By: Sophie Beal
I had the pleasure of interviewing Reverend Mary Wetzel on December 15th during her Church of the Common Ground’s weekly foot clinic for people experiencing homelessness held at Gateway during the winter months. Mary and her church community have being coming to Gateway to serve for over five years and have been maintaining a community ministry (and foot clinic) on the streets of Atlanta since Christmas Eve 2006. Get to know Mary’s amazing story:
Where are you from originally?
I’m from the Midwest—Michigan / Wisconsin area.
What brought you down here to Atlanta?
I came originally to get a Masters in Community Counseling with Georgia State and ended up staying.
How did you begin volunteering with Gateway Center?
I’m the Vicar of Church of the Common Ground. We’re a church community on the streets of Atlanta, so we don’t have a building. One of our outreach programs is what we call “common soles,” which is a non-medical foot clinic where we listen to stories, massage feet and give clean socks, etc. But in the winter time we needed a place indoors and so we ask Gateway. During the winter months we’re here every Monday. We usually begin coming to Gateway around the 1st of November and we’ll be in until April or end of March.
Also, because we’re out on the streets a lot, we refer many people we meet to the Gateway Center and it’s been a wonderful connection. Connecting others to Gateway and being connected with the folks who work here.
Why do you feel it’s important to serve others?
Well I serve because of my theology. I feel that that’s just what you do. In scripture it talks about feeding, visiting, and being present. Even with the foot clinic–like today for instance, the folks washing feet, getting clean socks and towels, etc are all people who are either currently on the street or were formerly and are now in housing. So we really believe that part of being a church community is finding a way to serve. It doesn’t matter if you have an income or live in a house—we just gotta take care of each other. Really.
How long ago did your ministry begin?
Church of the Common Ground began Christmas Eve 2006. Eight years ago. And we began partnering with Gateway Center five or six years ago. When we’re not at Gateway during the summer months we use the courtyards outside of Central Presbyterian Church.
Do have a favorite place in Atlanta?
I get renewed at Stone Mountain. There are some paths I love. Just getting a different view, being up on top. There are lakes that have trails around them and it just reminds me of home in the North Woods. But I also have some favorite restaurants to meet friends. Manuels and Babett’s are two of my favorites. I love that Atlanta is getting new bike paths. I went to seminary in Boston and I missed their bike paths.
Where did you go to Seminary in Boston?
Episcopal Divinity School.
What is the hardest part about this work for you?
The hardest part is not being overwhelmed. The hardest part is being aware of what we’re called to do and to just do that part and not get side tracked. There’s a lot of need, but you just have to keep reminding yourself that you can’t do it all. It’s hard for me to take time to take care of myself. The hardest part is just not being able to do everything. Staying true to what you feel your mission is. And let everybody do their part.
If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?
I’d say… be who you are. This is the 3rd week of advent, so we lit the candle of joy and read the scripture about “find what gives you joy and use that as a gift to the world.” That’s just what we need to do. That goes back also to what the hard part is. Being aware of what really gives you joy… and saying no to the other things. Working and having a church community on the street, you have to reinforce again and again that all of our lives matter and that we all need to serve. We can’t wait til we win the lottery or your disability check comes. You have to start right now.