Members of Floris United Methodist Church (FUMC) in Herndon have participated in programs assisting the area’s homeless for years, mostly through food and clothing donations and by volunteering to serve meals at shelters and seasonal food pantries and kitchens. Last year a number of the congregation who have given their time to those efforts decided to see if FUMC would take their involvement to the next level by agreeing to literally open the church doors for one week as part of the annual Hypothermia Prevention and Response program coordinated by local non-profit FACETS. The response by FUMC leadership and worshipers alike was overwhelmingly positive.
“The group brought a well-thought out five-page proposal — almost like a business plan — to the church leadership,” said Director of Serve Ministries Jake McGlothin. “Even though this was a pretty big commitment, really something beyond what we have done in the past, everyone got right on board. And once we announced the plan to the entire FUMC community, volunteers were immediately stepping up. I’ve had a pretty easy time of it,” McGlothin laughed. More than 250 volunteers, aged 14 and older, are handling the many tasks associated with housing and hosting up to 40 clients each night.
Planning committees began meeting as long ago as March of last year, first just once a month, until they began meeting weekly in December in preparation for their turn as hosts during the week of Jan. 12–19. “We are just one of many area faith communities that take part in the FACETS program and house our needful neighbors,” said McGlothin, “but we wanted to put an even more welcoming face on our efforts, so we’ve billed this as our ‘Guest House’ for these clients. We want them to really feel at home.”
From 5:30 p.m. until 7 a.m., the fellowship hall is transformed into the sleeping quarters for the guests. Dinner, breakfast and snacks are served in the large main lobby of the church complex, and bagged lunches are offered as the guests depart for the day. Guests are also offered shower facilities, and there are numerous activities available for anyone so inclined to join in.
“Some folks just want to enjoy the peace of a quiet and safe place to rest out of the cold and pretty much keep to themselves,” said Vicki Monroe, the food coordinator for the event and a long-time volunteer for homeless causes. “Others are very social and tell us how happy they are to have someone to just sit and talk with. There’s been some lively conversation around here. I am really enjoying the personal interaction.”
So does volunteer Jay Hilbert. In charge of general logistics and transportation, Hilbert said when he’s not running from here to there it’s been a great experience to serve the community face-to-face. “I’m also enjoying getting to know other church members that I might never have really met or had much interaction with.”
Working with more than 30 area churches and faith communities, FACETS offers the Hypothermia Prevention Program each year starting in late November to give the homeless warm and safe accommodation and several nutritious meals during the cold winter months. Last year the organization served almost 250 clients through the program, one of five such programs operated in partnership with Fairfax County government. “We really wish there wasn’t a need for these services,” said McGlothin, “but I am so proud that the FUMC community was ready and willing to say ‘Be Our Guest’ and then really make it happen.”