Code Blue Shelter – You are invited to Volunteer

Almost every night since January 2 the Atrium and Gymnasium here at BMPC have been used to shelter men sleeping outside in our community on these cold nights of the winter. For them it is a much-needed relief from the stress of sleeping in the elements, of navigating spaces where they are not welcome, and simply a respite from the dangers of being outside in the cold.

The question for us to consider is what means for us as a community to take on a new yet vital mission as a congregation.

I grew up in a church in Pittsburgh where a whole section of the gothic building, originally called the Wayfarers Chapel, was converted in the 1980s to a men’s night shelter. While my father can tell me stories of assisting the pastor in leading their early Sunday morning service in that Chapel as a young elder, I never knew the room as a space for worship – only a space of shelter. Above the doorway to the chapel was a stone relief carving of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It was somehow prescient that the 1930’s architects and artists chose that theme for the chapel not ever imagining that fifty years later the neighborhood and the focus of the church and eventually the use of that space would change so dramatically.

But for me, it was formative as a child and teenager to know that our doors were open to the unhoused in our church neighborhood. Sometimes it meant that we met and greeted them on our way into church as they hung out in the block around the building. Sometimes it meant Sunday nights at youth group cooking and serving the men dinner as a service project. Sometimes it meant attending the 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning service we hosted in the dining room next to the shelter where local pastors would rotate through as preachers. In all those moments the choices that the church made in that generation helped to teach me what it means to be a welcoming and hospitable Christian community.

Here at BMPC, a lot of different folks from the community spend time in our church gym. From yoga classes to Parkinson's exercise, from Boy Scouts to the Baldwin basketball team. Already the community at large (or at least a portion of our community) knows that they are welcome in our space. But there is something even more significant about using our space as a shelter.

The very first Friday that we were open, the shelter set up and the Baldwin girls' practice intersected, and instead of being a conflict of space, it became an opportunity for the girls' team to learn about what we are doing and pitch in with set up. One of those girls is one of our own BMPC middle schoolers, who went home that afternoon to joyfully share with her parents that she learned about the shelter and even got to help set it up.

When I chatted with the student that following Sunday, it is not an exaggeration to say that she is excited to know and to understand how her church is helping the most vulnerable in the community. Her sense of pride in this and sense of commitment to pitching in where she can was a helpful reminder to me of how growing up in a church with a shelter shaped my understanding of what it means to be church as well. My hope is that embarking on a project like this is about shaping all of us as people of faith, teaching all of us what it means to welcome the neighbor and the stranger into our building.

We continue to invite anyone interested in volunteering to staff the shelter in January, and as it rotates to two other congregations this winter, to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more details about how you can be a part of this project. It takes all of us working together to become the church and the people that God is calling us to be. I hope that you will join us in this work.