Chattanooga’s prayer battle reflected in moral conflicts of area homeless

Two men residing at Union Gospel Mission in Chattanooga enjoy lunch at a local Presbyterian church as the group led by Rev. Jon Rector seeks fellowship among Christians at area churches.

About 10 men of Union Gospel Mission visited my church, Brainerd Hills Presbyterian, for worship this Lord’s Day. The church’s families had prepared extra, so the crowd was invited to eat lunch between the morning and afternoon worship services. 

Below is a text by the mission’s director, Rev. Jon Rector, about the work of the homeless — and how it fits into the controversy in Hamilton County over public prayer. You may find it enlightening. — DJT

By Jon Rector

Threatened lawsuits in Chattanooga have put open prayers to God in the spotlight, bringing national attention to the public nature of Christianity. God wants to be publicly honored, worshiped and praised. In the town square, in the august meeting rooms of county commissions, universities, city halls and federal congresses, the God of the scriptures demands to be thanked.

Homeless men are not exempted from this requirement. They may be poor, but they have a duty to be stewards of their talents for God’s glory and to praise him at the gates.

Poor men living along the streets and byways of Chattanooga are no less remarkable than the rich for their pride and vanity. They may look at you with hungry, calculating eyes and wear filthy collars and tattered pants. But sinful pride controls the hearts of many.

Homeless men somehow suppose they need make no commitments. They cannot suffer being bound, either to forgotten wives or their abandoned children. They have grown accustomed to looking out for good ole No. 1, and no other. Their time horizons are short. Thrift and providence are good, they know, but they treat them almost as evil. They live for the next opportunity for selfish pleasure — drink, an illicit drug, a cheap thrill, a free meal. Their care for themselves is often pathetic. They are riddled with diabetes or gum disease, and what we think is a guarded, covetous look in their eyes may be malnutrition, after all. So accustomed are they as fallen men to self-seeking that many have doomed themselves to begging and foul habits.

Union Gospel Mission residents Mikey, left, and Fred chat after worship services at a small Chattanooga Presbyterian church.

Magnifying Christ

The Union Gospel Mission in Chattanooga is a ministry that testifies of Christ’s claims upon such outcasts. We don’t hide the fact that we are witnesses of Christ’s redeeming grace. We publicly hold forth that we are Christian. We have public prayer before meals and before important events in our sanctuary.

Our task is to give these men a temporary home and Christian instruction. Clients enter a six-month Bible study and discipleship program. When that course of spiritual encouragement is done — what next? We’re trying to be not just a landlord to a bunch of older guys. We are a gospel ministry, requiring clients to make a profession of faith and go through our Grace Bible study program. We will ask hangers-on to move out if God will bring us new clients.

New clients are scarce partly because of our location. Our period of wandering came to an end in our gratefully landing at the property of a former church. But we are in a part of town not traveled by transients and it is not possible right now to operate our overnight program that serves all comers. Pray that we can restore this portion of our ministry and obtain broader support, especially from local churches. There’s more that we ask. Please consider writing us a check in financial support. Meeting needs. Making change. Magnifying Christ. That’s our purpose. Thank you for being a part of it.

We would be grateful for your support of Union Gospel Mission.


You may support the mission through its website. Or send a check to support Union Gospel Mission at the following address. 

Union Gospel Mission

P.O. Box 983

Chattanooga, TN 37401

Michael Murphy, left, a member at Brainerd Hills Presbyterian church, chats with Daniel, a visitor from Union Gospel Mission.

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