From the Becoming Beloved Community Grant Community: New Frontiers in Camden
By Mark Smith
While St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has been serving the homeless and marginalized neighbors in downtown Camden, New Jersey, for four decades, the COVID pandemic represented a particular challenge for us and our guests, who are disproportionately people of color.
As in most other churches, in-person worship had ended and our adventure with online worship began; however, the bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey, the Rt. Rev. William Stokes, allowed meal programs and other ministries to continue.
Just prior to the pandemic, I had met with the dean of the Nursing School at Rutgers University Camden. We knew guests suffered high rates of conditions like diabetes and hypertension and that they often came in with untreated wounds. The church proposed a joint venture: a health clinic at St. Paul’s Church staffed by nurses and nursing students. The Rutgers dean was enthusiastic about the idea. The real work began after the pandemic had exposed the needs of the underserved.
We found an ideal space near the parish hall. What we needed was financial support. I learned about the Beloved Community grants program, and soon we had $5,000 to begin work, an amount that was matched by the vestry. The following year, we received a United Thank Offering grant to help with the cost of equipment and supplies. The first patients were seen in January 2021; we now see 20 patients or more each week. We hope the clinic will continue to be a caring mainstay in our area and in downtown Camden.
The Rev. Mark Smith is the rector of St. Paul’s Church, Camden.