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Portland's Crisis and Trinity's Response

The crisis of Portland's streets - an unprecedented level of mental health issues made worse by fentanyl and other opiates - made the front page of the New York Times this summer (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/29/us/portland-oregon-fentanyl-homeless.html). Trinity Cathedral has a long history of ministry with our neighbors and parishioners who live outside, and we have seen first-hand the effects of Portland’s crisis at our daily food pantry and Wednesday Community Meal, and on Sunday mornings. We’ve increased our security in response to the rise of fentanyl use on our campus, but we know that’s not all we are called to do. Trinity’s leadership is wrestling with an ancient question in a new way: what do radical hospitality and holy compassion look like in the midst of our current civic crisis? How are we called to respond?


At Trinity, we take the safety and security of our staff, volunteers and parishioners seriously. Trinity’s sextons respond every day to situations that go far beyond their job descriptions. We're stocking Narcan (https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/naloxone) around our campus, and staff and volunteers have been trained in its use. Last Saturday, more than seventy-five Trinity leaders - volunteers in our food ministries, Cathedral hosts and welcome center volunteers, Godly Play teachers and vestry members - gathered in Kempton Hall for a training on Crisis Intervention and De-Escalation Techniques led by Ben Brubaker and Kate Gillespie of Luminescence Counseling and Consulting. Trained as social workers and mental health professionals, Ben and Emily helped our volunteers and staff process some of the situations we're facing on a daily basis while equipping us with practical tools for responding.


We talked about:

  • Self-regulation and grounding practices for high-conflict situations, knowing our biases & triggers, and how to stay calm.

  • Assessing for safety: knowing our exits, giving space, distinguishing true emergencies, and determining appropriate responses.

  • Interpersonal techniques: validating emotion and demonstrating empathy; looking for “we,” asking open-ended questions.

  • Responding to aggressive behavior: body language, tone of voice, distinguishing helpful communication from unhelpful communication.

  • How to communicate with individuals in non-responsive or altered states and when and how to administer Narcan.

  • Setting appropriate boundaries and navigating compassion fatigue.

Our volunteers are the backbone of radical hospitality as we seek to embody it at Trinity, and we seek to equip every member of this community to discern how the Spirit is calling them to respond to our community’s crisis around houselessness, mental health, and drug use. Keep an eye out for more information about a follow-up training with Ben and Emily, which we are hoping to schedule in November!


It's not enough to lock the gates, increase security, and "batten down the hatches". It's also not enough to open our doors to behaviors that put our volunteers, parishioners, and guests at risk. Trinity's staff and vestry will continue to hold the tension between radical openness and security and safety, which is not a new tension. It has been a part of this community’s mission and ministry for generations. Trinity has always been a downtown church, and this moment is asking us to think once again about how we can recommit to downtown Portland as we embody Christ's radical welcome in our generation.

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Michael Siegel
Michael Siegel
Sep 24, 2023

Thank you for your wise leadership of this church and our community.

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James Sunderland
James Sunderland
Sep 22, 2023

Very well put Nathan.

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