The Man Upstairs Smiles 

As Charlie Strobel’s reign as Nashvillian of the Year comes to an end—the Scene will name a new one in December—we have a few more words to say about him and a cold night way back in 1985 that changed this city.
As Charlie Strobel’s reign as Nashvillian of the Year comes to an end—the Scene will name a new one in December—we have a few more words to say about him and a cold night way back in 1985 that changed this city. Strobel is a man we know as a priest, a joker, a baseball fan, a dog lover, a long-winded storyteller, and, perhaps most endearingly, a guy who can appreciate a good pint in a warm pub on a chilly evening without flinching at the “f” word. But, most of all, he’s a sort of homeless whisperer, a kind soul who spends his days and nights offering shelter, education and treatment opportunities to the most vulnerable people in Nashville. This week, he and his colleagues celebrate 20 years of Room in the Inn, a shelter program Strobel unwittingly started when he was pastor of Holy Name Catholic Church. “As I looked out my bedroom window from the rectory beside the church, I saw a disturbing scene,” he writes in a recent newsletter column about the genesis of the program. “People were asleep in their cars parked in the church parking lot, and the temperature that evening was dropping below freezing…. People were freezing before my very eyes. I was compelled to do something. I went down and invited everyone to spend the night in the cafeteria.” He didn’t know then what his next move would be, what he would do the following night, how the bishop or his parishioners would react, what the implications of his decision ultimately would be. But as it turned out, that one frigid night led him to a calling—not just one of ministering to the faithful, which he was already doing, but of rolling up his sleeves and practicing good works, day in and day out, to believers, the godless, drunks and anyone else on the wrong side of a door. Eventually, other churches joined Strobel’s fledgling passion, and today 150 congregations and innumerable volunteers offer shelter to 225 people each night during the harshest, most unforgiving time of year, from Nov. 1 through March 31. Strobel’s and his colleagues’ efforts have expanded over the years, and the Campus for Human Development is the hub of learning, case management and respite services to the homeless and to those who are working to get off the streets. Strobel cites the guidance of the Hebrew prophets, whose call was to help “the widow, the orphan and the stranger,” as well as the Gospel dictate “to shelter the homeless,” as direction enough for what the campus does. “Amen” seems like an appropriate response. It’s not just the two decades of Room In the Inn that we celebrate here, but also 20 years of Charlie’s goodness. He remains involved at the campus as founding director working on special projects, but he’s passed on the day-to-day reins to Rachel Hester. We didn’t want his service to go without our thanks, even though we know that there are people practicing countless acts of goodwill and charity every day in Nashville. We’re pretty sure they’re all equal in the eyes of the guy upstairs. We, however, can pick favorites. And Charlie is pretty much it.

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