Mission of mercy

Published 8:45 am Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Ministers and representatives of Open Arms, Higher Ground, First Presbyterian, Soul Saving Station, and St. Thomas Episcopal gather at Carpenter’s Shop International to discuss the inter-denominational Winter Relief Effort 2014. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

Ministers and representatives of Open Arms, Higher Ground, First Presbyterian, Soul Saving Station, and St. Thomas Episcopal gather at Carpenter’s Shop International to discuss the inter-denominational Winter Relief Effort 2014. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

AHOSKIE – They say hope begins with a warm shelter and a warm meal.

But when you have no home or hearth in the cold dead of winter, then finding shelter and a meal can be quite a challenge.

Based on the idea that something can be done, and much can be done if there is a coming together of effort and purpose, Rita New with Granny Squares of Love, based in Jackson, and whose organization has given afghans to those who lost their homes in natural disasters, made lapghans for those in nursing homes, and crocheted hat and scarf sets to give to the homeless in their area, is organizing a new effort: a winter relief program running from mid-November through mid-March  to provide shelter for Ahoskie’s homeless during the coldest times of the year.

New had hopes to set up a meeting with Ahoskie mayor Brien Lassiter and a number of Ahoskie’s pastors to discuss the relief project. However, last week New was unavailable due to a prior obligation, but in her stead was her brother, Barry Crowley, meeting with several Ahoskie-area churches: Open Arms Church, Higher GroundChurch, First Presbyterian Church, Soul Saving Station, and St. Thomas Episcopal Church at Carpenter’s Shop International to pitch the relief effort and to exchange ideas.

Because the November-to-March period is 16 weeks, Crowley tossed the idea of an equal number of churches; with each providing shelter for a one-week period.

“If we only have four churches then we can only provide one month of winter relief,” Crowley said. “Eight churches is two months, and so forth.”

Crowley presented a packet hand-out, complete with photos, to the assembled clergy outlining a similar effort that took place in rural Maryland not far from the nation’s capital.  It provided separate men’s and women’s sleeping areas, a communal dining area, and in certain cases hygiene and over-the-counter medicines for the homeless.

“This just shows you where it can go,” Crowley added. “As a mission outreach to our community you’d be able to get your congregations involved.  Many people would like to be able to do something, but they just don’t know how to do it; but if you get them involved, it helps them to be part of a ministry and a mission: restoring lives.”

The relief effort is reaching out to the ministers to help support not just this endeavor, but also raising the consciousness of the congregations.

“It’s a way of helping each other reach this community,” Crowley implored of the gathering. “I don’t know of any greater ministry than to mission to your own area.  This is your mission field.”

Crowley said the mission may seem daunting, but one of the reasons for bringing together a large pastorate was to show the power of union.

“Little bit, inches, steps, miles,” he alluded. “Any little bit we can do to keep somebody out of the cold – and I hope none of us never find ourselves in that situation – then having the churches set in place will give you the opportunity to minister to the displaced and it’s a testament to the community that churches are active here in your hometown.”

New’s group would be responsible for getting the word out weekly which churches are participating in the relief project. But lay groups associated with the churches could also provide some assistance in communication.

“There’s a lot of civic organizations which could be instrumental in helping us get this done,” Crowley said. “And all they need to do is know what they need to do and give them an opportunity to do it.   It increases the visibility of the churches, adds to their organizations, and as pastors I’m sure you would like to see your churches involved.”

One minister inquired about the feeding hospitality.

“When you’re hungry a peanut butter sandwich is delicious if you’re hungry,” he related. “If we don’t step up to help our own – who will?” If you don’t minister in grace and mercy it doesn’t go very well.”

Jen Myers, meeting coordinator for the Ahoskie chapter of ‘Granny Squares of Love’, was also in attendance and spoke of how the crocheting group grew from just a few church ladies to several area towns stretching from Ahoskie to Roanoke Rapids.

“They get donations from all over the country,” Crowley said. “So as we launch out – since the responsibility of pastors is to be the leader of the flock – then you’ll realize more and more people want to participate.”

Crowley pointed out that 10-to-12 church volunteers would be needed, but less could also work.  There should be at least two hot meals provided daily from a supper (soup and biscuits qualify) to breakfast (microwave pancakes and sausage) and possibly a bag lunch.

Each church would provide hygiene items and linens (blankets and towels); and alcohol will not be tolerated.  If someone is drunk, they cannot spend the night at a homeless shelter; for the protection of the church, the guests, as well as themselves.

“I’ve seen the great things you ministers have done,” Crowley concluded. “I’m always encouraged by people reaching out to help one another, to share their burdens, and their ministry.”

There was no immediate confirmation from any of the churches in attendance; many said they would report this to their church boards for review.  New said she hopes to schedule another return meeting back at Carpenter’s Shop International Church on the last Tuesday in September where they hope to finalize the schedule.

“I’m sure we all can work together,” said one pastor. “Let’s also all pray that God sends us a mild winter.”