At the suggestion of a colleague (thanks, Kathryn), I stopped by the Sunrise Community Church, that calls itself as the Weirdest Little Church in Texas. There was a buzz of activity with many people milling about the outdoor picnic tables. I bumped into Pastor Mark who happily offered to introduce me to the ministry and give me a tour.
“Sunrise is all about recovery,” he told me. “The church has always been bit out of step with the typical Christian Reformed Church. The denomination is very committed to social ministry, but the traditional CRC congregation tends to be more of a stiff collar crowd. And that’s not who we are.” Pastor Mark described the number of recovery programs sponsored by the congregation and the active ministries for the homeless. “Our calling is to help anyone and everyone. Our members are either recovering from additions or are motivated to join because of our work with communities with the greatest needs.”
Since Pastor Mark’s arrival, the church has innovated a number of ways to connect and be of service. He noted that the homeless are a particularly important part of their work, since there are so few places for them to go. Pastor Marks explained, “they can’t just sit and hang out anywhere else without being told to leave, or getting arrested, so they can come here and sit at our picnic tables.” He described the church’s blanket exchange program. “When it rains and their blankets get wet and muddy, many homeless people feel bad that they have no choice but to throw the blankets away. So instead we collect them here. We wash and dry people’s blankets or someone can take a clean blanket that has already been washed.”
Though the church doesn’t mandate attending services for getting help, they are delighted to have their homeless neighbors join them. This prompted another innovative program, as Pastor Mark explained: “Many homeless are embarrassed about their appearance, or worry that they may smell.” So the church purchased a shower truck and makes the facilities available before services. Pastor Mark observed, “it’s not uncommon to see a number of folks in the pews on Sunday with wet hair.”
The tour and discussion were very impressive and deeply moving. Sunrise Community Church clearly has immersed itself and its members in addressing some of our most difficult and challenging societal issues. I know I don’t have the fortitude to work daily with so many people in such crisis and need. But I wrapped up our visit inspired to find ways to help those who do, like Sunrise.
Sunrise Community Church, 4430 Manchaca Road, Austin, Texas