(This article was published in the Spring 2014 issue of Micah Mandate - written by Isaiah Fish.)
It’s 7:20 a.m. on a brisk Wednesday morning, and Aaron Palmer pulls up to the Room in the Inn headquarters blaring a playlist of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. He shuts off the truck and walks through the parking lot into the main lobby, shaking hands with a couple of the nearly 100 participants, or clients of the organization, that are sitting in the lobby.
After meandering through the crowd for 10 minutes, an announcement blares over the speaker throughout the lobby.
“The morning chapel is now open,” says an anonymous loud voice over the public announcement system.
The chapel is a small room to the side of the lobby, and about 15 chairs are lined up around the walls. In one corner is a bookcase with both a Star of David and a Christian cross, and the opposing wall holds two canvases painted with prayers of Room in the Inn participants.
“Oh Lord of Peace, hear our cry in the night and bring an end to war,” reads one prayer on the canvas.
This is Palmer’s routine every Monday and Wednesday morning. The senior social justice major in Joy Wells’ Introduction to Community Service course is required to complete 60 hours working for a local nonprofit.
As an intern for Room in the Inn, Palmer leads a 30-minute interfaith chapel twice a week for homeless adults in the city of Nashville.
This particular morning, the scripture reading comes from John 8, the story of the woman caught in adultery. Four participants have come today, which Palmer says is a good day in terms of numbers.
“We’re going to read from John 8 this morning,“ Palmer says before two guys in the room cut him off.
“I know that one by heart. I know that one by memory,” says Jack, one of the participants.
After spending nearly four years studying in the social justice program, Palmer has found himself drawn to those he calls “in the margins of society.”
“These men are told all the time by the government and society how lazy they are, how they’re all drug ad- dicts, messed up, not worthy, and should be feared because they most likely have a criminal record,” Palmer says. “I have taken it upon my own self that when I lead morning chapel, that it will not be a place that reminds them of all the ways they ended up on the streets, but of the simple fact that they are loved and it is to them that Christ offered his kingdom through grace.”
So that is precisely what he tries to do every morning that he leads chapel.
Jack tells a story of his own regarding his suicide attempt in 1999, when he tried to jump off the Shelby Street bridge downtown.
“These are the stories that I hear on a daily basis, for which I am very thankful and indebted to these men for allowing me to recognize God’s grace for myself,” Palmer later says of Jack’s story.
These powerful stories day in and day out stir Palmer on a deep and profound level, forcing him to reconsider how he understands his own faith in relation to Christ and the outcasts in society.
“The thought that has come to me since leading chapels and workingwiththispopulationisthat Christ isn’t just in the least of these that I would prefer him to be, but he is in the very person that I am the most repulsed and ashamed by,” Palmer says.
His service at Room in the Inn has helped train him for the full time job he started in January at the Nashville Rescue Mission.
He says his time with the men at Room in the Inn has changed him.
“At the end of the day, I wanted to not just fulfill a classroom assignment but wanted to form friendships with these men. Forming these friendships and close bonds has been the best education in understanding the systems and cycles that are present in our society that perpetuate homelessness and keep people out,” he says. “It is in these relationships that I have found my role and vocation in this world, as a person who advocates for the rights of people who have no voice and as a person that proclaims the coming of the Kingdom to them.”