The Rev. Elizabeth McVicker, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City, visits and prays with the homeless during the Sunday Fellowship Breakfast. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.
The fellowship breakfast was started about three years ago, said Larry Hjalmarson, who is a member of the governing board and oversees maintenance. It was inspired by a homeless man named Gilbert, who walked to the church from the rescue mission every Sunday. He became a member of the church, sang in the choir and put a new face on who the congregation thought the homeless were.
“He wasn’t scary, he was just homeless,” Larry Hjalmarson said. Gilbert asked him and a few other church members to consider offering a breakfast for people like himself who walked several long blocks to come to church.
Gilbert told the church members he was losing weight and expending more calories than he was taking in and needed more than a platter of cookies at fellowship time. That opened a door for the church to start a regular homeless ministry that now feeds from 50 to 70 people inside their doors on Sundays.
These days, Gilbert is no longer homeless, but the ministry continues to fill a vital need. Everyone is invited to the 10 a.m. church service but it is not a requirement. Some have joined and become regular members of the congregation. Some stay homeless, while still others like Brett Johnson become self-sufficient.
Johnson is Larry Hjalmarson’s right-hand man or maybe the opposite is true. Both chuckle at the thought. “Larry used to say he didn’t know what I could do. Now he says he doesn’t know what I can’t do,” Johnson said.
Johnson went through an emotional time with his children when he was younger and he had to give up his parental rights. He ended up in jail for six months for a couple of DUIs. When he left jail, he was living on the streets.
He wears a large chain around his neck as a reminder of those times. “Although I did the right things for my kids, I want to remember my sins,” he explained.
Johnson has learned to rely on his faith to get him through every day. He has started his own business, Odd Man Services, and has a waiting list of 20 people with jobs for him.
“I found when I stopped chasing the dollar that the money just comes in when I need it. I haven’t gone hungry in the past four years. It seems every time I need it, something just comes about and happens. I learned to let my faith just carry me through.”
Johnson is on the governing board at the church this year. “Brett believes in miracles,” Larry Hjalmarson said. “We need him more than he needs us.”