From the Haywood Street Archives……
My journey at the Downtown Welcome Table began when my neighbor, Shelly Arnold, asked if I might be interested in volunteering to help with a community meal downtown. I believed this invitation was an answer to prayer, and definitely the Holy Spirit at work in my heart. I had been feeling a tug, a restlessness, to do something to reach out to help people in great need.
I felt God’s hand guiding this invitation and I eagerly accepted. I remember the first meal at the DWT. All of the faces, except for Shelly’s, were new to me. There were smiling volunteers and about 40 people from the community who showed up that day. I was assigned the job of greeting people and keeping count of the number of people who ate a meal.
Ten months later, I am still counting and greeting. One of the most amazing blessings has been getting to know people- their faces, their names, their stories. I feel genuine happiness to see them week after week, I worry when I haven’t seen someone in a while, I have a new awareness of the weather and how it might be affecting my friends, I often see familiar faces as I travel around Asheville-a reminder to me to pray for all of our friends from Haywood Street. I am so thankful for the gifts of awareness, understanding, gratitude, and the breaking down of the barriers of fear and discomfort.
One of the most powerful experiences I have had at the Downtown Welcome Table occurred a few weeks ago. One of my friends showed up after not coming for a while. He told me he had been in jail and that things in his life were pretty rough. He was a vet, had been homeless for a long time, and he was battling cancer. We chatted as he waited in line for his meal, and I asked if he might want to go to our worship service. He told me he hadn’t been in a church in 20 years. He didn’t seem interested, and he took his tray and went to eat in the dining room. A little later, I just happened to walk into the dining room and he stopped me as I went by his table. He started to share again about all of the difficulties he was experiencing in his life. I invited him, once again, to go up to the service, and this time he said he wanted to go. We walked outside the building to get to the sanctuary. As we walked along the building, my friend asked me, “Do you have a house?” I told him I did. He then said, “I’ll bet you have a car, too.” I told him I did. “You are blessed,” he said. His comments left me with a loss for words. I didn’t know how to respond to the huge disparity between our lives. As we continued to walk, I thought of how much I take for granted.
My friend and I entered the sanctuary where the service had already begun. He marched right up to the first pew and sat down. He marveled out loud at the huge organ. He kept repeating that it had been 20 years since he had been in a church. Watching my friend take in “church” after 20 years was very emotional for me. Not only was it his first time in a church in many years, this was my first opportunity to attend the worship service at Haywood Street. I looked around and saw people of all ages, from all walks of life, with different circumstances, all coming together to share Jesus and to be Jesus for each other. Brian preached about the tax collector and the Pharisee and many people shared their own personal thoughts about the gospel. There were prayers of praise and thanksgiving, accented with musical praise from various instruments. There was an emotional song written and sung by one of our DWT friends, a song she had written herself after God had brought her out of a very dark place. Her “soul-full” voice and song brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the struggles she faces each day. I watched as everyone in the church came forward to share bread at the table of the Lord. As the worship service ended, I felt so connected to everyone present. I felt so moved with love and compassion. I had a strong sense that this is really why we do what we do….so ALL, no matter what life circumstances, can come together to love and be loved. The physical food we provide at the DWT is important, but the unconditional love and acceptance we show each other is the heart of the Haywood Street Congregation. I pray that this is what my friend felt when he came to “church” that day.