First UMC College Station Offers Heavenly Hospitality to the Homeless
With two children in tow, a very-expectant single mother arrives on the campus of First UMC in College Station, relieved to have a classroom turned- bedroom for her family at a time when she is emotionally and financially depleted and in dire need of help and hope. Within hours, she goes
into labor and is whisked off to the hospital for the arrival of baby #3.
“As a host church in the Family Promise Program, we welcome several homeless families as our special guests during the year,” says FUMC’s program coordinator Annie Williams, “ and two occasions have been even more memorable because there have been new babies born during our
week.” FUMC College Station has been actively involved with Family Promise since 2007, supporting the mission of helping homeless children and families achieve sustainable independence. Adds Williams, “I will never forget these young mothers because they leave with much more than they arrived with, and we get to be a part of blessing them with much needed baby items and support.”
When the scheduled rotation points to First UMC College Station, volunteers from several nearby churches link arms to help them transform several rooms of the church into living and sleeping quarters for families who have nowhere else to go.
“Since we are the smallest church in the program in our area,” notes FUMC Pastor Jacqui King, “this literally becomes a church-wide ministry where everyone serves. Singles and UMW members help with meals and others help move furniture or assist with homework and games. During our week, not only does this program physically transform our church, but it also transforms our minds for service.
Since families can’t often stay together in shelters, we are humbled to provide a home for them and prayer or whatever is needed.” During the day, the visiting families participate in activities at the Family Promise Center in Bryan, including job and life preparation classes, and return to the host church for evening meals, activities, and bed-and breakfast hospitality. “Some guests have come to church services or choir practice to hear us rehearsing.
The “New Face” of Homelessness
“When you look at the economy and trends, there are 600 homeless families just in Bryan/College Station,” says the nonprofit’s director Dr. Phebe Simmons, “which astoundingly makes the 9- year-old child the new face of homelessness.” Adds Simmons, “We always have a waiting list, but thanks to our 9 church partners, we have served 75 children and 47 adults in the last year.” Prayers are answered as adults find employment and homes for their families. Hosting is quite an undertaking, adds Williams, “First Church-CS is a small church with a small membership in comparison to the other eight host churches in Family Promise, but our members have big hearts and believe there is nothing we cannot accomplish when Christ is on our side.”
“It is rewarding for a small church to be able to touch many lives in cooperation with other churches,” says Vicki Thompson, one of the first volunteers involved with First Church-CS. Adds Thompson, “Since I have been involved in the Family Promise Program I have been encouraged by its mission to serve families in transition. It has been embedded in my mind to always be sensitive towards persons with special needs – even before realizing the depth of the family’s pain or situation.’ Everyone pitches in.
Williams, who has often spent the night on location at the church, is thankful for additional ‘Buddy Churches’ that have recently stepped in to help: Lee Chapel UMC, St. Francis Episcopal Church,
Washington Chapel Baptist Church, Christ Holy Baptist Church, Roans Chapel Baptist Church, and Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church. “I enjoy seeing our guests being so happy when all can remain together in a safe environment. Volunteers are there to support by speaking words of hope, extending the families love, compassion, a listening ear, great meals, and entertaining the children while parents take a moment for themselves.”
According to Dr. Simmons, upon graduation from the program, a family must have secured employment where a percentage of pay has been deposited into a savings account for use to locate a place to live. “We love seeing the success stories as our Family Promise families go to the top of the waiting list for low income government housing.”
“I was in a neighborhood store recently and got a hug from one of the families in the program,” shares Pastor King. “They were so excited to tell me they had gotten a job and were back on track!” She adds, “This program transforms our church physically and spiritually and we encourage other churches to consider how they might impact their community.”