Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Grace Church as Leaven

Sometimes we think we are too small to do much. But it's surprising how one thing leads to another and the impact is multiplied beyond our wildest dreams. Such a story is Grace Church's involvement with the homeless shelter, Interfaith Hospitality Network (soon to be called Family Promise, as it is now called nationally).
Grace began hosting homeless families back in the 90's. We hosted the program for about 15 years with Christ Church Glendale helping out with dinner and overnight hosts. But their participation eventually shrank to only one person. Then in 2005, events led to our having to give up the hosting because of lack of enough volunteers in our own congregation. At this time, The Rev. Deacon Laura Chace, who had been a coordinator for the program, convinced Christ Church Glendale to take on the hosting. We, along with several of our former support congregations, agreed to continue overnight volunteering.
It might have been easier and financially possible to have catered dinners, but IHN is about hands on, face to face, service and interaction with guests who have suffered the loss of their home. Hosts are reminded to treat every guest as they would a guest in their own home with comfort food, first names, encouraging words, and a safe environment.
CCG's program, over time, evolved into one of the best hosting congregations in the city. They have made many innovations that have been copied by others and have always been rated highly by departing guests.
Most importantly, however, through sitting down and talking with their guests, they began to realize the many needs that people face that had not been apparent to them in their own everyday lives. With this realization and their extraordinary skills, Christ Church Glendale members began volunteering elsewhere, with agencies that build and repair homes, with food pantries, and very recently with other churches in helping Hispanic immigrants learn English so that they can interact with co-workers, improve their school work and function more efficiently and productively in an English speaking society.
So what Grace Church may have at first perceived as a failure on its part to continue to host has actually turned into many multiples of blessings to those we serve and to those who volunteer.
A final chapter (to date) to this story is that the Grace Church volunteers are now returning to College Hill to participate in a start-up network of six College Hill churches who will host IHN four times a year in our own neighborhood. They will start in January at First United Church of Christ on Belmont, just up the street.

Let's see how the blessings can multiply in College Hill! Contact Mary McLain, Grace Staples or the church office (513-541-2415, office@gracecollegehill.org) for details.

Thanks to Grace Staples for this great perspective!

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