There is something going on at Berry Street . . . by Laura Tingo
The Nashville Salvation Army’s Berry Street Corps is a place where people gather to share, sing, hug and worship. Sometimes one happens without the other. Its services are anything but traditional. Firstly, there’s no sermon; instead it is based on open participation, which naturally spawns life lessons based in Scripture. There are no pews, with chairs set out in semi-circular, imperfect patterns to encourage interaction. Each service seems to take on its own shape too, as it uniquely unfolds.
Under the leadership of Sergeants Steve and Ernie Simms, it is done that way with an important purpose in mind. The door is open to anyone in need of a good dose of acceptance, friendship and faith. People come for the welcome feeling and “support group” atmosphere to bond, work things out and find peace.
“Sometimes people will stand up and share their personal story and ask for a prayer,” said Sergeant Steve Simms. “Some break down. It’s beautiful to see the other people there get up and go over and lay their hands on them to pray.”
The worship program simply states that Berry Street is “a place to believe, belong and become.”
“We do a lot of walking out life with people, situations that are hard to imagine sometimes surrounding food, clothing, housing issues,” said Sergeant Ernie Simms, “and, sometimes kids who don’t have a place to live or are hungry.”
The services are held each Sunday at 10:45 a.m. On any given week, 100 people will move in and out of its welcoming doors, with services bringing in about 65 people to worship each week. Prior to each service, Bible study is held at 9:30 a.m. Refreshments are served to all who attend.
“One of the coolest things is that we have between 20 and 30 kids each week and about six volunteer adult leaders who work with them,” she said.
On Sundays, the kids, mostly from the surrounding neighborhood near its location at 225 Berry Street in Nashville, often arrive almost two hours prior to the day’s happenings. “Nearly all the kids walk there from the neighborhood and are eager to arrive.”
Often they bring friends, and the complimentary meal for 20 quickly becomes 60. Sometimes members of the local homeless community will come in to eat. “Everyone is invited to the meal.”
They do all this with understandably minimal tithing support from the congregation. “We don’t pass a plate for the offering,” Sergeant Simms said. That’s when their friends step up.
“The support from our communities is just wonderful and amazing,” said Sergeant Simms.
And the spiritual “magic” happens for the benefit of others in the most need in miraculous ways.
School uniforms are found for kids that tell them they need clothes. Shoes are bought for several basketball players. Sometimes they turn to social media with a call and the need comes through.
Berry Street also opens its doors to serve a complimentary meal to guests from the neighborhood, once a month. Weekly prayer meetings held 6 p.m. on Tuesdays draw anywhere between four and 20 people.
Berry Street also takes its worship meetings out of its church and into the community on Thursdays, reaching about 20 students each week at Trevecca Nazarene University. The Sergeants even take their mission to the streets literally, by walking in the neighborhood from time to time, carrying a full-sized Salvation Army Flag.
(Sundays @ 10:45 — 225 Berry St., Nashville, TN 37207.)