“Where does the story begin? I guess with me getting out of prison after 19 years.”
So began Alan Bartley, now coordinator of the shower ministry at First Presbyterian Church Garden Grove.
“I had heard about God and decided to turn my life over to him, to let him direct the path,” continued Bartley. He was living on the streets. He had nobody. But he wanted to be presentable when he went to the parole office.
“I wasn’t really looking for a place to shower – I was praying for God to give me direction – but somebody told me, ‘You can shower at First Presbyterian’ so I went.”
At the time, Denise Cerince, sister to pastor Cheryl Raine, was running the shower ministry. Bartley asked her if he could attend the worship service that Sunday.
“I really enjoyed the sermon given by Pastor Cheryl, so I continued to come, but I wanted to find a way to give back,” explained Bartley. He offered to help clean the showers, and to help Denise with the shower ministry.
The ministry began to grow. Having himself been on the streets Bartley was acutely aware of the needs of those who came to shower – need for towels, shampoo, soap, but also the need for a hot cup of coffee and some snacks, a place to rest a bit.
From hosting 3-5 people a week, the shower ministry now serves over 70 people per day. Recent donations have allowed the church to install tankless water heaters so that the hot water does not run out. A washer and dryer have recently been donated to the ministry, so that those who come will also have a place to do laundry.
“When Alan first came to us and began helping, I said to Cheryl, I think we are heading into a ministry that we don’t even know we are heading into,” explained Denise Cerince. Bartley, laughing, explained that he originally came on board to help relieve Denise of work, but now with the success of the ministry, she has more work than ever.
Pastor Cheryl Raine has been at FPCGG for twelve and a half years. “This is by far the ministry that has the most people involved in it,” she explained. “Our congregation is 70, 80, 90 years old but you have women saying, “I can wash towels, I can cook, I can give away books.”
“Denise and I ran the shower ministry for twelve and a half years and it was only a handful of people that would come,” explained Raine. It’s something that we’ve always done, but that didn’t take root until Alan came to us – and he came to us as one needing a shower.”
They’ve come to call it their ‘unpredictable ministry’ because, as Raine says, “You never know – it just came to us.”
For Raine it is a very tangible example of ‘trying to see where God is working and then partnering with God.’ That, she says, is what they are doing. “God is moving in our community and we are just partnering with God.”
Bartley is quick also to acknowledge the hand of God in the shower ministry.
“If there is one thing that I have discovered since I started doing this it is this – if you decide you want to do something in God’s name, you’ve got to remember that you’ve got a partner. God is going to make it happen – all you have to do is to start down the path.”