Mitch Synder is a man who believes in taking his business to his friends.
Synder's business currently is trying to raise $80,000 to rebuild and refurbish as a shelter for homeless persons an abandoned house he and his associates at the Community for Creative Non-Violence obtained two years ago from the city.
For the past three weeks, he has been trying to persuade Georgetown's Holy Tranity Catholic Church, a parish he says he feels "close to," to abandon its current campaign to raise $350,000 for a long-delayed renovation of their church and instead give him the $80,000 needed by CCNV.
At every mass for the past three Sundays, Synder and his friends have been handing out leaflets at Holy Trinity.
The leaflet portrays in vivid terms the need for a shelter for the city's homeless and suggests that church members who spent money on their houses of worship instead of on the poor are not living up to the mandates of the Christian Gospel.
"When people in a position of moral leadership, people such as yourself, place buildings before human beings, something is wrong," says the leaflet.
"What is wrong is that the poor are missing persons: missing from your church building, missing from your deliberations on your needs and wants, and therefore missing from your lives."
The people at Holy Trinity, a parish known widely as one of the more progressive and liberal in the archdiocese, deny that this is the case.
"We try to help a lot of organizations on a continuing basis," explained Paul McElligott, chairman of the parish social concerns committee. He mentioned the House of Ruth shelter for homeless women, Luther Place ministries, So Others May Eat, and other organized efforts to help the poor, as well as giving rent subsidies and other aid to poverty-stricken members of the parish.
The Rev. James English, who has been pastor of the Jesuit parish for 10 years defends the $350,000 renovation fund.
"We've been basically bankrupt for the last 10 years, trying to keep a grammar school and (until four years ago) a high school going," he said. "We've done no maintenance for the last 15 years. It's obvious that you have to maintain your building."
The renovations projected for the church include repairs to a leaking roof, repairs to loose cornices, replacement of old and inefficient heating and cooling systems, renovation of the sanctuary to accomodate current liturgical practices and structural, changes to "meet minimum safety requirements," he said.
Synder said that "we have met with Jim English and we went over all the plans (for renovation). Except for putting two doors in the front of the church (to comply with fire laws) and some of the roof, the rest of the work is not justified, given the fact that a lot of people in this city are hurting badly."
Part of what disturbs the people at Holy Trinity is that Synder and the CCNV are concentrating on raising the $80,000 they need from Holy Trinity.
Synder explained that, "We talk to people we know," he said. "We talk to people who are the most likely to respond. A number of us go to mass there. We (CCNV) have been described from the pulpit as a model of Christian community."
That has not happened lately, according to Father English, who, while he is sympathetic to the goals of Synder and his people, is critical of their approach to social problems.
"One of the problems is that they will not structure themselves in any way - they believe that anarchy is the best model," the priest said. "There are all kinds of city and federal funds that could be made available for the rehabilitation of a building to shelter homeless persons, but they won't apply for them.
"That's their choice," the priest continued, "but that forces them into a situation like we're now and that's very nonproductive."
Synder agreed that the CCNV would have nothing to do with government grants.
"We don't want any aid from the city," he said. "We got the building from them" - the city turned over the long abandoned structure at 1361 Fairmont St. NW, more than two years ago - "and now all we want from the city is for them to just leave us alone. The rest of the help we need should come from the churches."
"The shelter issue is an important one, but their confrontation tactics are not the right way" to approach prospective donors, observed Holy Trinity's McElligott. "We try to help a lot of organizations on a continuing basis," he added, indicating that the "all or nothing" approach of Synder and his associates "has created some resentment."