On Wednesday nights a couple of our members (Bob & Suzanne Derryberry) have started “skipping” church and going to Nashville to work with a homeless ministry. Last Wednesday, our small group decided to skip ourselves and see what it’s all about. The ministry is with the Green Street Church of Christ. It’s a small congregation on the east side of downtown. Here’s their story as best I can recall from the conversation I had with one of their Shepherds.
The church is 117 years old. It was once a fairly good sized congregation in a thriving community, but the Interstate came through (literally 60 ft in front the church) and changed things. The traffic patterns changed and the community deteriorated. Most of the members moved to the suburbs. The church lost 200+ members over the course of time, but it didn’t move. It stayed put. Right in the place God originally planted it. Then they did something that a lot of churches don’t have the courage to do (although we should), they opened their doors to the disenfranchised, the homeless, the outcasts, etc. They offered them a place of worship, a hot meal and some basic necessities.
It all started seven years ago. There was a ministry group feeding the homeless once a week on the streets near the church. One winter night it was particularly cold and they asked the church if they could use their fellowship hall. The leadership said “Yes.” Then some of homeless began asking if they could sleep in the building during the really cold nights. Again, the leadership said “Yes.” It didn’t last long because Metro Codes shut it down, but how many churches do you know that would say “yes” to that request? Anyway, the meals continued and the church now handles everything on their own (with the help of a few supporting churches).
Every Wednesday night they open their doors to anywhere from 75 to 150 people. They worship together, share a message from the Bible, offer everyone a hot meal and a visit to the clothes closet. They also have some toys, diapers and other odds and ends (whatever anyone donates). They run two vans back and forth to different locations in the city, including “tent city.” A handful of students from Lipscomb help out and some young families have recently joined the church to help out. The minister is bi-vocational. He doesn’t take a salary and he has the heart of a servant. The Shepherd I met also had the heart of a servant and the heart of a shepherd. He stayed after the meal to listen to prayer requests and pray for any needs. He explained, “We figured that we could either close the doors or we could become a mission. This is what church is all about!”
The service was not your typical service. There were about 100 or so in the auditorium. A cloud of cigarette smoke from the front steps drifted in whenever someone opened the doors. The rich and poor sat intermingled on old worn out pews. People from the suburbs sang together with people from the streets. The worship was spirited and heart-felt. The message was a simple talk from a selected passage. Folks got up and wondered in and out as they pleased. If they agreed, they said “Amen.” If they had a question, they asked it. If there was an announcement, the floor was open. I would consider them to be a fairly traditional church, and yet there were several things that happened that a traditional church might frown upon. As I worshipped, the thought crossed my mind…”Apparently they don’t have time to fuss over all the issues we fuss about in the suburbs. They’re just too busy helping people.”
The most moving part of the night for me was when they lead the song “You’re the God of the City.” I’ve always loved the lyrics to that song, but it took on a whole new meaning in that context.
You’re the God of the city
You’re the King of these people
You’re the Lord of this nation
You’re the light in this darkness
You’re the hope to the hopeless
You’re the peace to the restless
For greater things are yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this city
Greater things are still to be done and many of them will be thanks to the good folks at the Green St. Church of Christ. May God bless their work.