Role Reversal at the Haywood Street Congregation

This reflection originally appeared in the December 2015 newsletter of the Haywood Street Congregation. It is reposted with permission.

We talk about role reversal as one aspect of the Holy Chaos that happens each week at Haywood Street. Those who are typically on the receiving end of public assistance are invited to share their gifts and carry out the programs; and those who have spent hours and hours volunteering in all kinds of different settings are invited to show up empty-handed, ready to receive.

I experienced the role reversal in a new way this week, and it has stirred something up in me.

I was asked to greet a group on Wednesday that was visiting Haywood Street for the first time. The expectation was that I would give an introduction and some information, maybe a tour, all to help them understand what Haywood St. is all about. This is something I frequently do and I usually really enjoy it. It’s fun to watch people experience this ministry for the first time.

But on this particular day I just felt like I had nothing to offer. I was stuck for words like a writer with a block. I couldn’t name a single thing about this place that has been meaningful to me. I couldn’t find any way to explain what really happens at the Downtown Welcome Table each week besides an always-delicious multi-course meal.

So I invited them to explore on their own and have lunch and we agreed to circle up after worship. When we did, I asked them to tell me about the ministry.

Julio talked about sitting at the picnic tables with folks who thought he was new and homeless in town. They wanted to make sure he knew where to find the best meal or a safe place to sleep.

Pam held back tears as she talked about being ministered to by a 57-year old man who was currently living in a tent and faithfully living out his call to share God’s love with others.

Others talked about their experience at the table, the friendly demeanor of folks they had previously encountered only on city sidewalks with empty faces.

They noticed what happens in worship when Brian invites the congregation to help preach the sermon or offer communion. Folks feel welcome to respond in a very authentic way, unencumbered by the fear of judgment or labeling.

It was such a blessing to me to sit among these new friends and have them offer examples of grace and love and community played out in the context of a lovely meal and a somewhat untraditional worship service. They were the tour guides and I was the guest.

They reminded me of so many things I love about this place and they reminded me that when I show up empty-handed and allow the role reversal to happen, I get to experience the blessing. Amen.


  1. Sharon McCart says:
    I was one of your visitors and I was overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of the ministry happening at your church. All are welcome. All can lead in worship. All serve and are served. All are treated as the most beloved of God. A life-changing experience for me. Thank you and praise God for all of you!
    Dec 19th, 2015

Laura Kirby

About This Blog

Read and comment on a range of personal reflections and perspectives about poverty and Ministry with the Poor. Our goal is to attract diverse voices and points of view from United Methodists and friends, including people and communities living in conditions of poverty, other experts, religious leaders, community organizers, advocates, policy makers, volunteers, and all engaged in Ministry with the Poor.