Volunteer Bound: Belmont Church in Nashville

How We Found Belmont Church

To say how “we” found Belmont Church is really misleading because this one was all Rebekah’s idea. Bek was familiar with this church and their outreach from her time in Nashville, so she reached out to them about volunteering during our time in the city.

The Experience

Since we’ve been talking about stereotypes, what’s the one thing you would expect a Nashville event to have that no one else does? That’s right – live music. Oh and live preaching too.

On Sunday around noon Rebekah and I went to Belmont Church to serve lunch to the area’s poor and hungry as part of their Isaiah 58 outreach program. Unlike many of the other places I’ve been, this church is not located in downtown or in an impoverished area of the city. In fact, it’s right smack in the middle of the famous Music Row in Nashville.

Bek and I were tasked with putting out dessert for the guests while the others finished preparing the rest of the food for lunch.

Rebekah sets up dessert

Rebekah sets up dessert

Sarah prepares dessert

Sarah prepares dessert

And the real spectacle was the duo singing in the front of the room. We volunteered the week leading up to Christmas so we were serenaded with country Christmas music for the afternoon. By this point, many seats were filled with those waiting for lunch to begin. Several of the guests swayed and clapping along with the singers.

Two singers from Nashville serenade the crowd with country Christmas music

Two singers from Nashville serenade the crowd with country Christmas music

As we finished prepping lunch, the singers welcomed one of the ministers, Bill Ruff, who gave a short talk and prayer. One of the more memorable things he said was, “Jesus wants to hang out with you. He thinks you’re pretty great.” That got several chuckles and a few hard nods from the crowd. After a short prayer, the tables came through the line to get their lunches.

Volunteers Lauren Rhodes and Mark Kimura serve lunch

Volunteers Lauren Rhodes and Mark Kimura serve lunch

I like working in a serving line because it gives me a chance to talk with everyone even if it’s only for a few seconds. Some people won’t make eye contact with me, but most will and when that happens, I always meet their glance with a warm smile – maybe the only genuine smile they’ll see that day (or even that week). For the most part, I know that’s not true in this case because Rebekah was serving dessert directly next to me and few people can light up a room like Rebekah can. She teased several of the guests about their cupcake selections – there were several big tough guys that came through the line and we both laughed when one of the guys asked for the cupcake with the plastic gingerbread ring on top!

The lunch program is offered three days and week. One of my favorite things about the program is that the volunteers are encouraged to eat with the guests. This message of equality is important for the guests and volunteers alike – to the guests it reinforces the idea they that are worthy and valued members of society. For the volunteers, it gives them a chance to put a name and a face to poverty, which makes them more motivated to help. We learned some incredible stories during our time with the guests and the volunteers. One of the most interesting things I learned was that the line between guest and volunteer is sometimes invisible.

One of the volunteers, Troy, used to be homeless and struggled with addiction. He made the commitment to complete a rehabilitation program and now he’s employed as a member of Isaiah 58’s construction team. He’s now been volunteering with Isaiah 58 every Sunday for 5 years. We also met DC who used to live in a tent and starting visiting on Sunday for lunch. Now he’s on the other side of the table serving the hungry and he’s employed through Isaiah 58’s program, Spring Back Recycling. This group provides work for those seeking a second chance in life and offers mattress recycling for the Nashville area with the tagline “Breaking down mattresses, building up lives.” Larry also came to the group from tough circumstances. He started volunteering to fulfill his community service obligation as a term of his parole, but it evolved into more than that. Larry told us that it’s sad that something drastic has to happen in order for some people to volunteer but now he enjoys it saying, “it keeps my from stewing in my own self pity.” To me, the thing I love about their stories is how much of an impact programs like this can have – for those serving as well as for those being served. My favorite part of the experience is when that line blurs and you start to see everyone as equal.

Larry (background) and Troy in the foreground

Larry (background) and Troy in the foreground

Cleaning up from lunch

Cleaning up from lunch

Volunteers at Isaiah 58

Volunteers at Isaiah 58

Lunchtime volunteer

Lunchtime volunteer

As we were leaving, I noticed that several of the guests had settled in front of a TV in the corner of the dining hall to watch the football game. Most places have a very strict closing time and ask the guests to leave shortly after the meal is over, but here the guests are encouraged to stay and relax so they can forget for a few minutes the hardships that wait beyond the doors.

Volunteer Bound

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