Episcopal deacon finds home in Savannah homeless camp
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Savannah Morning News undefined
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Kevin Veitinger’s pulpit is not in one of Savannah’s ornate Episcopal churches.
Instead, the newly ordained Episcopal deacon holds forth on Sundays in one of Savannah’s homeless camps off Louisville Road as part of his “street church” ministry.
It is part of his journey that has taken him from his United Methodist Church roots to finding a church home in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia where he will become a priest in about six months.
“I’ve done work with people in poverty most of my career,” Veitinger, 43, said during a chat at the diocesan office on East 34th Street in Savannah. “Homelessness is not about lack of having a paycheck, it’s about a lack of relationships. It boils down to relationships.”
When Bishop Scott Anson Benhase and the Rev. Frank Logue presented him with the homeless ministry option last year, Yeitinger said it seemed like a perfect fit.
“This opportunity presented itself,” he said. “I really think it’s kind of a God thing.”
The post was vacated by the retirement of the Rev. Jamie Maury and one that Veitinger said was a seamless transition after a brief partnership with Maury.
His ministry, St. Joseph’s Community, is the diocese’s homeless effort.
“We’re fully supported by the diocese, but not classified as a church. We’re a mission,” he said.
That mission carries him to minister to homeless folk in camps, but also to partner with the Emmaus House and its work with the homeless on Reynolds Square where it operates a soup kitchen and support post from the Christ Church Parish House.
There he will help feed on Wednesday and Thursdays as needed, but also distribute clothes, blankets and sleeping bags and needed items to homeless folk.
Is he making a difference, Veitinger is asked.
“I think they’re different levels of impact,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re making impacts of people’s lives. If we can make someone feel valued and loved again, then we’re successful.
“We’re helping people realize they are a beloved child of God and helping people regain their dignity and agency … Part of my role is to be able to have a foot in both worlds.
In addition to his Sunday appearances at the homeless camp, Veitinger will go there during the week to check on his homeless folk.
While part of his mission is the ministry function, it also encompasses an education effort to expose the issue and push local government on how they approach homelessness in Savannah
In Savannah, Veitinger works with what he calls a great group of providers, including meeting regularly with 20 of them with the Chatham Savannah Authority for the Homeless.
“Those of us who follow Jesus need to live into his call to be with the poor, the lonely, and all who would otherwise be lost and left out,” said Logue, who was elected Friday as the 11th bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. “The Community of St. Joseph is one way the Episcopal Church is outside our walls sharing the love of God with our neighbors who don’t have a home. Kevin shares Jesus’ love in a winsome way that is full of joy without judgment, which is a perfect fit for ministry in the streets and in the homeless camps.”
The Tallahassee native and his wife, Ginger, moved with their two children to Savannah in 2006.
He had been a youth minister in the United Methodist Church for about 10 years, and was ordained in that communion in 2013, Yeitinger said, but left last year because “I felt out of step theologically with the United Methodist Church.”
He found a church home in the Episcopal church.
He, along with Nathan Wilson, was ordained to the Episcopal diaconate in Reynolds Square on Nov. 1. Each would expect to be ordained to the priesthood in about six months.
Wilson, an Eagleville, Tennessee, native and 2018 graduate of Duke University Divinity School, moved to Savannah after graduation and is interning at St. Michael and All Angels Church.
In Savannah Veitinger was college minister at SCAD, opening the Foundery Coffee Pub at Habersham and Anderson streets for the United Methodist Church’s campus ministry.
And, Veiginger will tell you, “I was a musician,” who still rocks with a punk band, “Jeff-Two-Names and the Born Agains,” where he is known as “The Rev,” a core band member.
He recognizes that his day job caring for the homeless carries some peril, including potential burn out.
“For me, this is not a long-term ministry,” he said. “I have to make sure I do this for the next person like Jamie did for me so that they’re set up for success.”
Veitinger said that he and his wife eventually could land with an English-speaking church in Europe in a non-English speaking country, citing Episcopal churches in Paris and Rome.
Or a chaplain with a “normal parish” or Episcopal school, something he did for the better part of 2001-2018.
“I am at peace with whatever the future may hold and it allows me to focus on what I’m doing so it’s always good.”