Feb. 7, 2005
|A UMNS photo by Linda S. Rhodes
The Rev. Robert Sathuri gives lunch to a homeless man in downtown Houston.
By Linda S. Rhodes*
(UMNS)—Inspired to action, some United Methodists in town for a
conference on creating healthy congregations left their plush hotel,
walked to a fast-food restaurant and bought 400 meals for a group of
homeless people living under an expressway overpass.
100 participants at the "Healthy Churches: Transforming the World"
conference were inspired by a hymn "Invitation" that, in part, says
"There are tables in our city filled with lavish food and drink. Many
dine there without pity, of the homeless never think."
visit to the overpass was the idea of the Rev. We Hyun Chang, pastor of
Wesley United Methodist Church in Concord, N.H., who said he had gone
to McDonald’s to get breakfast and saw the people living on the street.
was surprised by the disparity" between the fancy hotel where the
conference was and the stark surroundings under the overpass, Chang
said. "I wanted to do something rather than just talk about it."
1,300 local church and conference leaders from across the United States
met Jan. 27-30 to learn more about creating and maintaining healthy
congregations. The United Methodist Board of Discipleship sponsored the
said he was spurred to action when he heard the opening night speaker,
the Rev. Leslie Griffiths, dean of the Wesley Chapel in London,
encourage United Methodists to continue John Wesley’s work on social
justice issues. And when he read the hymn, "there was no way that I
wasn’t going to do something," Chang said.
First, the church
members descended on a nearby McDonald’s restaurant where they spent at
least $2,000 buying more than 400 meals. Then they went out into the
street to share their lunches.
|A UMNS photo by Linda S. Rhodes
Homeless people were guests at a dinner and worship service for the �Healthy Churches� conference.
is wonderful," said Foster Riley who added that he had lived in several
missions and shelters before ending up under the expressway for two
days. "I think it made everybody’s day. It was a cloudy day. But you
came and brightened up our day. It was a good day for everybody."
distributing lunches, the United Methodists also issued invitations to
come to dinner and worship that night at the Hilton of the Americas in
Are you serious?" several of the homeless asked, expressing amazement
that they were being invited to dinner. But despite their incredulity,
they came – about 100 of them.
And the United Methodists weren’t sure who benefited the most from the experience.
was really wonderful to have at my table one of those honored guests
who was living under the expressway," said the Rev. Robert Sathuri,
pastor of Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Polo, Ill. "To go bring
the communion bread and cup and receive communion from him, Steven, it
was a fantastic, fantastic experience for my wife and I. I felt that we
made room for Jesus at the table, and Jesus broke bread with us."
Rev. Charles Emery, pastor of Calvary United Methodist Church in Villa
Park, Ill., expressed pleasure that there was so much interaction
between those who came as guests to the banquet and those who were
attending the conference.
wasn’t like they (the homeless guests) were sitting off in the corner,"
Emery said. "There was a true genuine sense of respect and openness
toward each other which I thought was very hopeful."
big concern was that it not be too condescending to them," said Joyce
Fieldstad, member of Warren United Methodist Church in Warren, Ill. "I
went not knowing what to expect, but I was pleased with the result. They
seemed very respectful to all of us. I really think they accepted us
for what we were doing. I think they were very grateful and were very
accepting of it."
said, "Some of us are suggesting that maybe we should make every United
Methodist event a kingdom event, and not just open the doors, but also
open the table."
*Rhodes is director of communications for the Northern Illinois Annual Conference.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.