Dear Hyde Park Family,

As part of my seminary education, I spent a year working at the St. Vincent Hotel, an emergency overnight shelter for the homeless in Dayton, Ohio. It was during that time that my supervisor, a Catholic monk named Brother Al, gave me one of the best definitions of church I ever heard. One afternoon, as we were preparing for the arrival of the evening guests, he asked me,

“Magrey, what do you think happens here every night?”

I recounted for him the services we provided: the hot meal, the warm shower, the safe bed. I told him what I was learning about homelessness, and the systemic conditions in our city that were contributing to it. He said, “Those are good answers. But here is what is really happening:”

“Every night,” he said, “people come in through the front door. And they have needs. They need exactly what you said. Food, shelter, safety, and a reminder of their own dignity as a human being.”

“Then there’s a second group of people,” he continued. “They come in through the back door. They are the volunteers – a different group every night – from various churches, civic groups, and homes around town. They come in with needs, too. To feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. To sense that they are making a difference. To remember that any one of them is just one bad break away from coming in from the front door themselves.”

And I’ll never forget what he said next. “When the people coming in the front door meet the people coming in the back door, right there in the kitchen and dining hall here at the St. Vincent Hotel … church happens.

It’s still one of the best images for the church I have ever received.


Several times over the past few months, we have experienced just that kind of church at Hyde Park United Methodist. When the “feels like” temperature has dropped below forty degrees, the county has used our Harnish Activities Center as a cold night shelter for the men, women and children in our area.

Over the years, Hillsborough County has provided cold night shelters in the outskirts of the county. But for a long time, we have been one of the few in the city of Tampa itself. (Metropolitan Ministries and the Salvation Army have recently come on board.) With an estimated 1,700 documented homeless people in the county, the need is far greater than the county currently provides, so our efforts to make “church happen” make a big difference.

It’s an effort that has been led by church member Don Aiken, a team of volunteers, and the Rev. Vicki Walker.

And they need more volunteers.

To run an effective shelter for the 60-70 guests that come to us, we need twenty volunteers filling various responsibilities. Currently, the pool of volunteers is only about forty people, and with this Sunday and Monday night projected to be sub-40 degrees once again, we need to expand the base of people who might be asked to help.

But here’s the thing. Take a look at the list of roles, and notice how relatively simple most of them are:

  • Dinner pickup at Metropolitan Ministries: 1 person at 5 p.m.
  • Harnish Activities Center setup: 2 people from 4:30–5:30 p.m.
  • Registration and dinner service: 6 people from 6–8 p.m.
  • Monitor: 1 male and 1 female with shifts from 8–11 p.m.; 11 p.m.–3 a.m.; 3–6 a.m.
  • Breakfast pickup at Metropolitan Ministries – 1 person at 6 a.m.
  • Breakfast service and cleanup – 4 people from 6–7 a.m.

Some additional points: 1) New volunteers are always paired with an experienced volunteer. 2) Volunteers will be solicited via e-mail 48 hours prior to shelter activation.

You can volunteer to do one of these on occasion, right? And you can be part of the best definition of church I’ve ever heard.

I invite you to add your name to the list of volunteers who can be asked to serve in the future, perhaps starting with this Sunday and Monday evenings. To be included, click here. And if you have any questions, feel free to call the church’s Cold Night Shelter hotline at 813-347-8333 and speak to Don Aiken directly.

Thank you, Hyde Park disciples, for being the church together.

Grace and Peace,


The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist

To date, we have about 470 pledges turned in and are still in need of about 70 more pledges by next Wednesday to underwrite a 2019 budget with the same level of actual expenses we incurred during 2018. You can make a pledge securely online, or by contacting Lynn Osborne, our church comptroller, at her email address:

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