A Sermon about Christ House by Jayme Epstein and Micheal J

May 2, 2021

pastel drawing by Martha Phillips

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Jayme Epstein is the volunteer coordinator at Christ House, one of the ministries that grew out of the Church of the Saviour. Micheal J is a member of the Kairos permanent housing program.

Good morning, and thank you for inviting us to join you this morning. Micheal and I are delighted to have the opportunity to share the Christ House story with you.

Our Director of Development shares a story that captures the essence of Christ House: one morning, she greeted one of the patients, saying, “It’s nice to see you today!” And he responded, “It’s nice to be seen.”

Seeing the full humanity of each person who walks through our doors and doing all we can to assist them in being all that they can be is the simple goal of everyone who works at Christ House. When asked the highlight of their work with Christ House, staff and volunteers alike often reply, “Witnessing the transformation of individuals who come to us sick and experiencing homelessness.”

I’d like to share with you a bit about our mission, history, and work, and then I’ll introduce you to Micheal, a member of our Kairos permanent housing program, who will share a bit about his journey.

Christ House is a 33 bed medical respite facility in the Adams Morgan neighborhood for men who have acute medical needs and are experiencing homelessness. Our mission is to provide comprehensive and compassionate health care to sick, homeless persons in the District of Columbia, and to assist them in addressing critical issues to help break the cycle of homelessness. The majority of our patients come to us from area hospitals and are recovering from operations or serious wounds. They no longer need to be hospitalized but would not recover on the streets or in a shelter. Almost all of them have 3 or more additional health needs, three quarters of them have mental health needs, and two-thirds have a history of substance use disorders at the time of their admission. Christ House treats the whole person, offering medical care, coordination of, transportation and, when needed, accompaniment, to outside medical appointments, substance use counseling, case management (to ensure individuals receive the benefits they’re entitled to and move on to more permanent housing solutions when they’re ready to leave Christ House), 3 healthy meals a day, spiritual support, if requested, and engaging activities like field trips, holiday celebrations and art classes.

The Christ House journey began in 1974 when Allen and Janelle Goetcheus accepted an assignment to serve as hospital missionaries in Pakistan. While waiting for visas, Janelle, a physician, and Allen, a United Methodist minister, visited the Church of the Saviour and some of its ministries in DC. Moved by the immense need among the poor and homeless in the city, they decided to cancel their plans to work abroad and moved to Washington, DC in 1976.

While practicing medicine among the poor and homeless in the city, Janelle realized that her patients had health needs that were too complex to address in a clinic setting. She also saw that hospitals would discharge the uninsured more quickly than other patients, meaning that homeless patients had to recuperate on the streets or in shelters. Janelle knew that these patients needed a safe place to live and receive respite care while recovering from major illnesses and surgeries. She and Allen “called” together five other members of the Church of the Saviour community to create a prayerful mission group that envisioned Christ House. Janelle shared the mission group’s concerns about the lack of access to health care for sick, homeless people with Gordon Cosby, pastor of the Church of the Saviour. He in turn spoke with an individual who anonymously donated $2.5 million to purchase and renovate the abandoned building we now occupy at 1717 Columbia Road NW, as well as provide funds for the first few

months of operating costs. Allen and Janelle continue to serve the patients at Christ House to this day, Janelle as our medical director and Allen as the Pastor and Director of Spiritual Life.

We’ve been able to continue operations during this challenging year with a host of safety protocols, welcoming 131 individual patients in 2020. We’re beginning to accept more patients now that the staff and patients have been or are being vaccinated. As of April 24, all of the men in the Kairos program are also fully vaccinated. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to welcome volunteers back to the building during the COVID crisis, but we look forward to welcoming volunteers once again as soon as our medical professionals determine that it is safe.

In the 35 years of Christ House’s operations, there have been so, so many stories of lives transformed – and saved – by our devoted staff. I’d like to share just one recent story as an example of the healing and hope we offer every day:

Just recently, a patient arrived seemingly very reserved. With numerous serious conditions including heart failure, Marcus was reluctant to trust the care and kindness of our staff. One early morning, a nursing assistant noticed Marcus had placed his pillow upon the shelves in his room and was sitting up in the corner of his bed. Our nursing assistant walked over and asked him if he had slept okay or if he needed anything. Marcus was hesitant to answer.

This happened for multiple days before Marcus eventually opened up. He shared that he was afraid to sleep because he had gotten used to the rampant bed bugs at the shelter he had been staying in for many years. He had a difficult time closing his eyes because at the shelter, his items were frequently stolen at night—including even the shoes off his feet. He had learned to sleep in his wheelchair with all of his belongings with him and to wake frequently throughout the night to ensure his safety. This wasn’t easy for him to unlearn.

Each day our staff offered Marcus reassurance through comprehensive and compassionate care. When our staff learned about his fear of lying down, we gave him a wedge for his bed so he would feel more elevated. When his shoes became too worn, a new pair was brought to him from our clothing closet. Through the weeks, Marcus became much more comfortable and over time, he began to sleep through the night.

Marcus reminded us of one of the most important lessons: healing is often an exercise of trust. To overcome months or years of trauma, our patients require people who are willing to meet them where they are and stand by their side. Each conversation, each moment of listening to stories of pain, and each gesture of kindness is a building block towards trust and towards healing—not only for Marcus, but for all of us.

For some of our patients, this support continues beyond their time at Christ House. In 1992, we initiated our Kairos program, a permanent supportive housing program for former Christ House patients with chronic illnesses who commit to recovery, spirituality and service. The men in the program live in their own apartments at Kairos House, a 45-unit building owned by Christ House and located around the corner, and on a floor of the nearby Branner Apartments that we lease. There are currently 38 men in the program, ranging in ages from 43-90, almost a third of whom have been in the program for 10 or more years. Each of the men who is able volunteers at Christ House, serving meals, running our shower program, working in the kitchen, accompanying patients to appointments, participating in church services, offering haircuts and assisting the Development department performing administrative tasks. This past Christmas,

when we also celebrated Christ House’s 35th anniversary, I had the pleasure of interviewing each of the men in the Kairos program, asking them the simple question, “What does Christ House mean to you?” One of the most common answers: “It means a new life.”

Now, we all have the honor to witness Micheal’s story, which he has generously agreed to share with us this morning. Micheal…

Micheal then shared about how it was for him before he came to Christ House, and how it is now that he has found healing and hope in the Kairos permanent housing program. The text of his remarks is not available.

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