The newly-appointed pastor of a Methodist church in Tennessee spent a week learning the hard way what most anyone who has ever lived in an American city already knows.
“Generally speaking, people are not kind to the homeless,” said Willie Lyle, who preached his first sermon at Sango United Methodist Church in Clarksville on June 23 after spending the previous four days living homeless and hungry on the city’s streets.
When parishoners filed into services that day, the passed a disheveled, homeless man lying on the lawn in front of the church. Once they had taken their seats, they looked up to find the same homeless man standing in the pulpit before them.
As he delivered his first sermon, Lyle (pictured) received a haircut and a shave courtesy of his daughter and daughter-in-law, transforming his appearance from slovenly to tidy in front of his new congregation.
“I believe churches could learn a lot from the homeless and hungry if they were willing to open their eyes to the truth,” said Lyle, reflecting on his experience.
While Lyle said he was already sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, he now has a new empathy born of his own highly uncomfortable experience.
“Homeless people walk slowly, and now I know why,” he recounted to a local newspaper. “They physically hurt all over from sleeping on concrete, the ground or on wooden floors. They don’t own Air Jordans and thick socks. People should try sleeping on a wooden floor sometime. It’s painful.”
Lyle said that he never wanted to spend the better part of a week living as a homeless person on the streets, but when he was hired by the Clarksville church, he had a dream -- and in that dream, God commanded him to undertake the social experiment.
Lyle said that he realizes the details of his experience may not be what his congregation wants to be faced with when they put on their Sunday best for church. And he’s fine with that.
“If I made someone squirm, then so be it,” he said. “Sango UMC is not going to be a congregation that talks about issues and solutions. We are going to be part of the solutions to the problems we face in our community.”
SOURCES: The Tennessean, The Leaf Chronicle