Our transition from earth to our heavenly home is an intimate, personal and vulnerable time. Many of us prefer to be in a peaceful setting, surrounded by family and our closest friends, as we pass from this world to the next.
But for those at the end of their life who are homeless or do not have a safe or dependable support system, this can be a time of uncertainty, struggle and discomfort.
With this in mind, one group of United Methodists in the Rock Hill District have stepped up to offer a place where people can receive both hospice care and the love of Christ.
Bethel United Methodist Church is a part of the South Carolina Annual Conference.
Bethel member Connie Cochrane, Friendship member Donna Williams, Mary Newlin, Elena Eckert and Becky Moon form the nascent board of Mercy House, which began out of the church’s longtime overnight shelter for homeless men, and now its additional day shelter for homeless men and women.
Williams and Cochrane have volunteered with Bethel Shelters for years and over the years, several of the homeless men they have grown close with have passed away. They created a memory board recently to honor some of these men, and Williams said this got them thinking: Is anybody going to be with these others when they die?
Several of the shelter volunteers began praying about a ministry and talking with area hospice agencies, and they discovered that when someone is at the end of their life or facing a serious health situation and needs hospice or recuperative care, if they do not have a permanent address, they cannot access certain benefits to ease their transition.
Soon they learned Bethel’s pastor, the Rev. Emily Sutton, was moving out of the parsonage into a home she and her family purchased, so Mercy House formed and approached the church, seeking to use the space. The ministry is using the space free of charge, except for utilities and insurance, and is available to the organization on a year-to-year basis because of the itinerate system of the UMC.
“Now, not only do we shelter homeless people and serve as the Epworth Children’s Home foster care site for the district, but we also have a partnership with Mercy House,” Sutton said.
Cochrane said one man they cared for before Mercy House formed was legally blind, he had two strokes and no family nearby, and he ended up alone in the hospital when they finally learned about his situation. Others have fallen and died outside near the railroad tracks.
“They pass away alone,” Cochrane said, something that feels wrong if Bethel can do something about it.
Cochrane said the faith community in their area is strong, and she’s confident they will see a phenomenal response from area volunteers.
Williams agreed, noting they are hoping sharing their story can inspire other congregations to consider new ways they can help their communities. She said Mercy House is based on the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10:34-36 about how the man who showed mercy was the one who served as a true neighbor.
excerpt from a story by Jessica Brodie, Communicator, South Carolina Annual Conference
This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.