Prayer and song rang out under Interstate-35 at 7th Street on Sunday morning as rain dripped through the cracks in the overpass.
Church Under the Bridge, a project of Mission: Possible! Austin, is a worship space open to anyone in Austin. Their services each Sunday at 10 a.m. include breakfast and lunch, believers and skeptics, young and old, homeless and housed join in prayer.
“This isn’t just a ministry; it’s a place of worship,” said Chris Rogers, who has been attending weekly services for three years. “It’s not about social justice; it’s about coming together to worship Jesus.”
Rogers said she was homeless for a period when she was much younger and embraces being part of a church with members who might not be welcome at other churches because of how they look. She started attending the church as a volunteer before she became an active member.
“Being in a serving position creates a gulf, but really we are all the same,” she said.
The environment enhances the church’s ability to foster connections between individuals and build community, said Beau Hamner, Mission: Possible!’s street ministry and community outreach director and the pastor at the church.
Hamner joined the program in December and said he hopes to build on the tradition that Mission Possible’s executive director and founder Tim Pinson started 18 years ago after conversations with homeless Austinites and inspiration from a similar Church Under the Bridge program in Waco.
“It’s never about the building; it’s always about the people,” Hamner said. “We see ourselves as a church, as a body of Christ. When we remember that we’re all made in the image of Christ, then the things that separate us disappear.”
The church relies entirely on private funding, and the weekly bands and food servers are regular volunteers, Hamner said. Anyone is welcome to the church.
“We don’t force anyone to agree with us, and we’ll provide any service that we have available to anyone regardless of their spiritual belief,” Hamner said. “We don’t see the ministry as coffee and breakfast, and in some ways, we don’t see the ministry as the teaching time. It’s the connection that individuals make on both sides of the paradigm.”
Jim Barger said the free coffee at the church got him to start going last year. Barger has been homeless since he moved to Austin from Florida looking for work in May 2010. He said he relies on God to help him not abuse alcohol and keep looking for work, even though a major leg injury makes him an insurance liability to the types of restaurants and bars he used to work at.
“This place gives me positive input instead of the typical negative BS,” he said. “I try to talk to a few people about quitting alcohol. I’m talking about organizing a place to talk, not really like [Alcoholics Anonymous], more of a discussion group.”
For others, the church is their primary social outlet and source of community. Anna Hunt was there Sunday, just like every week, although she still had bruises and stitches after an aggravated assault last week. She said faith and the “real love” she finds at the church get her through the days when she knows she’ll spend the night on the street.
“The assault is nothing that won’t make me stronger in the Lord,” Hunt said. “When everything falters, love is the strongest of all things.”
Church members often meet throughout the week for different Bible studies and events. Hunt said she usually goes to Gandalf’s Prayer Cafe, another Mission: Possible! program, every Tuesday for a meal, conversation and rest.
As nine-year member Sam Cole put it, “the church has left the building” with the Church Under the Bridge program. And the members from all walks of life wouldn’t have it any other way.
Printed on October 10, 2011: Services held under bridge accepting of all Austinites