On the longest night of the year, December 21, members of the St. Louis community gathered at Centenary United Methodist Church to remember 14 people who died homeless in St. Louis in 2017.
Reverend Kathleen Wilder spoke of the importance of the memorial service in her welcome. “Because we do this, their name is called, and their life is remembered and valued,” she said.
In addition to Rev. Wilder, Father Ed Murphy of St. Vincent DePaul Church, Dr. Gary Morse of Places for People, and Edwin Muhammad, St. Louis City homeless services program manager, spoke at the service.
Father Murphy remembered his friend, “Art,” who passed away while homeless in 2017. He also spoke about the readings he had been highlighting during Advent this year. The readings are “about hope, and without hope to sustain us in our work, without hope to sustain what we want the world to look like, what we want it to be, it would be easy enough to give up.”
Luckily, there are those who are stubborn enough not to give up. “We can’t give up. Whenever anyone is lost in the way that these people have been lost, it diminished all of us.”
Morse started the memorial service in 2004. He spoke about the feelings of sadness and outrage that are sparked by these deaths. “This tragedy can be a wake-up call,” he said.
“When we see people who are homeless, we do not turn away from them, we do not look the other way, but we look them in the eyes as our brothers and sisters, and treat them with dignity and kindness and open our hearts to the person.”
Muhammad’s words echoed this sentiment. “For all of those who seek services and those who we see in our community, we need to stop and take a moment and share with them: I see you, I acknowledge you, you count. And we extend a hand to them and let them know that services are available.”
After the reading of the names of the 14 people who died while homeless in St. Louis in 2017, those in attendance joined in a candlelight vigil outside the church, with the strong wind serving as a reminder of the hardships that people without shelter face.