Monday, January 29, 2007

January Update


Photo: From left to right is Lezlie Anderson, Steve Anderson, Mary Giles, James Giles, Rolin Bruno, and standing in front, Michael Brent.

Many of you, beloved, have followed with my updates since last May as I left California on the “Great Leap” into whatever God might have for me post-schooling. You will remember that I was not all that sure what might lay ahead. On the advice of my friend, Father Richard of Saint James Anglican (Newport Beach, CA), I drove to the Pittsburgh headquarters of a home missionary group called Church Army USA, which reputedly took in misfits such as myself.

While in Pennsylvania I not only got to know the leadership of Church Army, but also came to know a bunch of folks developing a house church missionary movement under The Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches ( Next, I spent the month of July getting steeped in the ministry of Church Army Branson (Missouri), where a vibrant new church has sprung forth from years of work among men and women afflicted with addiction to drugs or alcohol.

But Mississippi seemed to be calling to me, where church army members James and Mary Giles were working alongside the hurricane relief efforts of God’s Katrina Kitchen. The long-term volunteers there were struggling to respond to the homeless and afflicted who showed up at the Kitchen, but needed oh-so-much more love than just a meal.

I arrived at the Kitchen August 2, and immediately felt that I was in the right place. Within two weeks God had put before me whole communities of homeless peoples, many of whom were in quite desperate straits, and some of whom could be greatly helped with just love and attention. I dropped my plan to spend a whole month investigating and discerning, and instead drove back to California to pick up the rest of my belongings and say goodbye to my dear friends at Saint James Anglican. I told them about the hurting people of coastal Mississippi and a dream formed in the mind of God for a new ministry.

When I got back to the Kitchen, James and I watched awestruck as God unfolded his dream. In an area where there is virtually no help for recovery from addiction, God had us inviting homeless addicts into my cabin home and trying to love them into His Kingdom. Then God moved the whole Kitchen operation, along with our fledgling Church Army Gulf Coast, six miles east to Gulfport where we were in the midst of hundreds of hurting, hungry, desperate and challenged people.

This month I write to tell you the amazing story of the six people who are trying to keep up with God as he brings His dream for Church Army Gulf Coast alive and moving along on His path.

After James’ ordination to the priesthood, he and Mary heard the call to help hurricane victims on the devastated Gulf Coast, and in January 2006 began coordinating relief tasks for the short term volunteer teams arriving from all over the United States. When God moved the Kitchen from its lovely site overlooking the serene waters off Pass Christian, MS, it was a struggle and a challenge. At the same time, James’ involvement was growing to become one of the key leaders for the overall mission of the Kitchen, multiplying his responsibilities and reducing his time available for ministry to the hurting people arriving to be fed. Mary also took on new responsibilities helping to operate the busy office of God’s Katrina Kitchen.

When I arrived, James and Mary joined others in saying that I was an answer to their prayers. They had been praying for someone to show up who had a heart for the homeless, and I seemed to fill the bill (this despite my tendency to become imperious when frustrated). Drawing upon my experience in Victory Outreach men’s rehab homes, and attempting to employ the 12-step methods which were working so well in Branson, we patched together a program and began accepting men onto the Kitchen campus to live in my tiny bunkhouse with me. I think perhaps God has kept our ministry small because of all the mistakes we continue to make as we learn what our tasks are through hands-on experience.

Already on site were Steve and Lezlie Anderson, who arrived at the Kitchen in October 2005. As an alcoholic in recovery, Steve had wanted to begin having Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on campus, for all those struggling to maintain their sobriety. After my arrival, we began weekly meetings in October 2006 of what is now the Camp Avenue Group, known to the AA central office, and hoping this year to become a fully recognized AA group. Lezlie has also been a great help to us with contributions from her years of experience in Al-Anon.

Most recently arriving is Michael Brent, who has a heart for helping those who are caught in the cycle of addiction. Michael and James had become friends when they attended seminary together, and after an exploratory trip here last month, decided to join us in our pastoral team. Michael’s cabin expanded our capacity from three to five men transforming their lives, and one of the men already here moved in with him. Michael is working on expanding our ministry to help the continued flux of homeless and devastated men and women who drift through the kitchen, in need of counseling, referral, case management, and advocacy.

Tampa, Florida trip
And finally, a personal note. Growing out of my relationship with Alan Morris (another seminary friend of James’, now a bishop), I felt a call to make The CEEC my new church home, in the missionary diocese he was founding. This January 6, I was ordained as a Missionary Deacon in the Diocese of Saint Aidan Lindisfarne. Ordination was the end of a long road for me, and the beginning of a new one. It has given me a new sense of peace, and has had the effect of removing some of the shrillness from my words and actions.

May God’s peace remain also with you as you keep each of us here in your prayers.
….In Love,

Bonus picture:
who may become the first graduate from our program, working on rehabilitat- ing the former apartment building on campus.

I am just beginning a personal web log. As I become more familiar in how to use it, I will post more frequently there; and each of you may enter your own comments:

To make a donation to this ministry,
you may send a check or money order to:
Church Army USA, 210 W. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

Please pray for us,
Rev. Deacon Rolin Bruno

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

December in Gulf Port

Even the air seemed tense. It was 2:30 PM on Tuesday when the Gulfport City Council meeting was called to order, and far too late to get a seat as the restless crowd overflowed out the double doors and down the stairs.

Yesterday, December 4, the permit had expired for God’s Katrina Kitchen to continue in operation at our new site just off the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi. The day before, we had just completed two months of arduous and sometimes frustrating work to complete our move from our previous site six miles west in Pass Christian. But today we had no permit, and were again at the mercy of the city council. What would these seven councilpersons do? Would they listen to those voices complaining that three meals a day at the Kitchen was attracting “undesirable” transients?

The mayor presented his proposal. His plan was for us to move again, to a grassy site in a flood plain owned by the city, where no permanent structures were allowed to be built. We wondered whether, when the weather turned bad, the kitchen would be able to feed people in a tent pitched on a grassy flood plain. We wondered whether we would have to move all 24 cabins again, including the ones housing myself and the Church Army Gulf Coast volunteer relief workers—those men who are seeking so desperately to transform their lives.

Councilwoman Ella Holmes-Hines recognized her friends from the Kitchen that were present in the room, and made an impassioned plea to allow them to stay at our site. Other councilpersons indicated that they had already pledged to deny our request. Finally, they voted. The mayor’s proposal was defeated, 3 to 2. Those from the Kitchen were dismissed, and television interviews were being filmed on the stairway landings.

God gave us the victory! Or did he? The city administrator said that we no longer had to move. But the mayor pointed out that our permit to operate had expired. Still, we returned home, with the feeling that God had performed a miracle. James called it an exhausting spiritual battle.

Then at 6:00 the phone call came. It seemed that the mayor had pointed out the council’s unfinished business, and we were needed back at the council chambers. James, Greg Porter, and others returned as they sorted things out. Ella continued to defend us. Greg was asked, “What do you want us to do?” The answer: “Let us stay through the end of our year’s lease.” The vote was taken. The verdict: 4 to 3 for YES, we can remain where we are as requested—until July 31.

God is good. OUR GOD REIGNS!

God is beginning to reign in the lives of the three men He has given us to shepherd in Church Army. We had lost Dale, and then Barry left when the internet-ink was barely dry on last month’s report. But God already had in mind the two others he was ready to send us: “Nate”, a young man trying to sort out the direction for his life while battling recurring binges, and “Choo-Choo” (his street name), a veteran construction worker and addict who had been recycled from the streets to jail and back so many times he had lost count.

Nate was locked into deep withdrawal when he arrived, but now he has taken an interest in life around him and is getting used to the routine of spiritual disciplines and work. Choo-Choo has made it through his first rough week and is resisting the call of the drug-filled streets. And Jeff is well on his way through his second month, striving to put God’s will in control where once there was only Jeff’s will.

God is on the move, and may be getting us ready to expand the ministry here. Watch this space for exciting updates, and please continue to pray for us.

May the God of all peace richly bless you.

1: The poles are up! When we get the rest of this tent up, we'll be distributing Toys for Tots for the entire 3-county region.
2: The old brown tool shed is now the "blue room" where we hold AA meetings.
3: The apartment building has a new paint job, but we're still waiting for permission to hook up electricity to it.