It’s easy to miss the Trinity Evangelical Free Church, set back as it is on a side road in this mill town in central Maine. Nothing would seem to distinguish it from a thousand churches like it across the state.
The same might be said of Trinity’s pastor, Richard Berry, a woodsman-turned-preacher who umpires softball in his spare time. When Berry scraped together money to attend college after his brother-in-law was killed by a drunken driver, he imagined neither fame nor notoriety in his future. Now he has both.
Since September 2008, Trinity has been operating as a homeless shelter – the only one, it turns out, in a county tied for second place as the poorest in the state. Twenty-three men live at the church in former Sunday school classrooms next to the sanctuary where services are held. The criteria for entrance? “You’re homeless, and you’re hungry,” Pastor Berry says.
The place has a homey, if utilitarian, look. On a recent Sunday the men watched TV, cooked dinner, or lounged outside in easy chairs on a makeshift patio. One split wood for an outdoor furnace that provides heat and hot water. At 7 p.m. everyone crowded into a basement room for bible study, led by an associate pastor.
“This is crazy stuff,” says Berry of what has ensued since he decided in July 2008 to let one homeless man temporarily spend nights at the church on a sofa. “There are days I can’t catch my breath. I never envisioned any of it.”