The Rev. Lyle Beckman

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Rev. Lyle Beckman

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New Night Minister in Town, by Catherine Cromelin (from the Bay Area Reporter – 5/17/2007)

Giving assistance to those often living on the margins of society and those who are in need of help whatever their circumstance, the San Francisco Night Ministry will install a new night minister this Sunday.

The Revered Lyle Beckman, 54, succeeded Father Don Fox, who recently retired after serving 11 years at the ministry. Beckman had been an assistant minister to Fox for the past three years and has been ordained for 27. Beckman, who is gay, has been living in the Bay Area since 2001 and spent the previous 20 years in congregations primarily in inner cities. He has also worked as a prison chaplain, a chaplain in a hospital psychiatric unit and at a congregation that did gang intervention work.

“I’ve always related well to people in urban environments and people who are a little bit marginalized by the church or society in general,” said Beckman.

The night ministry was started in 1964 by two clergy, one Lutheran and one United Presbyterian, who were concerned about the people of San Francisco at night when virtually all other support agencies were closed. They started the ministry, welcoming all denominations to participate, with support from local churches and private donors. Over the last 43 years the night ministry has made itself available to people on the street from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. every night of the year with a hotline and at least one ordained clergy person available wherever he or she is needed. The ministers will go to homes, bars, coffee shops, or hotels and they fill a number of different needs for those who call on them.

“Anything from active listening, which can involve praying or not, to making some realistic referrals in terms of the programs or agencies that might be useful for them in the morning,” said Beckman of the types of services the ministry provides. “But generally, if someone is really in crisis, we’ll just be with them and stay with them until someone can take over for us in the morning or until we know they’ll be fine.”

He said that most of the time, the ministry doesn’t create long-term relationships; rather, its role is to get people over a crisis. A few people do call the ministry on a regular basis and Beckman said that for those people, the ministry is a stable source of support.

“I think crisis is a relative term,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of someone being lonely. At that moment in their life, that’s a crisis. At that moment they need to talk to someone because they’re feeling that loneliness so acutely. They can’t call their friends or they don’t have any. Older people can’t call their children because they’ll be afraid ‘mom is losing it.’ And so they call us.”

The night ministry has a fair amount of focus on those living in the Tenderloin, but staff will go anywhere in the city where they are needed. Beverly Barrows, administrative assistant, said that callers to the ministry’s crisis line are from all over the Bay Area and even from other cities such as New York.

Beckman’s new role as lead minister of the night ministry will include working with the agency’s governing board to plan for the future as well as talking about financial aid and promotion of the night ministry. He will also be responsible for training assistant night ministers and counseling staff who man the phones. In the coming year, he hopes to increase the number of ministers out on the street to three every evening, communicate with donors and supporters of the ministry more regularly through e-mail, and to establish a daytime phone line. Currently, there is at least one minister on the streets every night and a couple times a week, there are two.

In addition to Beckman, there are eight other assistant ministers working at the agency and approximately 38 volunteers who answer the telephones. Beckman estimates that they typically receive 15 to 20 calls a night and the minister out on the street will have the same number of significant conversations with individuals.

“I’ve never been frightened or scared. I’ve been uncomfortable,” Beckman explained about his work at night. “It’s not the people, it’s the situations they find themselves in, and therefore, I’m in as well. Some of the rooming hotels in the Tenderloin are not the cleanest places. The assault on the nostrils from some of the hotels: the bugs, the roaches. I’ve spent quite a few nights sitting on the curb with folks and there’s rats running at your feet and that’s an uncomfortable experience. But, I’ve never been uncomfortable with a person.”

The night ministry’s crisis line is (415) 441-0123, 10pm to 2am everyday¬†

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