by Daniel Reese, Staff Writer
It’s the question I hear around the midnight hour as I stay awake on behalf of those in our city experiencing homelessness. Sandwiched between two officers she asks, “Is there room?” The words themselves signs of our time and symbols of our contemporary context, test the space even before her body enters the main room.
This question has haunted me from the beginning of my time at City With Dwellings. For those of you who do not know, City With Dwellings is a nonprofit in Winston Salem that has partnered with a network of churches and permanent shelters to provide temporary housing for those experiencing homelessness during the coldest months of the year. Every evening at 6:30 pm, volunteers from multiple denominations descend upon downtown Winston Salem to make space for those who need a safe place to lay their heads. Those who are unable to check in downtown or find themselves in need of assistance in the middle of the night, are escorted to one of three locations throughout the city, either by police escort or by a City With Dwellings staff member.
I can remember the first time I answered the door and heard those words. Admittedly, I was moved to the point of holding back tears. For the first time I was face to face with the reality of homelessness. Real people with nowhere to turn and no place to find something as fundamental to well-being as sleep. The reasons for being displaced vary from substance abuse, to mental illness, domestic abuse, to eviction as a result of limited education and/or access to resources. All with a thread of commonality, life. Life happening in strange and unexpected ways. Was this something of the same feeling and experience of Mary and Joseph as they searched out a space to host the incarnation of the Christ? Ironically, in the midst of the recent snow storm, one of our guests gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, confirming the need for places and spaces for people to show up and find what they need.
As I reflect on the current social, spiritual, and political landscape of the United States, I can’t help but hear the collective voice of those in the middle of life’s night asking the very same question, is there room? Quite frankly, the answer is always yes! It is what Jesus modeled time and again with every conversion and miracle. He was showing us how to interpret and respond with love to the unique and often inconvenient moments of life in time. The good news is this, the global body of Jesus followers have an opportunity to be that place! A community of lovers and loved ones who actualize faith, hope, and love.
As the next generation of faith leaders, you and I have the sacred task of making space and widening points of access for all who raise their voice in the dark hours of human history and ask, is there room? Currently, there are members of our learning community asking the same question. The novelty of Divinity school has worn off and the experience of what we think we need and what we actually need is in full effect. Theologies are being reshaped and informed by differing and sometimes uncomfortable perspectives and in the midst of it all, it can be become difficult to hear the actual need of the other.
It’s important to remember that each one of us is a part of the other’s spiritual and vocational formation. Daily, we have the opportunity to practice what we preach by listening for wisdom and affirming truth, and in that listening creating the space for each one of us to show up and find what we need.