Central Outreach and Advocacy Center | centraloac.org
The Central OAC works in partnership with individuals and families to assist them in avoiding or overcoming homelessness and to advocate on their behalf.
Central Night Shelter | Central Night Shelter
The Central Night Shelter is a volunteer governed shelter open seven nights a week, beginning at 7 p.m., from November 1 to March 31. Find more information at their dedicated website on our website.
Presbyterians for a Better Georgia | p4bg.org
PBG is also committed to alleviating and eradicating homelessness. It works with congregations and the government to understand the impact of homelessness and to advocate for people who are experiencing homelessness.
Sunday Coffee Hospitality
What is Courtyard Hospitality?
We began serving fresh bread with coffee in the courtyard about several years ago. It seems like a natural extension for our hospitality, and for me the reason is simple, it represents an extension of the table from our sanctuary to the world nearest to us, the homeless who find refuge in the shelter of the church.
The table is really central to our worship as we display the symbols of the meal every Sunday. And the meal is the remembrance of reconciliation and grace which meets all of us in our brokenness. A recent story in the Memphis Flyer told of a woman taken into custody on the steps of Idlewild Presbyterian Church. The story told of her being mocked and ridiculed for sweeping the steps, while also not wearing any clothes.
Here is a lightly edited version of Rev. Stephen R. Montgomery’s response:
I will explain it quite simply: mental illness, alcoholism, homelessness. And she has a name. Her name is Marilyn.
At Idlewild, we have loved her, fed her, counseled with her, tried to refer her for some help, cautioned her, and have even had to use “tough love” at times. For we dare to believe that beneath all that brokenness is a beloved child of God.
It was disheartening, even shameful at times, to hear the ridicule and the laughter that this evoked, for it is not funny. The homeless and the mentally ill are the lepers of our day, and they are ignored at best, scapegoated and abused by a narcissistic culture at worst.
Jesus was as clear as day toward the end of his life when he told a parable about what was truly important. “When did we see you hungry…or naked?” Today I hear him asking “When did we see you mentally ill and homeless? As you did it unto the least of these, our brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”
For we are all broken in one way or the other. Some are able, with our privilege, to hide it better than others. That is why we extend the table to our neighbors in the courtyard and meet them on their terms. We serve hot coffee, cold water, cream in china pitchers and a hardy version of fresh homemade cinnamon raisin bread. Our neighbors gather as friends, seated in groups around the courtyard in a safe place to talk about sports, politics, religion and what is going on where they live out their daily lives. We have learned each others stories, ones that can only be shared in a safe place, and so often it ends “thank you, God bless you, no one else treats us like this, can I take some extra bread for later?”
We are not solving homelessness through this courtyard hospitality, but we are serving our brothers and sisters when we extend the table to where they are in a daily struggle of survival on the streets; manifesting God’s humanity to the least of these and sharing brokenness before the gift of reconciliation and grace, amazing grace.
Written by Cal Engstrom
Cal is a member of the Local Missions Committee and a member at CPC
Don Hayes used to question his late wife, Julia, about why she felt it necessary to get up before dawn on Sunday morning to bake biscuits for Central’s courtyard ministry. Why did the two of them then need to drive 40 miles from Buford to Atlanta to serve the still-warm biscuits to the folks who gather for coffee, baked goods, and fellowship? Julia, he recounts, would flash her beautiful smile and say, “But, Don… Jesus might be there.”
Julia is gone, but Don is still making and transporting biscuits on Sunday mornings. Some of us bake loaves of bread or bring other treats to the Central courtyard for this ministry and some simply mingle and converse with the visiting men, women, and children.
The faithful commitment of Kathleen and Cal Engstrom has nourished this ministry of hospitality for nearly three years. They define its goal in simple terms: to create a peaceful, welcoming place for neighbors whose lives are marked by all too much rejection and personal hardship. It seems to be working, and one of the most powerful signs is that many of us know each other by name.
As we do our work, who knows? Perhaps we are meeting Jesus, the brother or sister whom he described as someone to whom we show kindness and mercy.
– Martin Lehfeldt