I was awake at 1:16am because I was chilly and conveniently adjusted the thermostat from my phone. Might as well get up and use the bathroom – walking 20 short steps to relieve myself on a warm toilet seat. Back to sleep! Or not… By 2:12am, I was wide awake – my mind whirling and planning for The Warming Shelter that will be opening over Christmas weekend. The Warming Shelter is an emergency, overnight, “pop-up” shelter that opens on Wilmington’s coldest nights to offer anyone experiencing homelessness warmth, comfort and safety.
Confession: my first response to the weather forecast was about me. As an organizer of the effort, this Christmas is looking a bit different than I had planned. A trip to Pennsylvania to see my family might be postponed for a few days or maybe a few weeks. On Christmas Eve, I anticipate I’ll be sleeping on a cot in the basement of an old church with about 60 other people (and a lot of loud snoring). But despite myself, the message is clear – poverty doesn’t pause because it’s Christmas, and sometimes the work we are called to do for God doesn’t get to set the away message and go on vacation.
There is lots to do to prepare for this undertaking. The shelter is 100% volunteer staffed and operated by a collaborative of local churches, non-profits, and concerned citizens. There are supplies to gather, meals to plan, shopping to be done and people to schedule (sounds a bit like the last minute push at the “North Pole”!). Yet our gift is not toys and delights, but rather a life-saving response to people who are in need.
This year, I expect there will be more people to shelter as locally our numbers of unhoused persons has visibly grown. We’ll squeeze in as many people as we can to make room. After eating a huge hot supper with desert, we’ll have pizza delivered at 9pm, watch movies, comfort and converse. With a bit of trepidation, we’ll work out the sharing of ONE bathroom (with ONE toilet) and maybe even manage to get a few hours of sleep. In the morning, we’ll make lots of hot coffee, wiping the sleep from our eyes – the smell of bacon wafting up from the kitchen. It sounds just like home on a cozy, Christmas morning, doesn’t it?
Perhaps forgotten for a few moments with the gift of normalcy and the ordinary, the issues of poverty and homelessness are not forgotten and will be a reality once again and soon enough. Our effort is only triage. A small step working toward the redemption of the human race and the alleviation of suffering. Remembering what I just heard in church that “not one can attain liberty until all have obtained liberty,” my prayer this morning is that God would help us to see, hear and respond to the needs of those whom we will be receiving during this cold spell. That we would host our neighbors with a joyful heart, a positive attitude, fresh energy, and patience tolerance. That the life of Jesus, breaking into the world, would birth a renewed spirit within all of us. That our happenstance created-community this Christmas holiday, would sing the light and love of an incarnated God who longs to be close to us. May we feel that nearness. May it be done on earth. May it be so. Amen.