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It’s been a month since Snowmageddon 2024 blanketed most of the country and locked West Tennessee down for a week and a half.

For an educator like myself, snow days mean just as much to me as an adult as they did when I was a kid – the expectant waiting and watching, the myopic focus on my weather app, the buzzing text alert saying schools are closed. And then, like everything else in a temporal world, the new wears off, the house feels crowded, the blanket of white turns to gray slush, and my desire for a normal routine trumps any desire I had to stay home from work. That’s my snow cycle – always has been, always will be. 

Most of us probably follow a similar pattern if we’re privileged enough not to have to worry about being too cold or having enough food in the house to eat.

We get excited about snow days in the winter until the house starts to feel small. We look forward to vacations in the summer, only to long for our own beds after a week or so. We decorate for Christmas, buy our kids most of what they want, and then count the days until it’s all over. Privilege allows us to intensely look forward to something and then simply move on from whatever event captivated so much of our thoughts. Privilege isn’t inherently wrong; it just is.

Privilege allows us to look forward to snow days without having to worry about the temperature. Privilege allows us to plan for vacations, enjoy those vacations, get tired of those vacations, and then plan for the next one without batting an eye. Again, privilege isn’t a bad word or an immoral state of being; it’s simply a way to live life without having to worry about certain things other people have to keep at the forefront of their minds. 

Six weeks ago, word of an arctic plunge started circulating on social media. A few days later, the chances of precipitation increased. I got excited. My daughter got excited. My students got excited. We were ready for SNOW. But because we live in a world of yin and yang, cause and effect, good and evil, or whatever dichotomous trope you prefer, there was an antagonistic side to all this excitement – there were people who didn’t enjoy the privileges of a heated home, a pantry of food, or even a safe place to weather the literal storm.

There are people in our city who are homeless; this isn’t a secret. In fact, a few years ago, a homeless man died after prolonged exposure to the cold. This isn’t an indictment of the city or a commentary on the state of homelessness in Jackson; this is a way to build context and illuminate the spaces in society that most of us don’t even bother to look because we don’t have to. But someone does.

I’ve publicly unpacked my religious history through various forms of writing over the past several years, so I’ll spare you the gory details. I will say, however, that I can acknowledge the personal benefits of religion because I’ve experienced them. I can also say that organized religion can be (and is) extremely damaging to some people because of how it has been weaponized in a public forum. I personally believe everyone should have the space to believe (or not) and/or worship how they see fit as long as those beliefs don’t harm or ostracize groups of people.

In our community, we’ve seen the adverse effects of influential religious leaders attacking groups of marginalized people through public forums. That type of discourse is destructive, counterproductive, and lazy.

However, we’ve also seen the good that organized religious establishments can provide a community – never more so than last month when winter came and people needed a sanctuary from the cold.

Like most urban spaces, most of Jackson’s homeless population clusters near the city’s center. While Downtown Jackson is currently experiencing a revival of sorts, there was a time when businesses (and churches) were packing up and moving to North Jackson. 

One of my earliest memories is of my grandfather taking me to the new construction site of Calvary Baptist Church on Oil Well Road in 1984. For whatever reason, the original location – on Lexington Avenue in East Jackson –  didn’t suit the vision of the church. Just over a decade later – in 1997 – West Jackson Baptist Church moved from its original location on West Deaderick to Oil Well Road. Not every church left downtown for greener pastures, though. 

Situated in the heart of Downtown Jackson on S. Church Street, First United Methodist planted its roots in the epicenter of the city in 1831 and has remained there for nearly two centuries. When the cold came racing down from the Arctic last month, FUMC Jackson was positioned to serve our community’s most vulnerable citizens. In other words, they were ready to do the Lord’s work.

In partnership with the City of Jackson, FUMC was the designated warming shelter for homeless women and children during days of snow, ice, and sub-zero wind chills. The church served three meals a day provided by the local Salvation Army. FUMC also asked community members to donate snacks, games, and anything else to help the sheltered pass the time. Coordinating the logistics of a warming shelter isn’t as easy as simply unlocking the doors to the church and inviting everyone in from the cold.

To effectively house a vulnerable population in a state of emergency, church members had to sacrifice time with their families to help serve food, interact with people who were sheltering, and stay overnight to help support volunteers and the women and children who desperately needed a warm place to stay. In its purest essence, FUMC was the body of Christ ministering to people who had nothing to give or anywhere to stay – the city on the hill for everyone to see. 

I haven’t lived in the religious world in a long time. I don’t speak that language anymore, but I still have eyes to see and ears to hear. I still have vivid memories and feelings of being situated deeply in an evangelical world. In other words, I haven’t forgotten what the Church should be according to its founder.

At the peak of my evangelical inundation in the late 90’s, four letters were printed on a flimsy bracelet and sold like wildfire: W.W.J.D. – What Would Jesus Do? I often think about those four letters when I watch how churches and their leaders respond to cultural events and change. 

What Would Jesus Do?

I think Jesus would open the doors of his house to freezing women and children. I believe Jesus would offer hugs during PrideFest. I think Jesus would do everything he could to meet the needs of the most vulnerable citizens in his community. And, if any of this exists on the other side of this life, I think Jesus would be extremely pleased with the members and leadership of FUMC.

February 15, 2024

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  • Sue Harvey


    We have a place for you, Gabe. We are here to do the Lord’s work. Come help us.

  • Scott Murray


    Thank you Gabe for the kind words towards our congregation.

  • Linda Warren Seely


    Thanks, Gabe, for sharing the story of a church I’m proud to be a member of- even if I end my sentence incorrectly and feel compelled to tack on this mea culpa. Sky and Adam are blessings to our Jackson community.

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