ABHMS supports Delaware church’s involvement in community sheltering program

fc_CommunityShelterProgramServingFood_200wWhen a major snowstorm hit the East Coast the weekend of Jan. 22-24, causing 11 states from the Carolinas to New York to declare states of emergency, Calvary Baptist Church, Newark, Del., opened its doors to the homeless, thanks, in part, to a grant from American Baptist Churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware (ABCOPAD) as well as One Great Hour of Sharing funds distributed through American Baptist Home Mission Societies’ (ABHMS) disaster-relief office.

Twenty-three men and five women—including two married couples—accepted the offer of a nourishing meal and a warm place to sleep. In addition, they enjoyed camaraderie while watching DVDs and playing cards and board games.

“Thankfully, there were no children—not that we don’t like kids, but you just hate to see them in that situation,” says Tom Parkins, a member of Calvary and a volunteer coordinator of the Code Purple Sanctuary Program in Newark.

The Code Purple Sanctuary Program is comprised of eight Newark churches that rotate to provide shelter and volunteers from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on nights when “Code Purple” is declared because the temperature has dipped below 20 degrees Fahrenheit or the weather is otherwise severe. The program is operated by volunteers and the Newark Empowerment Center, which was founded in 2007. Supported by 18 churches and synagogues, the center is run by the nonprofit Christian organization Friendship House, a day center that serves the homeless in New Castle County, Del.

“Friendship House personnel work directly with the Newark homeless at the Empowerment Center. For Code Purple, we encourage our guest to pre-register at the Empowerment Center. Friendship House folks are typically present the first hour of Code Purple, monitoring the guest sign-in. They are interested if newcomers appear,” says Parkins. “We will not turn anyone away just because they did not pre-register. It is a great relationship with volunteers and full-time staff working together.”

Calvary’s involvement in the Code Purple program was reinforced by the church’s engagement in a 2014 year-long consultative process with Dr. Jeff Johnson, national director of evangelism for ABHMS and regional pastor with congregations for ABCOPAD.

“Calvary Baptist identified its unique vision. It centered on finding ways to meet people’s needs, which is the church’s passion. The congregation mobilized to live out what they discovered [during the consultation process]. They opened up their church house and their own hearts, to serve, by warming the bodies, filling the stomachs and touching the hearts of those most vulnerable to the elements,” Johnson says. “The Code Purple ministry allows the church to live out its discerned value of creativity to determine how to solve problems as well as its God-given ability to do the actual problem solving—both with diversity and inclusion in terms of who performs the ministry and who receives it. Everyone can be involved in serving tables, and everyone is invited to the tables.”

In winter 2015, Code Purple nights at various Newark churches numbered 30, with an average of 22 individuals each night, or 656 total people, according to correspondence by Carol L. West, the church’s mission board chair, and the Rev. Dr. Louise Barger, Calvary’s interim senior pastor, a former regional staff member for ABCOPAD and former executive minister