Sunday Morning Haircuts for the Homeless
By Lindsay Peyton
A whole new type of ministry is underway at Galveston Central Church. This UMC plant has always been a bit different and Rev. Michael Gienger enjoys the challenge of thinking outside the box. The church started offering haircuts for the homeless as part of the church’s weekly outreach.
There’s a lot more to a good haircut than simply settling on the right style and deciding an ideal length. In fact, the right cut can do measures to improve confidence – and time spent in a barber’s chair often provides much needed self-care.
Galveston resident David McLaurin knows how powerful a transformation a haircut can be. He’s witnessed it many several times in his clients. As their barber, he enjoyed helping them look – and feel – their best.
“It’s a wonderful feeling, and I felt wonderful,” he said. “And when they smile, I think, I’ve got it.”
Giving his customers a boost made David realize his talents as a barber, he explained. “I’m good at it,” he said.
Still, it’s something he hasn’t been able to do for some time. Drugs and alcohol interrupted his career and his life as he knew it.
That is, until, he stumbled into Galveston Central Church.
Originally from Mississippi, McLaurin moved to Houston when he was young with his mother, a nurse who started a practice with his stepfather, a physician.
McLaurin did not think his career would be in hair. He simply learned the skill to help his family keep up their appearances.
In the meantime, he wanted to have fun. “I partied until I was 27-years old,” he said. “Then I realized that all my friends were gone, moving on with their lives, and I was still at home.”
Around that time, McLaurin discovered a book which delves into developing the character of a man and serving God.
“That’s how I found Jesus,” he said.
McLaurin also decided he would return to Mississippi, head to community college and earn his barber license.
“I became really good at it,” he said. “I guess God gave it to me.”
McLaurin returned to Houston and his career took off. “I was making $75,000 to $100,000 a year on $10 haircuts,” he said. “It was a lot of haircuts. I was cutting everyone’s hair in the city.”
His second wife, however, led him back to drugs. “She was the worst thing for me,” he recalled.
They eventually divorced, but McLaurin also lost his shop and customers. “I just gave up,” he said. “I got back into drugs real deep. My health got bad with diabetes. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I couldn’t deal with it anymore. I couldn’t deal with reality.”
He packed up his belongings and headed to Galveston. He started by giving up alcohol and attending AA meetings at Moody Methodist Church on the island.
One day, McLaurin was waiting for a meeting, when feeling thirsty, he noticed the nearby Galveston Central Church.
“I followed the water hose to the front door,” McLaurin recalled with a laugh. “I went in, and they had this big buffet for breakfast. I’ve been here ever since.”
Breakfast is simply a part of what Central does. The effort is called “Peace Meals.”
“The idea is a meal cooked by the community,” Gienger said. “It’s not the community serving the homeless. It’s all of us cooking together.”
Every Sunday, the church’s breakfast feeds about 50 people who are either food insecure or homeless. “We’re trying to expand what worship means,” Gienger said.
He also wants to rethink what it means to serve others. He explained that a lot of times there’s a marked delineation between those benefitting from an act and those performing the outreach.
“It’s dehumanizing in some way,” Gienger said. “It treats people as objects – instead of seeing all people as fully human, with gifts from God, who can also serve.”
Realizing that all individuals are special and have their own unique talents has been a focus of his time at Central.
“We’ve been asking, ‘Who has church stopped working for?’” he said.
While Galveston is home to a number of churches, there are also a number of people who will not step foot through those doors, Gienger said.
“There’s a major disconnect on the island,” he said. “We crafted everything around making space for those who didn’t have space.”
Gienger started at the church in 2014 and re-launched it in 2015. Part of the new mission was providing a home for the marginalized.
Sometimes that means helping people have resources to do laundry. Other times, the church connects people with social workers at UTMB to navigate the health care system.
Now, with McLaurin’s help, the church will be the place to go for homeless individuals in need of a good haircut.
It wasn’t long after McLaurin showed up at Central that he teamed up with Gienger.
“We just hit it off,” the pastor said. “He just has this beautiful outlook on life. These folks that give something a try again always inspire me.”
Gienger was amazed that even though McLaurin was struggling in his life, he was willing to rebuild and to go back to church.
“Looking at David, you’re able to see God’s redemptive work,” Gienger said.
Through their conversations, Gienger realized McLaurin’s love for cutting hair. He also saw a need in the community, where many people could not afford to visit a barber.
“We put one and one together,” Gienger said. “This would employ David, and we could use his skill set. He has assets that could improve the community around him, and it could also improve his life.”
The congregation ordered clippers, and McLaurin went to work. Haircuts are now available Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at the church.
“It doesn’t cost me a thing to give out a free haircut,” McLaurin said.
He added that he enjoys being part of Central – and sharing what the church does.
“Their giving is so genuine, it kind of breaks you,” he said. “And I’m really family oriented, and this just feels like family.”
He’s been to other churches before and studied the Bible deeply, he added.
“I have a very good understanding of the Bible,” he said. “It’s hard to explain, but there are a lot of Biblical things put into effect here, and that’s rare. I know something is going on here. I’m just trying to stay a part of it.”
In his past, he has seen churches move away from Jesus’ teachings, but that is not the case at Central, McLaurin said. “The Glory of God is constantly being shown,” he said. “They help me so much, and I need it. They’re my life support.”
Gienger is confident that others will be inspired when they see McLaurin in action.
“You have a gift from God,” he said. “Let’s find a way to leverage that. You also may have untapped potential in those you are serving. Let’s flip that and see we can all serve the Kingdom of God.”