The Church of the Reconciler made the evening news report on Sunday September 8, 2013. This should not be shocking to anyone involved with our ministry. We work with people on the margins of society we frequently encounter addiction, violence and emotional issues, and brokenness. And so this past Sunday morning when a man with emotional issues lashed out at another in a violent way, the media came to report on it.
Before our Sunday morning worship service, an altercation between two hearing and speaking impaired men escalated to the point of potentially fatal violence (yet, because of this unique situation, our staff wasn’t able to hear raised voices to step in, because the men were not using their voices). As ambulances and police cars flooded the scene, local news stations dispatched their cameras to capture the aftermath. However, when violence entered our church something extraordinary happened: our community of homeless and low-income men and women stood up to the violence.
After the incident, it was community members that coaxed the weapon from the assailant, calmed him down, and waited with him until the police arrived. When the victim was bleeding from a stab wound, they applied pressure and stopped the bleeding. When all was said and done, our community cleaned everything to make our facility safe so that we could serve lunch on time. We are not embarrassed that this happened at our church. Rather we are thankful it occurred within a community that thinks beyond itself and cares for others. Our community’s men and women acted swiftly and enabled the assailant to be apprehended and the victim to receive medical care. Imagine if this had happened on the streets or in an alley, the news report might have been different. Instead, our community provided the best of all outcomes. That is impressive. That is newsworthy.
Our community of homeless and low-income men and women participate in newsworthy events all the time, but you probably do not hear about them. Just twenty-four hours before Sunday morning’s altercation, Birmingham’s Homeless Coalition offered a Homeless Summit at Church of the Reconciler. Men and women who have lived on the streets or in and out of shelters planned the event to educate others regarding the benefits of housing, their civil rights throughout the city, and available social services. The event hoped to change perceptions within the homeless and low-income communities by offering educational seminars. It was a remarkable example of homeless and low-income people not accepting their negative situation and designing a program to help other homeless and low-income people begin the journey from the streets to self-sufficiency. That is newsworthy.
Have you heard about Church of the Reconciler’s Shelter Care Plus Housing program? It works with the Jefferson County Housing Authority to provide housing vouchers to men and women with histories of substance abuse so that they can afford to rent privately owned housing and leave behind their addictions. Program clients provide six months of clean drug tests before they receive their housing vouchers. Clients also receive case management in order to facilitate their transition from the streets to self-sufficiency. Case managers help clients enter higher education or apply for jobs and most of our case managers come from our community. Our case managers are men and women from the community who have overcome unemployment and addiction to give others encouragement. And our program works. A former client, who worked their way from drugs tests to an apartment in our housing program, recently received a promotion at work. This housing program graduate was promoted to supervisor and now makes over $40,000 a year. Beating the odds and attaining self-sufficiency when you have been homeless and addicted to drugs is incredible. That is newsworthy.
Extraordinary, exciting, and interesting events regularly happen at Church of the Reconciler. Very seldom do they involve violence. You are just as safe at Church of the Reconciler as you are anywhere downtown. In fact, our community is committed to peacefully addressing violence and our homeless and low-income men and women work each day to create another world in downtown Birmingham. We saw that in action on Sunday September 8, 2013. Our community attempts to create a world that values the knowledge and skills that people already possess. Everyone is able to contribute at Church of the Reconciler. We give downtown residents hope in a world that seemingly refuses to employ and house them. The residents of downtown Birmingham that give of their own time to positively impact their community and teach others to persevere are the city’s biggest inspirations. Maybe we will see news stories about them very soon.