The theme of big ideas and big dreams continued with Dale Mullennix, from Urban Ministry Center of Charlotte, who described his dream to end homelessness. But Mullennix decided to take it one step further: “How about how to end homelessness and heal your own soul at the same time.”
Most people don’t want to talk about homelessness or do anything about it, Mullennix said, because they just can’t imagine how what they have to offer intersects with this tremendous social problem. Apathy combined with the feeling of being overwhelmed is a deadly combination.
But Mullennix crafted his talk around author Frederick Buechner’s famous quote, “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
It’s at that intersection of human gladness and human need that the Urban Ministry Center tries to operate. To illustrate that, Mullennix offered three compelling stories of volunteers who came to the Urban Ministry Center to live out their passions in connection with the deep human need of Charlotte’s homeless population.
Through the story of an artist named Ingrid, Mullennix explained how his view of mission was transformed. Her mural project was embraced by 75 homeless people, including one man named Johnny, who hadn’t painted since he was a child in the care of his grandmother. “You know those moments in life where something comes to you but you don’t know where it comes from you but you’re glad it did, this was one of those moments,” said Mullennix. He encouraged Johnny to call his grandmother in Detroit, and the ensuing conversation led to reconciliation. Johnny is off the streets and off of drugs and alcohol today, thanks to what became the ArtWorks 945 program at Urban Ministry Center.
A UNC college student asked Mullennix, “Have you ever thought about playing soccer with homeless people?” To which he responded, “Of course not!” But that encounter led to the formation of a homeless soccer team, which has gone on to represent the U.S. in the World Cup of homeless soccer against 30 countries in Edinburgh, Scotland. More than that, Urban Ministry Center has helped start homeless soccer programs in 23 U.S. cities and been instrumental in the creation of the first-ever U.S.A. Cup of homeless soccer. (Charlotte’s team came in second last year!)
Finally, Mullennix told us the story of Darren, who came to Charlotte on a bus from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Darren brought his incredible vocal talents and helped form the Voices of Love Gospel Choir. Unfortunately, Darren died waiting for disability benefits, but Mullennix says, “We miss Darren, but the choir goes on.” They’ve recently recorded their first album, and one of the choir members was invited to Hollywood to be a contestant on American Idol.
Mullennix’s new philosophy? “Come and tell us what you have to offer, and let’s see if we can make it happen with homeless people.”
The theme that tied all of these stories together was people knowing where their deep gladness came from and intersecting it with the world’s deep need. “They were not motivated by pity,” said Mullennix. “Pity does not bring us together. It creates distance and condescension. But by being motivated by their deep gladness, they were connecting with the deep gladness in the Other. And that deep gladness created the possibility for them to address their own need.”
Mullennix closed by asking us, “Will you do something about it? Let me know if you’re going to do something about it.”
“It may not end homelessness, but I promise you, it will heal your own soul.”
Dale Mullennix is an active member in the Charlotte community where he is the Executive Director of the Urban Ministry Center of Charlotte. The Center offers aid, soup kitchen, community programs, find housing opportunities, and help provide treatment to area homeless. Dale has been named Creative Loafing’s “Local Hero” and been presented with the Mecklenburg Bar Association’s “Liberty Bell Award” and recognized as Mecklenburg Ministries “Community Leader of the Year”. He is the father of two children, Aaron and Amanda, and is husband to Reverend Jane Summey. You can follow the work of Urban Ministries on Facebook, Twitter, and watch their videos on YouTube.
Live blog post by Steve Knight