At our meeting on November 19, the session decided to permanently end our Wednesday lunch program and pursue other ways to address the needs of Nashville’s homeless and urban poor population. It was a difficult decision that came after many weeks of meetings, research and prayer.
You’ll recall that back in August we had an incident of violence that precipitated suspending the program and forced us to look clearly at how the meal was being administered. Beyond our inability to provide adequate security for our guests there were other troubling issues, including:
- over-occupancy of Fellowship Hall. To assure everyone’s safety and comfort, we should have no more than 150 guests, plus volunteers and staff, in the room at any one time. But we were regularly exceeding that, often by 100 or more.
- overburdening of our bathroom facilities. While our bathrooms are adequate for events like worship services or even concerts, they are not designed for the needs of a population that uses them for personal hygiene, changing clothes, and other activities for which the rooms are not appropriate.
- the security of our porous building. We regularly found lunch guests in parts of the church they should not be.
- administration. For several years our building manager, Paulino Jarquin, has been responsible, either directly or as a supervisor, for every aspect of the meal from food procurement and preparation to volunteer recruitment and coordination, cleanup and more. He had no assistance and no backup. This huge responsibility has never been part of his official job yet was taking between 10 and 12 hours a week. We are immensely grateful that Paulino so willingly allowed this work to accrue to him. But it was also becoming clear that the job was getting to be too much for one person and that simply allowing Paulino to continue was not in his or the church’s best interests.
Other issues external to DPC also factored into the decision. These include the significant increase in the number of homeless people in Nashville, increases in violence at other facilities serving the homeless (McKendree Methodist ended their two weekly meals because of violence), the pressures felt by the increased construction downtown, and increased abuse and vandalism of our property.
It’s also fair to say that the direct involvement by members of DPC was minimal. The plurality of our regular volunteers were from Holy Family Roman Catholic in Brentwood along with a dedicated handful of non-member friends. Of course it’s understandable that volunteering for a weekday downtown ministry would be difficult or impossible for people who work or who live far from the church.
With all of these considerations, there was no foreseeable way for DPC alone to address every single issue in an efficient, effective, and long-lasting way. And while we did explore the possibility of partnering with other organizations and churches, those efforts were unsuccessful.
There are other ways – in addition to our successful Saturday breakfast program – to serve the homeless community in ways that continue to serve basic human needs and ways that also might address root causes and provide long-term solutions. And the session and other leaders will be exploring those options.
And there other Wednesday lunch opportunities including Loaves and Fishes in East Nashville, The Nashville Rescue Mission campuses and The Nashville Food Project on 12th Ave. South. Room in the Inn is also serving Wednesday lunch once a month and, by year’s end, will be serving weekly.
Right now we should celebrate the fact that for a long time DPC was able to provide a significant service to an overlooked population. There is no shame in conceding that circumstances within and outside of the church make that service difficult or impossible. Nashville is changing rapidly, perhaps more quickly than we can comprehend, but with God’s guidance we will discover new ways to participate in the revelation of God’s realm on our corner.
Finally, we want to thank everyone who, for years, has made the meal possible. Paulino, especially, and also a host of members and friends who took time out of their week – some every week – to come to downtown Nashville for our meal. We are so grateful for your commitment and service!
Yours in Christ,
The Session of DPC
Rev. Mike Wilson, Pastor
Ruling elders Claire Armbruster, Michael Arwood, Tom Byl, Chuck Cardona, Cary Gibson, Jack Henderson, Michael Korak, Justin Near and Ridley Wills III