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Rock Hill warming center becomes year-round shelter for homeless men

Homeless men in one corner of South Carolina now have a place to stay year-round thanks to a group of United Methodists.

Since 2007, Bethel United Methodist Church, located in the South Carolina Annual Conference, has offered its facility as a safe and warm place for homeless men to stay during the coldest months of the year, mid-November to April 1. Called the Men's Warming Center, Bethel's shelter provides meals seven days a week, showers, underwear and socks, Christian fellowship and other things the men might need.

But a pointed question from one of their men became a catalyst for what God was steering them to do.

Now, as of April 1, the warming center is open all year.

"It's taken off," said Richard Murr, warming center committee chair. "Sometimes we're just moved to tears about what's happened. It's just overwhelming."

Murr and Bethel's pastor, the Rev. Emily Sutton, said they'd heard talk for some time about the need for a year-round shelter in Rock Hill, but for whatever reason, talk never progressed.

Then, in December, Murr had what he calls a life-changing conversation with one of their regular guests at the shelter, a blind man who used a walker.

"He asked me point blank, 'Why don't you do this year-round?' Not in an arrogant way, but I didn't have an answer, didn't have anything to say," Murr said.

A month later, the man had a heart attack at the shelter, then a series of strokes, and was on life support at the hospital.

"I understood: We were his family," Murr said.

That realization, along with their earlier conversation, hit him hard.

At the man's bedside the day before he died, Murr made a personal commitment that he would do all he could to figure out why they didn't have a year-round shelter and, if possible, do something to change that.

The Bethel team began to explore the possibility. When they visited the men's shelter in Charlotte, Murr saw they were doing most of the work at Bethel already—just only for four months a year. They put their heads together, rallied the needed support and, just like that, they launched.

"All the pieces came together so fast," Murr said.

Sutton said as soon as they decided to go year-round, their volunteer and financial base expanded. Support has poured in from church Sunday school classes, private individuals and many local businesses, all wanting to help.

"We don't believe in coincidences," Sutton said. "We believe in God's prevenient grace going before us."

The shelter is open from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven days a week. As of April, they had just received some additional bunk beds, bumping their capacity from 35 men to about 45, and they hope to increase capacity even more.

The warming center is funded through church and community donations, as well as grants from United Way of York County and other groups. Beyond funds, its biggest needs right now are volunteers to help provide meals, as well as socks and underwear for the men.

excerpt from a story by Jessica Brodie, writer and editor, 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.

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