Homeless men stand in the gap to save Atlanta church that helps them


Angels are everywhere.

Even homeless.

So when looters, already having caused millions of dollars in property damage throughout Buckhead, headed toward Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, five homeless people converged to stand their ground.

And said No. Not this church. Not our home.

“Please,” they implored, “don’t destroy this church. This is God’s house.”

The looters retreated, heading south on Peachtree. And the five homeless men returned to the front of the church where they have slept, some for several years.

According to the Atlanta Police Department, at least 67 businesses in the vicinity of the church were reported burglarized or vandalized between late Friday, May 29, and early Saturday, May 30, as peaceful protests of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis disintegrated into looting and riots. Damages to businesses along the four-mile stretch of Peachtree Road have been estimated by the Buckhead Coalition at $10 million-plus.

James Jordan, a member of the church’s property management team, drove past police cars, broken windows, and other evidence of looting and vandalism as he headed to work around 5 a.m. that Saturday.

“The destruction was devastating,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to find.”

On close inspection, all he discovered were some empty bottles and other trash scattered on the grounds of the church, which was closed for services due to the pandemic.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Jordan said.

In front of the building, the homeless men were waiting for him.

“Mr. James. Mr. James. We’re so glad to see you,” one told him.

The men described their encounter with the looters as something “like a movie scene.” Hundreds of people were in the streets. Some were ready to hit the church — where three former U.S. presidents came in March 2018 to eulogize Zell Miller, the former governor and U.S. senator — until the homeless men spoke up.

“Please don’t destroy this place,” one of the men said they had pleaded. “It’s a wonderful place that helps us out.”

Jordan said he classifies the five as heroes.

“Dealing with a mob that size took bravery and courage,” he said.

Karen McCrea, a member of the church since 1991, heard what happened in her Sunday School class on Zoom.

“It’s beyond heartwarming,” she said. “I have told many of my friends the story, and so many have been touched to the point of tearing up. It makes me so proud of being a member of PRUMC.”

Homelessness is one of the chief missions at Peachtree Road United Methodist. The church pairs with Buckhead Christian Ministry and United Way to help the homeless in a wide variety of ways, including housing, job counseling, and access to restroom facilities, food, and free MARTA passes, the Rev. Bill Britt, the church’s senior pastor, said.

The homeless people who sleep on the church’s front porch and stairs are given breakfast on Sundays when services can be held, he said.

On the Monday after the rampage, Britt said he was able to thank some of those who had pleaded to save the church. He also filled in his congregation.

“Some have wondered why our church – the only church in the path of the destruction from Phipps Plaza to the Shoppes of Buckhead – was left untouched,” he wrote to church members.

“I am very grateful,” Britt told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “We are very blessed.”