Finding Shelter Under Stained Glass

By Susan Passi-Klaus

“When you think of the Kingdom of God being a Kingdom of Servants, then we are all both servant and served.” -- Rev. Lenoir Culbertson, Epworth United Methodist Church, Franklin, Tenn.

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Guests and volunteers join hands to say grace over Christmas dinner during Room in the Inn at Epworth United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn. Room in the Inn is an interfaith/ecumenical ministry supported by the Campus for Human Development and more than 150 congregations in the Nashville, Tenn., area. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.
(UMCom) -- From November through March more than 200 men, women and children line up outside the doors of Nashville’s Room in the Inn headquarters hoping to find a warm bed, hot meal and to defrost feelings of disillusionment.

Though most nights are spent camped out under bridges and underpasses, many of Nashville’s homeless are adopted as guests by one of 28 local United Methodist congregations who have offered up an empty Sunday school classroom or unused church gymnasium as a makeshift hotel room.

Room in the Inn is an interfaith/ecumenical ministry supported by the Campus for Human Development and more than 150 local congregations. For seven nights a week – including holidays – congregations, par and privileged, find room in their church inn to offer the homeless shelter under the protection of stained glass.

Though most stories written about Room in the Inn are testaments to miracles worked on behalf of the addicted, mentally ill, or victims of hard luck, anyone who has provided a ride, prepared a hot meal or donated an article of warm clothing will tell you it’s the givers, more than the receivers, that are blessed.

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Volunteer Amber Simpkins, 12, carries a mattress to help prepare for Room in the Inn guests at Epworth United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn. Room in the Inn is an interfaith/ecumenical ministry supported by the Campus for Human Development and more than 150 congregations in the Nashville, Tenn., area. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.
Steve Glover, along with his wife, Sandie, coordinates the Room in the Inn ministry for Donelson Height’s United Methodist Church. Steve echoes the thoughts of many others involved with the ministry, “I feel truly blessed by this and privileged to be a part of it. We had a lady and her husband who had just arrived in Nashville. … Right after they got here, her husband was mugged and beaten-up. Their money was taken and they literally had nowhere to turn. When we picked her up from Room in the Inn and brought here to our church, she just broke down and said, ‘You don’t know how much we appreciate this.’ And my response to her was, ‘No, you don’t know how much I appreciate that we’re able to do this for you.’”

The Rev. Lenoir Culbertson and her congregation at Epworth United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn. quickly realized that many of the individuals they were housing had needs beyond shelter. “Many of the men who came to us were trying to get work,” Culbertson explained. “For day laborers one of the requirements is that the workers have to have work boots, and, of course, most of these men only had tennis shoes. One of our members saw a need and started going to Wal-Mart to buy boots, and eventually bought so many that he was able to work out a discount with the store.”

“I’ll never forget,” Culbertson said, “one guy came up to me holding a tattered pair of tennis shoes and said with a big smile on his face, ‘I guess I can pass these along now,’ and he tossed them in the trash. He was so proud of his new boots that I wondered if he was going to sleep in them!”

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Room in the Inn guests prepare their beds for the evening at Epworth United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn. Room in the Inn is an interfaith/ecumenical ministry supported by the Campus for Human Development and more than 150 congregations in the Nashville, Tenn., area. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMCom.
Epworth has now embarked on a major building program – one where accommodating the church’s Room in the Inn ministry is a necessary part of the overall design. The new facility will include showers, hook-ups for washers and dryers and additional storage space for clothes and bedding.

“We’re building because our ministry is growing, not because our building needs to be bigger.” said Culbertson. “We decided that our building ought to look like our ministry.”

Culbertson calls Room in the Inn a “hands-on experience” that has changed how church members see ministry – from ministering to, to ministering with.”

“It’s one thing to write your check, and this congregation has always been faithful in doing that,” Culbertson said. “But, it’s another thing to take ‘homeless’ out of the quotation marks and to sit at a table, hold hands, break bread and say a prayer together.”

Susan Passi-Klaus is a writer for The City Paper in Nashville, and a member of Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tenn.

This article was developed by United Methodist Communications.

 


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