting for business, the clerk of Peace and Social Concerns recommended that our meeting become a host congregation with the newly formed Greater Portland Family Promise (GPFP). Many of us had attended an informational meeting about GPFP, and we were able to approve with an overwhelming sense that this is what we are supposed to be doing.
Family Promise is a national nonprofit program which gives homeless families a chance to experience some privacy and family time by utilizing spaces in local houses of worship. Each congregation agrees to act as host for a week, several times a year, providing meals and private sleeping spaces for each family.
The minute of approval reads in part:
Becoming a host congregation would be a big commitment for Portland Friends Meeting, but our Peace and Social Concerns Committee feels that challenging times call our Meeting to take on big challenges ... Being a host congregation, they suggest, would be a fitting way for our Meeting to act as a faith community and to live out our belief in Welcoming the Stranger, in addition to the many ways in which we serve as individual witnesses for social justice issues. It would also be a way to share our beloved but underused Meetinghouse.
We have 45 trained volunteers from Portland Friends Meeting who spend time with the families when we host—sharing a meal, playing with the children, talking and singing with the adults, spending the night, helping pack breakfasts and lunches for the next day, and preparing a special breakfast on Saturday, when guests can sleep a little later. These volunteers and others help set up at the beginning of the week, prepare meals during the week, and take down and do laundry at the end of the week. Many have donated bed linens, lamps and bedside tables, toiletries—all the things that are needed to turn our meetinghouse into a home for a week. And we are sustained by all those who hold our families and our volunteers in love and prayer.
Since opening its doors, GPFP has served 20 families and placed 17 of those families in permanent housing. Many of the families are asylum seekers who have come from Angola, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Morocco, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda. The deep faith of our families, their resilience in the face of adversity, their sense of hope, and their gratitude and grace in facing myriad challenges has enriched us beyond measure. One of our dads said, “I don’t look at the past. It was very bad. I look at the future and I see hope. God is good.”
Working with Greater Portland Family Promise has deepened our sense of community and provided a new way to put our faith into action, connecting members and attenders of all ages. This opportunity has filled our hearts with gratitude and broadened our understanding of the challenges our new Mainers face. It continues to be a blessing to our community.