In my 20 years working in the Church, I used to always look forward to January and February. Specifically, the time between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday represented a slower time in the church, ordinary time, if you will, in a vocation that each day presents as anything but ordinary. I love my work especially because every single day is different–one never knows what each day holds, who will call, what will happen, where God’s handiwork will be revealed. But after the marathon of Advent and Christmas, “ordinary” sounds very, very good. The rhythm of looking forward to the “ordinary” has helped me give my best during Advent and Christmas–knowing that rest would come after Epiphany.
I enjoyed this sense of “ordinary” down-time in my work until 3 years ago when we opened a winter emergency Overflow Shelter at St.Timothy’s. This past weekend, Epiphany came and went, along with our first big winter storm of the year (and hopefully the only one!). I’ve been battling a bad cold for the past two weeks and have longed for a day to stay home in my pajamas, sleep in, and feel better. With the storm coming and making frantic plans to keep our guests safe–I secretly prayed for a snow day–to be snowed in so I could rest. While my family was “snowed-in” on Saturday, I spent much of the day on the phone with homeless guests hearing how they had no place safe to stay warm. We worked to make plans to get the guests shuttled from downtown to St.Tim’s on Saturday night, and to keep them at St.Tim’s through the day on Sunday.
Sunday morning I showed up to Drake Hall ready for a marathon shift of keeping our guests warm, happy, and safe. I anticipated lots of anxiety from changing up their regular routine, but instead found our guests breathing a big sigh of relief. Sunday was the first day of only God knows how many days that our guests weren’t worried about where they would be during the day. The daily worries of “will I be safe?”, “will I be welcomed?”, ” how long can I stay until I’m told to move on?”, “where do I go next?”, “is there room for me here?”, “what if he finds me?”–those worries and more got to take a day off. This past Sunday and Monday, we kept our shelter open all day. Our women were “snowed-in” at “home.”
One of our guests shared with me that Sunday was the first day in years that she was able to relax in her pajamas all day long.
The guests were almost giddy at things we take for granted–all day access to a restroom, wifi, movies and Netflix, coffee all day, welcome and a place to be. Wonderful volunteers came together on a moment’s notice and made time and space in their own snow days to make this happen.
Spending time with our guests while they are relaxed, well-rested, and enjoying life is indeed a gift. Laughing with our guests, playing games, even sharing Godly Play stories with them while they have lowered their survival defenses–these are holy moments. While I wish we could make “snow days” possible for them everyday–we don’t have the energy or volunteers to run a 24/7 shelter for the long haul. Our two-day sheltering speaks to the real needs to have safe and welcoming spaces for our homeless guests to be during the daytime in our city.
Our guests need a place where they are always welcome, where they can relax and be known at their best (and their worst–just as they are), where they can work on their hopes and dreams with people who can hope and dream with them.
Be careful what you pray for. Thanks to our overflow shelter guests–“snowed in” takes on a new meaning this Epiphany. No more ordinary time for me, or St.Tim’s–God has transformed our time into something extraordinary and new each day. Thanks be to God!
If you missed out on the marathon sheltering weekend–there are still plenty of ways to serve our guests this Overflow Season.
Come and be a part of the extraordinary ways God is at work,
Katie Bryant, Minister of Children and Outreach at St.Timothy’s Episcopal Church