Top 5 Things to Know When Hosting a Cold Weather Shelter

A cold weather shelter in Charlotte, NC  prepares sleeping mats for guests.

If your faith community is like mine then you know it’s that time of the year when we open the doors (and floors) of our churches, synagogues, and mosques to those who are in need of shelter from the arctic winter weather.  Many of the guests we (and you) are welcoming are without shelter most of the year and trying to get their lives back in order.  And beyond the stereotypes many cold weather shelters are housing families this time of year. Fathers with their children, mothers with newborns, and even grandparents caring for their grandchildren.

This is a time of year when many communities roll out the red carpet for those who they are welcoming into their building.  As you open your doors and prepare warm meals and sleeping quarters I thought I’d share 5 things you need to know when hosting a cold weather shelter.

1. Don’t Treat Them Like Lepers

leperThe people you are welcoming into your church are mocked, ridiculed, and treated like second class citizens most of the year.  They are modern day lepers.

They are people that many of us avoid when walking on the street or lie to when we say we don’t have any money to spare (as we walk into Starbucks to buy a $5 latte).

We read in Mark 5 that Jesus healed a leper.  He didn’t tell the man to first get a job, take a shower, and find some “decent clothing”.  God reached out and healed the man.

Let us do the same.  Let us reach out just like Christ to all of our guests and not ostracize or push them away just because of their circumstance.

2. Don’t Treat Them Like Criminals

They aren’t rapists, thieves or child molesters.  While some might have had run ins with the law in the past many are just looking for a warm & safe place to sleep.

Saying things like, “be careful walking through the church” or trying to limit your guests access to the church is just like saying, “we don’t trust you, be happy with what we’re giving you”.

Your guests need to experience the same love and grace we all experience at church.  Identifying them all as criminals is showing that love.

3. Stop Serving Pasta

no-pastaYour guests are being bused around most likely from church to church throughout the winter months.  They’ve endured every kind of casserole and pasta dish imaginable.

Remember these people are your guests.  And when you have a guest staying at your home for a week what do you serve them?  The same mushy over-cooked pasta? Or do you roll out the red carpet?

When Jesus was at the wedding feast and performed his first miracle, he didn’t serve up bad wine because he knew most of the guests would be too drunk to care.  He served the finest wine and when are serving others in Christ’s name we should be doing likewise (Just minus the wine, because the UMC would get mad if we served wine in church.  You’ve been warned).

4. Open Your Church

If you have a regular service or Bible study scheduled for a night you are hosting cold-weather guests, invite them to join you! Seriously, invite them.  Please don’t cancel them.

You’d be surprised how your faith will grow when you hear the Gospel read with the lens of someone who’s life hasn’t been as Norman Rockwell-y as yours.  If there is a weekly mid-week evening worship service invite your guests to join you. And for real, don’t just line your guests up in the back row of the sanctuary.  Don’t do it.

5. Share God’s Love With Them (and Listen Too)

CL_sharethegospel_331x221_233980963In a world where it’s hard to get people to walk through church doors and we want desperately to share the Good News of Christ’s love with the world it can seem like we often don’t get to share how God has worked in our lives with new people.  This is the perfect opportunity to share and hear the Good News.

Share your story but listen too.  Your guests will shock you with their understanding and reading of scripture.  We often write people off as not being able to share anything with the world and just being a “burden on society”.  This is your chance to show your guests that they are loved and cherished children of God.

This is just a short list.  It’s not complete and I am sure some of you will have something to add to it.  So go for it.  What would you add?  What has your experience been serving those who are some of the most vulnerable people in our communities?