The Church of the Reconciler in downtown Birmingham is a multicultural, multiracial United Methodist congregation that has an active ministry with Birmingham’s homeless population.
On Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010, leaders from the Church of the Reconciler held a press conference to announce a memorial service for two homeless people who have died in Birmingham in the last few weeks. They also called attention to the growing homeless population in Birmingham and urged city officials and local citizens to respond.
The memorial service will be Thursday, February 11, at 10:30 a.m. at the Church of the Reconciler. During the service those gathered will remember Jimmy Smith, who died in his van on 2nd Ave. North near Church of the Reconciler on Saturday, February 6, 2010, and Lisa Coburn, a homeless woman who died sleeping in the cold of pneumonia 17 days earlier. The public is invited to attend this service.
Below is a statement from Rev. Dr. Kevin Higgs, Senior Pastor Church of the Reconciler, delivered at the press conference:
In the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the story of the Homeless Man Lazarus, who lays dying outside the gate of the rich man who does not seem to notice, who does not seem to care.
Today, we grieve the deaths of those who have taken Lazarus’ place here in Birmingham, Alabama.
Ms. Lisa Coburn, 51 years old, died of pneumonia in the cold of the night in a homeless camp near Sloss Furnace on January 19. Mr. Jimmy Smith, 71 years old died of exposure in freezing temperatures, on February 6th, as he slept in his van on the corner of 2nd Ave. & 14th Street, across the street from this church.
These are two deaths of homeless people THAT WE KNOW ABOUT in this city because these beloved friends ate from our table, shared from our clothes closet, worshiped at this church, and fellowshipped with us as friends. We will hold a Memorial Service to honor them this Thursday, Feb. 11th at 10:30 AM. We invite you to come.
These two are not the only ones. I am confident that there are other homeless people, unnamed and unknown to us here, who have died this year in the cold of Birmingham.
There are hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of homeless people in downtown Birmingham. There are thousands upon thousands of homeless in Jefferson County.
The shelters in downtown Birmingham have only half the space needed to shelter the homeless from the cold. Hundreds upon hundreds of homeless people live in abandoned homes, warehouses, and camps throughout the city, with no heat, and inadequate provisions for the cold.
How many more must die before we respond?
Over and again, Lazarus lies dying at the gate! Does this City have the spirituality to respond? Over and again, I hear of powerful and privileged people, with their friends and politicians sponsoring “Prayer Breakfasts” or “Spiritual Retreats” where we, in the words of Jesus “feast sumptuously in fine linens” and talk about our ‘personal relationship with God’ while Lazarus lies dying at the gate. We walk on by… we look the other way… we do not stop to do the healing work we must do.
Our city must wake up to homelessness. Our city must begin to understand homelessness. Our government must begin to respond to homelessness.
The previous administration in this city did nothing to respond to homelessness.
They had quite a number of “Prayer Breakfasts” or “Bible Studies”… but they did not see or care about Lazarus at the gate.
But today, we have hope that the new Administration will see and respond.
Mayor William Bell can begin anew to bring this City into Right Relationship with thousands of homeless who walk the streets.
There is still a TEN YEAR PLAN TO END CHRONIC HOMLESSNESS.
It’s been four years since it was written by a committee formed by this City… but little more than nothing has been done to put it in place.
We have called this Press Conference to publicly ask Mayor Bell to meet with the leadership of the Coalition of the Homeless, who meet at Church of the Reconciler every Friday at 10:30 AM, to discuss the life and death issues faced by the homeless every day in this city. Together we can finally begin to implement the “Ten Year Plan” as it needs to be.
And to the entire Metro Area of Birmingham: Please open your eyes to the reality of homelessness. If you want to see their faces, go to our web site: WWW.PRAYFORTHEHOMELESS.ORG. There you will see the faces and read the stories of some of the homeless who are a part of Church of the Reconciler.
The overwhelming majority of the 1.2 million people who live in this metro area are so bold to call ourselves Christian. We worship at churches, we pray to God daily. I beg you to open your eyes and see Lazarus dying at the gate. I ask all of you who call yourselves Christian to turn to the 16th Chapter of Luke and READ the story Jesus tells of Lazarus and the Rich Man, and meditate upon its meaning in your life.
Rev. Dr. Kevin Higgs
Church of the Reconciler