Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Memorial service for homeless draws tears, unites faith community : At gathering 17 dead so far in 2009 are mourned


July 14, 2009 7:44 AM

A group of Santa Barbarans rallied Monday afternoon to mourn the 17 homeless who have died in the city so far in 2009.

Clergy from all walks of faith gathered at the East Beach public restrooms to participate in a memorial service for departed homeless people, and artist Morris Bear constructed a sculpture for the occasion.

These particular public restrooms hold a special significance for those who attended because Ross Stiles, a Santa Barbara homeless man, was beaten there in February and later died. His death is still under investigation.

The United Clergy of Santa Barbara worked closely with Ken Williams. a social worker for the homeless, to organize the event.

"We respectfully request that the police put their efforts into solving this crime," said Mr. Williams, before handing the event over to clergy members.

Unitarian Universalist Reverend Teena Grant spoke first, explaining that the purpose of the event was twofold.

"We are here to grieve," she said, "but also to ... give meaning to their lives by cherishing every member of our community."

Episcopalian priest Mark Asman spoke next, reading Psalm 102 and encouraging listeners to hear the scripture as though they had "no power or place in his community."

The Psalm's 17th verse reads, "He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer."

Father Asman prefaced his scripture reading by illustrating that in both the Christian and Jewish faiths, "God's preference for the poor" is evident.

Montecito Covenant Church pastor Don Johnson then addressed the crowd, inviting all present to "come together to honor and remember those who died in 2009."

The three clergy members then took turns reading the names of the deceased. After each name was read, a bell was rung, drawing sobs from some attendees.

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