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Church builds community for those experiencing homelessness

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Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, offers a number of ministries for its neighbors, including access to laundry, showers, computers and food as well as connection and friendship.

The ministry began because church members wanted to be more of a presence in its community. The congregation bought a large retail space across the street and opened the doors wide. The ministry started in early 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Volunteers quickly realized that people have a need for connection and belongs just as much as for the tangible services that Fig Tree provides.

Script

Katie McIlwain, Cokesbury United Methodist Church: “We never set out to be a homeless ministry in and of itself. What we really set out to do was to build community with folks and address the felt loneliness that we know is out there. Just opened up our doors as a church and got to know folks.

Marvin Morris: “I’ve been out here two years, living on the highway in my own truck.”

Sandra moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and started a new job 2 weeks before COVID shut everything down.

Sandra Brummett, Fig Tree Community Member: “I was stuck in my car, knew nobody, I didn’t have job.”

A new ministry called Fig Tree opened just before the pandemic.

Katie McIlwain, Cokesbury United Methodist Church: “What we’ve heard from people in the last year is that the showers, the food, the laundry, it’s all helpful. It keeps me going day to day. But why I keep coming back is that I feel safe here. I feel connected. You know my name.”

Linda Wilson, Cokesbury United Methodist Church: “We are ready to walk alongside them. It’s that same group of people and same volunteers week after week that are coming in and that community starts to develop.”

Sandra Brummett: “The atmosphere here is just love.”

Jesus said to Nathaniel, “I saw you under the fig tree.” Fig Tree is a place to be seen and known.

Marvin Morris, Fig Tree Community Member: “The camaraderie, just being able to sit and talk.”

Katie McIlwain: “We’ve gotten the questions of, are you getting people jobs and are you sobering people up? And I think those things happen but that’s not our goal. Our goal is really to let people know that they are created in the image of God and therefore, they are loved and your life matters.”

Fig tree is a place of healing and hope. A church member helped Sandra find housing. Volunteers say they come here to serve and find themselves blessed to be a part of this community.

Chris Low, Cokesbury United Methodist Church: “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come in here. Maybe I’ve had a bad day. I’ve had something going on in my life. Then, I’ll sit down and we’ll be talking with some of the folks in our community. My conversation with them will make me feel better, lift me up. You talk about a God thing. That’s a God thing because we’re all sort of here for each other leaning on each other. I promise you this, it’s very much a two way street here. It really is something that in a lot of different ways has changed my life.”

Learn more

Fig Tree offers visitors access to computers, internet, hot meals, showers, laundry facilities, and a food pantry, and a welcoming place to find someone to talk to. The Fig Tree website offers printable invitations that members can print and hand out. Find out more about Fig Tree at Cokesbury United Methodist Church.

Update to story: Sandra Brummett, who is featured in the story, moved into an apartment and found steady employment, thanks to Fig Tree connections. Marvin Morris, who also is featured in the video, joined the Cokesbury congregation.

This video was published January 18, 2022. 

Media contact is Joe Iovino; he can be reached by email