gym

The gym inside Hot Spring First’s Christian Life Center has been setup as a temporary refuge for those seeking shelter from the frigid temperatures this week. Photo courtesy of Cindy English and Hot Springs First UMC.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Arkansas is experiencing the biggest winter weather event in years, with snow accumulations topping 12 inches in some areas, and temperatures dropping into the negative digits. With the harsh winter weather comes an increased risk for people without a home or without a sufficient way to warm their homes, but Hot Springs First United Methodist Church has opened up a warming center to make sure those who need hot food and a warm shelter are taken care of this week.

The Rev. Bill Sardin, associate pastor at Hot Springs First, said that his church was contacted by the American Red Cross of Hot Springs early last week about opening up their church building to shelter people from the frigid weather.

The gym in the church’s Christian Life Center is functioning as the temporary shelter and warming center.

The Rev. JJ Galloway, senior pastor at Hot Springs First, said that the Red Cross is providing much of the supplies needed.

“The Red Cross provides cots, blankets, food and water, crates for small animals, wonderful volunteers to stay with the guests, along with security for the church,” Galloway said.

Hot meals at breakfast and dinner time have been offered to guests, and volunteers from both Hot Springs First UMC and St. James Episcopal Church are working to make sure guests are fed and clothed.

Additionally, shower facilities and snacks are available to everyone. Sardin said that guests are welcome to come and go as they please, and many choose to leave during the day and come back at night.

They’ve also found time to make the shelter not just a safe place for people, but an inviting and comfortable environment as well.

“In the evening time, we turn on the projectors and play movies to provide some entertainment,” Sardin said.

On Sunday, Feb. 14, the church also had the opportunity to share their worship service with the people gathered in the gym.

“Our guests were invited to stay for the livestream broadcast of our contemporary worship service which is held in our Christian Life Center each Sunday at 10:45 a.m. All guests stayed, some reclining on their cots, and others intently listening,” Galloway said.

“Not long into the service, the WiFi went out, but Rev. Bill Sardin continued to preach and interact with our guests, along with our ConneXion Praise and Worship Band. At the end of the service, Holy Communion was offered to each person. Several special prayers were shared with our guests, including a prayer for the Red Cross team. It was truly a holy morning in an ordinary worship setting that turned out to be anything but ordinary.”

Sardin said they plan on continuing to provide a place for people to stay until the weather warms up above freezing temperature, which according to local weather reports, may not happen until the weekend on Feb. 20 or 21.

“The first two general rules are: Do no harm and Do all the good you can whenever and wherever you can. We have a facility that can offer warmth and safety. If we did not offer this shelter not only would we be failing to do good but we would also be doing harm,” Sardin said.

Rev. Galloway added that the church’s prime location, at the intersection of Grand and Central Avenues, makes it vital for them to continue this mission during the frigid weather.

“In opening our Christian Life Center this week to our friends and neighbors, we open our hands to be the hands of Christ during this dangerous time of sub-zero temperatures. First United Methodist Church is truly blessed to be a blessing and we look forward to living out that blessing in our community now and in the years to come,” Galloway said.

If you are seeking shelter from the cold weather this week, Hot Springs First UMC is located at 2350 Central Ave in Hot Springs, Arkansas.