Thursday, December 25, 2014

Finding a Room in the Inn

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ –Matthew 25: 35-40

Back in February of this year, there was an unexpected controversy around the installation of a sculpture by Canadian artist Tim Schmalz called ‘Homeless Jesus’.

The piece was placed in front of St Albans Episcopal Church in Davidson.   Unfortunately, it also made the news across the country and internationally with the unfortunate tag line of “somebody called the cops on Jesus” when someone phoned the police after mistaking the statue for a real homeless person.

While the vast majority of local comments were supportive of the statue, not everyone thought it was appropriate.  Some did not like the location.  Others said they did not like the idea of Jesus being portrayed as vulnerable or needy.

Many supporters said it made them think more about the homeless, or that it was a good conversation starter on a subject that too often gets pushed into the shadows.  Particularly here in North Mecklenburg where there may be fewer visible occurrences of homelessness to remind people on a regular basis, the statue certainly could serve that purpose.

However, the real value in that sculpture would be realized if it inspired people to actually do something rather than just talk about its artistic or religious merits.

On this Christmas Day, readers should know they have the opportunity to do just that by volunteering for the Room In the Inn program run through Urban Ministries in in Uptown Charlotte.

Room in the Inn (RITI) recently started up its annual program to provide shelter during the winter months for those in need.  Through this program, houses of worship and other organizations open their facilities for the night and provide a warm place to sleep along with three meals (dinner, breakfast, and a bag lunch).  “Neighbors” as the guests are called can get a hot shower and pick up things like extra toiletries if needed.

A night at a RITI facility provides a much needed respite from the street, and unfortunately there is too much need for these services.  Last winter nearly 1500 different people took advantage of the program.

To pull off that kind of effort is no small feet.  A single night at a single facility takes many volunteers - drivers to and from the Urban Ministry Center, people to setup, people to bring dinner, one or two volunteers to spend the night with the neighbors, and people to help with early morning breakfast preparation and cleanup.

It could take as many as a dozen different people to get it all done.

Most facilities who participate in RITI are only able to do a few nights a week – at most.  Some may only be able to do one or two.  However, it is cold every night during the winter.

One big reason more nights cannot be offered is that it takes a lot of people to fill all those volunteer spots.

In Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson there are fifteen different organizations participating in Room in the Inn.  If you are looking to do something different in the coming year, seek out one of those groups and offer to help this winter.

Even if it is once a month or only once or twice a year, that can make a real difference.  If enough people were to do just that much, more of those facilities that have the space available might be able to do more nights.

Unlike Mary and Joseph who were having trouble finding a place to stay on that first Christmas Eve, more people who need it would then be able to find a Room in the Inn.

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