Wedgewood Baptist Church, led by pastor Chris Ayers, is spreading hope to the less fortunate with its ministry to Hope Chapel, a church for the homeless in Charlotte.
The church is one of five progressive Baptist churches that own the chapel and share in the weekly services that benefit about 40-45 people every week.
Each Sunday, a group of about 15-20 people attend church at Hope Chapel, along with "coffee hunters" and clients of the George Shinn Center/Uptown Shelter.
Before the service begins at 8 a.m., Linda Merchant - a member of St. John's Baptist Church who has been with the chapel since its establishment and plays piano every week - can be found at the front of a long line of homeless individuals. Merchant hands out bags of socks, underwear, hats, gloves, foot powder, cold medicine, batteries, Advil, soap, toothbrushes and much more.
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Kevin Lynch, the new director of Hope Chapel, said that about 75 percent of these donations are from Merchant's own wallet even in times of under-employment, as she is "truly a giving, selfless person."
Sometimes even before Merchant arrives, you can find a talented visitor sitting at the piano, playing a jazz or gospel song, as others sing along. As Lynch describes it, "it is their church."
Members of the supporting churches take turns serving at the Chapel. Lynch coordinates a rotation of five teachers and ministers, including Chris Ayers, who preaches the third Sunday of each month. Lynch arrives at 6 a.m. each week and makes approximately 200 cups of coffee, which are served mainly to homeless clients of the George Shinn Center.
Mike Banister, another member of Wedgewood Church, often arrives at 6:30 a.m. to make coffee and welcome guests.
The yearly budget of about $7,000 is supported by about five or six participating churches, and the mission is run entirely by volunteers. The facility also is used by a South African church and a Latin American fellowship, and it serves as a site for Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Lynch, director since December, is constantly looking for ways to expand the mission. He was trained and took over when Bobby Curtis of Park Road Baptist Church retired after 17 years of service, at age 75.
The idea for the Chapel first came about when the ministry from Wedgewood Baptist Church had to stop working at the Uptown Shelter. When Ayers arrived at Wedgewood in 1989, the church had a ministry that went to the shelter and provided breakfast and taught Sunday School; however, once the shelter started receiving federal funding, the church could no longer continue the work.
Not long after, an AME Zion church located adjacent to the shelter burned down, leaving the land available. The ministry from Wedgewood, along with St. John's Baptist Church, Park Road Baptist Church, Sardis Baptist Church and Greater Mt. Sinai Baptist Church, decided to build a chapel specifically for the homeless. Hearts and Hammers, a construction ministry of Hickory Grove Baptist Church, completed 90 percent of the building in one week.