My first impression of the Grace Presbyterian Church occurred when my mental condition was affected heavily by 40 miles of biking, being completely drenched in my sweat and my readiness to collapse from exhaustion. I felt excitement as we biked along Roselawn Boulevard and the lovely brick building hidden by large masses of bright green leaves branching off a couple of thick, sturdy tree came into view. The colors of red, green and blue painted the prospect of a pleasant stay, and my initial prediction based off these vague impressions proved to be correct!
We met Pastor John in the parking lot of the church. Recognizing our slight discomfort from biking at least 4 hours in the heat and humidity, Pastor John tactfully kept his introduction succinct and led us into the church, where a large picture of Jesus laughing greeted us. (I discovered soon after that laughing Jesus adorned many walls of the church, he had a friendly presence within the building). He told us briefly about a cool project where plastic bags are woven by hand into sleeping mats to be given to the homeless. The construction of one mat takes 30 hours of patience and the laborer’s dexterity. I was curious on how well they function so I tested it myself by sleeping on one for the night and I can confidently say I’ve never slept better! An anecdote Pastor John shared with us stuck with me, he told us that the church had initiated efforts to donate shoes to poverty stricken communities in Haiti, but instead of wearing the shoes, the Haitians used the plastic bags carrying the shoes to sleep on them. It highlighted the disparity and gap between our experiences as individuals that have never suffered severe poverty and those that live it everyday, and how it could lead to misguided aid giving.
Pastor John lead us on a tour around the church, showing us the library, which we instantaneously designated as the area for productivity and work after we discovered it was within the range of WiFi, a room with a carpeted floor and groovy, colorful chairs, which I immediately decided was where I was going to sleep, and the kitchen, which was spacy and full of all the equipment we needed to whip ourselves up a delicious vegetarian meal (which, now that we’re halfway through the program, is our staple diet). The church was truly lovely, not just because its facilities contained a washer, dryer and a shower so we could conduct common practices of hygiene, which have become not so common for us riders, but because we understood the space was to be utilized by the community. Throughout this program we have been staying in Houses of Worship, which readily accepted to host us. This openness led to my comprehension that religious institutions, prevalent in the South, are significant points of community and provision of help for those in need, for example the space is used for elementary education, and AA meetings. Despite my lack of religious affiliation, each stay encourages the growth of a deep rooted respect for these institutions and their service for the people of the community.
Our stay in Grace Presbyterian ended far too early, I’d say, but I’m extremely filled with gratitude for all the church and the pastor has done for us by allowing us to store our bikes, trailers, panniers, our sweaty selves and host dinners. Thanks for letting it become a home where we lived comfortably, event if for such an interim period!