Pastor Stephen Williams has been a minister at First Presbyterian Church since 1994. For nearly that long, the church he serves as been serving Family Promise of the Coastal Empire.
First Presbyterian is part of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which provides a variety of services and assistance to Family Promise. While many, like First Presbyterian, lovingly shelter and feed families who are going through Family Promise’s program, others provide financial support, donations of furniture and other household goods, volunteers to assist at the day center and more.
Without this array of host and support congregations, Family Promise wouldn’t be able to make such a tremendous impact on the community. Williams understand this, and frequently encourages other churches to get involved as well.
“We began about 23-24 years ago. We were one of the churches that started out with the program. We had a very positive experience throughout all those years. I like to say that, for clergy, this is a program that is just tailor-made for what we preach – it connects faith and practice. We’re looking around saying, ‘We want to put our faith into action. And Family Promise does just that,” Williams said. “I’ve spoken to other churches about it, and I say to other pastors, ‘I’m here to do you a favor, which is to put your folks “into uniform” to serve their neighbors, and this will do it in a very good way.’ This mobilizes folks most week. It can involve all ages.”
First Presbyterian Church hosts families usually three times per year. During those times, the families stay at the church for one week. Church volunteers attend to the families, cooking and serving dinner, eating with the families, helping the children with homework, and just generally keeping them company. One designated overnight host sleeps at the church as well. Williams thinks the setting helps to get volunteers involved.
“What makes this different is the familiarity of having folks in our own building. There’s a good comfort level for our members, allowing them to extend hospitality in that way. We’ve got a large useful kitchen; meals are served, and tables are set with flowers and cutlery. The volunteers join the families for the meal. We have classrooms that we use for the families’ sleeping arrangements and a separate one for the overnight host. One of the rooms is homey with a couch, chairs, big-screen television, table, books and games, common room for the families,” Williams said.
“Once, a few years ago, I was in the building right after dinner had been served and eaten. One of our church volunteers, her son was playing with some of the other children who were Family Promise guests. The kids were having a great time, even though they’d just met. The volunteer pointed to the children having fun and said, ‘You want to know why I’m involved in this? Well, look at that.’ It was clear she really valued the fact that her son was meeting kids his own age as equals in a way that he probably never would have without Family Promise,” Williams continued.
The pastor has worked with many other nonprofits and ministries during his decade in the ministry. He’s originally from Indiana but has served in Tennessee and other states. However, he says there’s just something different about Family Promise. It was well-run from all standpoints. Family Promise Executive Director Katrina Bostick stays in close contact and communicates well with the churches in the Interfaith Hospitality Network, according to Williams. If ever there’s a snag, issues are addressed very promptly and smoothed out. The church’s Family Promise coordinator, Terry Yon, works hard to ensure First Presbyterian efficiently carries out its volunteer commitment to the nonprofit organization.
“We’ve been very blessed to be involved with Family Promise,” Williams said. “There’s a Jewish proverb that says, ‘Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.’ We’re not saving a life here, but we are helping people. And helping people – even on a small scale like this – really is helping the world.”