Ministry Story – Being the Hands and Feet of Jesus – STAR, First Baptist Church, McMinnville, Oregon
Transformed by the Spirit, Ministry Story Opportunity
Ministry Story: First Baptist Church, MCMINNVILLE, OREGON. May 2015
First Baptist Church of McMinnville, Oregon voted in 2013 to become a “Matthew 25 Church” to work toward extending hospitality as a spiritual practice. In December of that year, a small group of volunteers began serving a simple breakfast to neighbors who might be needing food. We call our program STAR (“Serving Those Around Us”). We opened with faith that we could be welcoming, friendly and non-judgmental (sometimes a challenge) and could provide a place for our less fortunate neighbors to relax and enjoy a meal and fellowship in a safe and accepting situation. Seven people came the first day. We now serve between 30-35 people (often including a couple of young children) each Monday and Friday morning between 9:00 and 11:00. We have been able to expand what we offer during the breakfast time to include showers, some clothing, books to take, public transit bus passes and a limited number of laundry vouchers. The church has designated a space on the church grounds, called the Courtyard, where street people are free to congregate, smoke their cigarettes, and socialize with each other. We provide garbage cans, coffee, chairs, a hose and expect them to clean up after themselves, which they usually do. We have dubbed this group our “Courtyard Congregation”.
As one would expect, our neighbors are a varied group of individuals. Some come just once and move on, some show up occasionally, but many are regulars that we see almost every time we are open. We continue to have many interesting interactions with these folks; some are frustrating, but many are heartening and some are even inspirational. Here are a few of our stories.
This year two couples, who have been coming to the STAR Room, decided that they wanted to get married. So the church provided the location, a staff member performed the weddings, and the STAR volunteers provided the refreshments for two different weddings. Also, sadly a woman who had been sleeping on the street died and the STAR program volunteers helped with the funeral. So for some of our guests, we take the role of family.
One cold wet morning brought in a big and tall young man (possibly 17 years old) who was very wet and wearing only a light jacket. He said he had been on his own since he was 12 years old. Of course we could feed him breakfast, but nothing we had on the clothing rack would fit him. He asked for duct tape to repair the size 16 shoes he was wearing. Someone found a coat his size in the basement and a recent donation of shoes included 5 pairs of size 15-16 EE shoes! We were grateful for this small miracle.
One of our volunteers (we’ll call her Mother Mary) takes care of our clothing ministry for the STAR program—accepting donations, washing, sorting, and maintaining the clothing rack. She is loved by the STAR room guests for her compassion and lack of tolerance for uncivil behavior. Several months ago, Mary was in a serious car accident and ended up in the hospital. The STAR Room guests were visibly distressed. One of them, Ted, intercepted our pastor on the sidewalk outside the church and asked him if he would pray with him for Mary, right then and there. Ted is not usually a praying man.
Glen comes only for coffee and fellowship. He rarely eats anything because he says he doesn’t need it like others do. We discovered that he invited his pregnant granddaughter to live with him as she was not welcome in her parent’s home. We found baby clothes and a book on how to care for infants and in September we rejoiced with Glen over the birth of his great grandson. His granddaughter has returned to high school. Glen does take socks and clothing from the rack for a neighbor who is making his way collecting cans and bottles for the return deposit. Glen’s example to each of us and his granddaughter is a real blessing and we all look forward to continuing to share coffee with him in the STAR Room.
A volunteer reported having this conversation with one of our frequent guests, a young man who told the volunteer, “I am really working hard to get myself off alcohol and weed. I want to thank you and the people of this church for all you do for me and others on the street. You just love us and care for us. Thank you.” Tim had spent 2 hours the Saturday before in the Courtyard helping with the assembling of hanging flower baskets. Tim has serious addiction problems but has found caring and concern in the STAR Room.
Then there is Andy who has been coming to the STAR Room almost since we opened. For many months Andy was uncommunicative and often hostile in his verbal responses to overtures to converse with him. Over time Andy has opened up and now banters with those of us in the STAR Room. Recently one of our volunteers saw Andy with a broom and dustpan cleaning up at a local food market, having been hired as casual labor with the chance to earn a little money. True, after the second session of work, Andy declared to us that he wasn’t doing that any more because they didn’t pay him enough for “busting his butt” but he felt good enough about it to share the experience with us. Who knows, maybe Andy will like that feeling of contributing to society enough to try it again.
Besides what our STAR breakfast outreach does to help a marginalized community, perhaps even more important is that those of us who volunteer in this program have ourselves been “Transformed by the Spirit”. We started with a core of a few workers, wondering if we would be able to sustain the program or if those few volunteers would burn out. That has not happened. As it has evolved, we have been joined by an increasing number of volunteers from the church and even the community. Financial support from the congregation has been strong and we have been blessed by two grants from ABCUSA, as well as a grant from a local bank.
Besides the obvious “feeling good” because we are helping someone else, a bigger surprise is that as volunteers we are rewarded by a change in our own attitudes toward this particular demographic that we used to avoid or fear. These are people with whom we now exchange greetings by name as we see them on the street or in the community. The STAR Room has become a safe place where we can converse with our guests about mundane topics, but at other times we hear some of their
challenging and moving stories. What is important is that in the STAR Room we are learning to appreciate the uniqueness of each individual, while withholding judgment. We have had to learn to try to be realistic about our limitations and our expectations for change in the lives of many of our guests. This does not keep us from caring for and embracing them as fellow travelers in this world and recognizing that we all are called to honor the divine in each one of us. It’s a toss up whether the STAR program is a greater blessing to our guests or to us, the volunteers.