First Christian Reformed Church in Denver, Colo., is hosting its fifth week as a Family Promise church Feb. 9-16. Family Promise invites faith communities to share their space with homeless families. Churches host for a week at a time on a rotational schedule. “We are able to use our building and our hospitality to provide basic needs of housing, food, and safety to people who are in need,” said Bret Lamsma, director of faith formation at First CRC.
Between 80 to 100 congregation members participate in hosting duties. Lamsma leads a team of five coordinators who in turn organize the volunteers. People sign up to do such tasks as prepare hot meals, serve as evening or overnight hosts, transport guests, provide breakfast foods, and set up accomodations.
Ed Schans serves as transportation coordinator, working with 14 volunteer drivers to commute the families from First CRC to Family Promise’s day site. At the end of the week they help families reach the next host church with their possessions.
“Most of these folks that come want to better their life,” said Schans, “and we’re pretty happy to be part of that program.”
Hosting families changed First CRC. “It has put a different face on homelessness for many in our congregation,” said Lamsma. The church was looking for a way to serve that would involve the whole church, every age and gifting. “It lets us minister together and build our own community while we help serve people.” Having as many as 100 volunteers means everyone can chip in without anyone being overwhelmed.
Family Promise is a national organization with over 200 local affiliates operating in 43 states. Last year, 126,000 parents and children and 200,000 volunteers were involved. The organization reports that 88% of those served find permanent housing.
Several Christian Reformed congregations serve as hosts in Michigan. (See Churches Provide Shelter in Michigan from Banner archives.)
Churches considering participating should have four to five private or semi-private rooms and a large number of people willing to volunteer, said Courtney Jensen, a manager with the Denver affiliate. An attitude of welcome, hospitality, and understanding of the traumatic situations families are going through is also important, she said.
Family Promise prefers working with churches who will make it a continuous commitment, not one-time hosts. Jensen suggests interested volunteers could first register as individuals, providing support to another hosting congregation, before making the decision to bring it to their own church.