A needful young woman recently visited a food pantry in the southern Indiana city of Seymour, where she applied for emergency assistance.
A pantry volunteer helped the woman complete her paperwork, after which the volunteer asked the woman, with loving-kindness, “Is there anything you would like us to pray with you about?”
“Yes,” the young woman replied, without hesitation, according to a news story published yesterday by USA Today. So the pantry volunteer grasped the woman’s hands and prayed for her.
Community Provisions, the faith-based organization that operates the pantry, has been following the same practice for the past 15 years. And none of the thousands of men and women it has served during that span has ever complained.
But that matters not to the Indiana Department of Health.
It recently declared Community Provisions no longer eligible to receive and distribute groceries through the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program because it asks food recipients – like the aforementioned young woman – if they would like prayer along with their groceries.
A spokesperson for the state-appointed organization that inspects Indiana’s pantries told USA Today, “The guidelines are no religious (activity) or teaching can be required for providing services.”
But Community Provisions does not require the needful women and men visiting its pantry to sing hymns or listen to sermons or be prayed over as a condition of receiving food assistance.
I have no doubt that some of those served by Community Provisions don’t particularly care for prayer. They just want to get their free food and dash.
That’s fine. All they have to say is “no” when a pantry volunteer asks, “Is there anything you like us to pray with you about?”
But I think most are like the young woman mentioned in the USA Today story. When the reporter asked her asked her if she felt uncomfortable being invited to prayer, she was unequivocal:
“It didn’t offend me whatsoever. I think this a great program.”