Every other week, Connie Berry reports on the news, events, and people at Martha’s Vineyard’s various places of worship. Even though we’ve been enjoying a pretty mild winter (so far) here on the Island, there are still folks who have no place to go during the daytime hours on those wet and chilly days. Maybe they sleep on a couch at a friend’s house at night, or in someone’s basement or garage. Some may sleep on a boat, still a chilly place to lie down for the night. Whatever the reason, they have limited opportunities to stay in one place. Island houses of worship are stepping up again to provide a warm haven in the middle of the day.
At Good Shepherd Parish Center in Oak Bluffs, Father Mike Nagle has opened the doors with hospitality, providing a place to come in from the cold and enjoy a hot cup of coffee and some conversation Monday through Friday from noon to 2 pm downstairs at the parish center. I stopped by last Thursday, and was happy to visit with Les and Betsy Holcomb, volunteers who help man the warming center. The couple are parishioners of Grace Church in Vineyard Haven, and devoted volunteers for Island Clergy homeless initiatives. Les was happy to show me around the place, obviously thrilled that Father Nagle was generous enough to let him host the warming center there.
“I never dreamt we’d have this space,” Les said as he pointed out the small kitchen that includes a washer and dryer, a godsend for those who don’t have regular access to laundering their clothes. He also showed me the small shower where folks can clean up if they’d like.
In another room, boxes and boxes of macaroni and cheese, applesauce, and other canned goods are stacked. There are a couple of long tables in the middle of the room, covered with small backpacks that have been filled with enough food for a weekend. Les heads up a pilot program that provides food for 20 students at the high school and 20 at the elementary level.
Volunteers pack the kid-friendly foods, and they are delivered on Fridays, so the students can take extra food home for the weekend. Les said more food is provided during holiday school breaks.
“People on SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) run out of food at the end of the month,” Les said. He said there are many volunteers on the Island who help with both food programs and with the Island’s winter shelter program, Houses of Grace. The idea of a warming center expands on those other programs.
“This allows space for people to sit, to be in one place in quiet surroundings,” Les said. “Father Nagle couldn’t have designed anything better than this. They really just need a place to rest their heads.”
The warming center has some overstuffed furniture, and tables and chairs. There’s also a fair amount of gym equipment that can be put to good use.
“There’s this thing in the Bible that says the foxes have their holes, the birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head. That’s what this is to me,” Les said.
I emailed Father Nagle to ask what he thinks of the warming center. He wrote, “We are very happy that we are able to share our space at the parish center on School Street in Oak Bluffs to keep folks warm and get them some food and drink. It is an essential part of our ministry, and is going well.”
In rounding up some of great opportunities the Island has for breaking bread and sharing hospitality, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Father Chip Seadale at St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown keeps his doors open to anyone needing a warm place to be on a cold afternoon, or morning for that matter.
Island Community Suppers:
Sundays: Federated Church, 45 South Summer Street, Edgartown, lasagna lunch, 12:30 pm to 2 pm.
Mondays: St. Andrew’s Church, corner of Summer and Winter Streets, Edgartown, 5:30 pm.
Tuesdays: Chilmark Community Church, 9 Menemsha Crossroad, Chilmark, 5:30 pm.
Wednesdays: West Tisbury First Congregational Church, State Road, West Tisbury, 5:30 pm.
Thursdays: St. Augustine’s Church, Franklin Street, Vineyard Haven, 5:30 pm.
Fridays: Grace Episcopal Church, hosted at First Baptist Church, William and Spring Streets, 5:30 pm.
Saturdays: Trinity Parish House, hosted by the United Methodist Church, across from the Tabernacle, Oak Bluffs, 5:30 pm.
A few people told me they appreciated my column last week, explaining my own spiritual journey. One reader pointed out that the Roman Catholic Church has come a long way since the clergy abuse scandal hit 15 years ago, and the Fall River diocese, which Martha’s Vineyard is a part of, has a “zero tolerance” policy in place. The reader wrote that these days, a complete list of rules that are in place for the protection of children is available at any Catholic church.
Out of curiosity, I asked for an update from my old boss at the Syracuse diocese, and she told me that more than 35,000 people have been trained in the protection of children, and have had criminal background checks, since they implemented their program in 2003. Good information to report!
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