Milwaukee Church Addresses Homelessness with ‘Divine Intervention’
“Once you open the door of possibility, things happen,” says Karen Hagen, pastor of Tippecanoe Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Things really began to happen for this 51-member congregation when they decided to open their church doors in response to the needs of homeless people in their city.
After noticing an increase in the number of homeless individuals around their churches, and realizing members of their congregation were on the verge of becoming homeless, several churches came together to explore intervention options. Their original vision was to create a rotating shelter, “but one of the city jurisdictions closed the door in our face, and they closed it pretty hard,” says Hagen. “They told us we couldn’t have a shelter in our church.”
So the church responded by opening its doors for prayer vigils—overnight prayer vigils. That innovative response gave birth to the Divine Intervention ministry, which received the Outstanding Urban Ministry Award of the Greater Milwaukee Interfaith Conference.
From that overnight ministry in 2010, Divine Intervention has grown into a year-round ministry addressing the needs of homeless adults in Milwaukee County. The Outreach and Justice Ministry of Tippecanoe Church hosts the ministry, which includes more than 46 faith communities. “Our primary mission is to provide 20-plus nightly homeless guests their basic human right of a safe place to warm overnight,” says Hagen.
When asked why they refer to the individuals receiving service as guests, Hagen explains, “Divine Intervention recognizes that the words we use influence the outcome of our relationships. We therefore refer to the homeless [persons] we serve as our ‘guests’; volunteers are referred to as ‘hosts’ and/or ‘staff.’ These titles set the foundation for an organizational culture of gratitude and respect.”
The ministry includes a food component. “We recognize that food is not only essential for nutrition and a life source, but serves as a gateway to reconnecting those who are homeless back into society through relationship,” says Hagen. “Therefore, dinners are served family style where guests and hosts and servers eat together and practice being part of a community.” Guests also can participate in the ministry’s vegetable-gardening internships.
Each year the ministry also places a significant number of guests into transitional housing through community partners. “Our mission of ‘respecting the dignity of all God’s adult children’ guides everything we do,” Hagen says. “Beyond safe sanctuary and the provision for basic needs, the prayer vigils/warming room creates community . . . one which gives an opportunity for our guests to reengage in the community through self-awareness and relationship, prompting supported personal development.”
Gail Strange, Director of Church and Mid Council Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency
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PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Christ, the Bread of Life, one day as you and your disciples looked over a multitude of people, you instructed your disciples to feed the hungry. May we continue to heed your instruction, reaching out to those who hunger for bread, for community, for you. As we share food, may we all know the abundance of your love and compassion. Amen.