The author of a recent letter to the editor published in the Wisconsin State Journal was intending to be witty, sarcastic, even bitingly critical when he described Grace Church in that way. I doubt he had any clue that it’s an apt description of a church. St. Augustine of Hippo referred to the church as a hospital for sinners and interpreted the inn in the parable of the Good Samaritan as the church where peoples’ sins and wounds are healed. In the letter to the Hebrews, the Christian life is described repeatedly as a sojourn in a foreign country. Christians are homeless in this world, yearning for our eternal home.
Of course, the letter’s author wasn’t referring to spiritual homelessness. He was referring to the fact that since 1984, Grace Church has opened its doors to the homeless.
Why is the men’s shelter at Grace Church? One answer is that there’s nowhere else. The shelter opened its doors on a one-year trial basis in 1984. The need is as great now as it was then and over the years no alternative location has been found.
There’s another reason it’s at Grace. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable of judgment in which the righteous are rewarded because they clothed the naked, fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger. The righteous asked when they had done those things to him and the king replies, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”
Like millions of other Christians in Madison and around the world, we shelter the homeless and we feed the hungry because in their faces we see the face of Jesus Christ.
Maybe we should make it our new motto: “Grace Church, A Transient Hotel with a Steeple.”