[Hpn] Pastor Inspires Congregation To Help Homeless

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 10 Jun 2005 08:31:03 -0400


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Beaver Dams pastor inspires congregation to help homeless

John P. Cleary

June 10, 2005

The Rev. Grant Nicholls, pastor of the Beaver Dams United Methodist Church,
didn't know what to do with the money.

Last winter, a few days before he left for a conference of pastors in
Houston, a congregation member slipped him some cash and asked him to use it
as he saw fit.

He took it with him to Houston. One day, Nicholls slipped away from the
hotel where the conference was held to stretch his legs.

"I was in search of a good, affordable cup of coffee," he said. "And
McDonald's is usually the safe port in any storm."

To get to the nearby McDonald's, Nicholls had to walk through the kind of
place most of us would have avoided when visiting a big city.

"You had to walk underneath the elevated expressway," he said. "That took
you through the center of a really large homeless community."

Nicholls has lived and worked in big cities. He's seen that kind of
makeshift housing development before. This time, though, it tugged at his
heart.

Later at the conference, another pastor suggested that participants join him
in buying their lunch at McDonald's, then buying an extra lunch to share
with someone at the homeless camp.

"I thought, that's what I've been waiting for," he said. "That's what I'm
supposed to do with that money.

"We had a group of over 100 pastors that went in a group to McDonald's," he
said. "I mean, by the time we got going, we had a line down the block."

They warned the McDonald's manager, who opened up a separate line for the
pastors.

"We served well over 500 hamburger or cheeseburger meals," Nicholls said.

Sharing lunch with the homeless, Nicholls got to hear some of their stories.
These were not people who didn't want to work, he said, or drug addicts or
the mentally ill. He said they were people who, for whatever reason, had
slipped to the very bottom of the economic ladder.

"It was really a very moving experience," he said. "One of the young men I
had lunch with was originally from Dundee. He's been homeless seven or eight
years. He went down there to work on a shrimp boat, and he did that,
seasonally, but in the offseason he was homeless."

Nicholls brought those stories back with him to his congregation in Beaver
Dams.

"Their first reaction was, what can we do?" he said. "There are homeless
people right in our own area here, and with very, very limited shelter
facilities."

To get a taste of what the homeless face, some of the young people from the
church - and a few adults - will erect a cardboard village today in the
church parking lot. They will sleep on the ground and eat only what they can
beg from passers-by, Nicholls said.

Participants have solicited donations and pledges. Money raised will be
divided among area shelters and agencies that help the homeless, Nicholls
said.

The church is hosting a chicken barbecue fund-raiser Saturday, but the
cardboard city residents won't be eating there unless generous visitors buy
them meals.

"We're only going to eat what we can beg or hustle from others," Nicholls
said.

He hopes the youth learn lessons of compassion from the project and come to
be thankful for the things they have.

"Maybe by experiencing a night like this, our young people will appreciate
better what they do have and what it takes to get that," Nicholls said.

The chicken barbecue is planned for noon. A dinner costs $7. The church is
at 1285 County Route 19 in Beaver Dams. To make a donation to the homeless
project, visit
www.beaverdamsumc.org.

John P. Cleary is a staff writer for the Star-Gazette. Neighbors runs daily
on this page.









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