2015-04-23 / Faith Community

Finding Fellowship at St. Paul’s Church

By James Merolla

The man sat in the corner, visit after visit. He’d sip on his coffee, turn on his laptop, and stay all afternoon, searching online, but never conversed with the myriad strangers who wandered in and out of St. Paul's.

Last June, Linda Somes, a firstgrade teacher with a large heart, but tiny hands, was carrying one bag too many into the church kitchen. “I needed a third arm and asked the man, ‘Would you help me?’ The man nodded and carried that extra bag.

“See you next week,” said Somes. After a year, it was the first time she had spoken to him. “Some don’t choose to socialize here,” she observed.

The next week, Somes felt comfortable enough to say hello. Suddenly, the man spoke: “This might be my last day here,” he said. “I got a job offer in Massachusetts. I want to thank you for all you did. You will never know what a difference this made.”

He never came back.

St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 12 Marborough St., has been serving Newport since 1800, and every Wednesday the church opens its doors to the poor, the hungry, the disenfranchised, and the lost.

Called “Warm Up Wednesdays (WUW),” this winter marked the third year that St. Paul’s has invited people who others might shun for friendship and fellowship, a game of cards, a chance to read the current newspaper, or to enjoy crossword puzzles, a cup of Joe or hot cocoa and some snacks. The outreach is offered year-round from 1-4 p.m.

St. Paul’s saw the need of displaced guests at the McKinney homeless shelter literally across the street and decided to practice what it preached.

Communal outreach began under the Rev. Becky Baumann, who attended several community meetings with local business proprietors, homeowners, and police officer Jimmy Winters, a wellknown advocate for the homeless in Newport.

“The meetings were held to encourage dialogue between all parties relative to the transient population in town and the effects of loiterers around businesses and residential areas near Broadway,” said Rev. Baumann, who saw the need for a welcoming venue that allowed access to a place of rest and relaxation, a cup of something warm, and the individual choice to socialize.

The church is also open to many other recovery groups throughout the week, like Alcoholics Anonymous. A new component was added during this brutal winter: the passing out of hats, fleece scarves, and handmade mittens, initiated by the current pastor, the Rev. Johanne Dame.

Besides Dame and Somes, the volunteer core for WUW includes Kathy Mosher, Rose Garcia, John Jennings, and Lorrine Reeve. They say it was an “unexpected blessing” to the program to further develop community among church members who attend Warm Up Wednesdays. In particular, a small group of recently widowed individuals come together that day, providing a common ground for companionship and camaraderie.

“With a desire for outreach and social justice, church members are naturally drawn to seeking solutions to social issues,” added Rev. Baumann. “Supported by faith, members of churches are often more daring at attempting to create solutions than the more practical and fiscally dependent entities of society. Church members often create solutions that other groups are not able to create."

In addition to the many individuals who make the program work, the church thanks the North Family Trust for a grant it has bequeathed annually, Salve Regina University and the White Horse Tavern for food donations and monetary contributions, the John Clarke Retirement Center and Chaplain Mike Kochon, and other faith communities.

“There is a woman named Dorothy from Middletown who has baked once a week for two years,” said Somes. “There is a military wife who loves to make chicken noodle soup. It makes all the difference because, once in a while, someone you never met before is waiting at the door to get to a warm place.”

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