In 17th and 18th century Williamsburg, Virginia helping the poor was assumed, as a social norm, to be the responsibility of the church, not the state. In the Bruton Parish, the vestrymen, in addition to managing the affairs of he parish, were responsible for all poverty related social services. In the Anglican church, the vestry was established as a committee elected in local congregations to work with the wardens of the church to meet various needs. During the colonial era, if a person did not have adequate housing, adequate food or clothing, if women were widowed and children were orphaned, and so on, it was simply an assumption that the church would meet the needs of those on the margins locally and personally.
In the early 1990s, Marvin Olasky challenged Americans to re-think the role of the church and faith-based organizations in meeting the needs of the poor by reminding us that before FDR’s “Great Society” programs, “Human needs were answered by other human beings, not by bureaucracies, and the response to those needs was not compartmentalized,” writes Olasky. These “human beings” from the colonial period, through the end to 19th-century, were primarily operating directly out of the church or out of a faith-based organizations. The first orphanages, hospitals, food pantries, and so on, in America were all faith-based organizations. They were all derived from the models like the ones lived out in Colonial Williamsburg.
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