In Memory of Father Charles Strobel

Sep 13, 2023

This Will Be Your Work the Rest of Your Life


It was pouring rain when our van pulled up to a building that looked like it may not be very much shelter from that amount of rain. This was my very first picture of Room in the Inn in Nashville, TN. I was with a group of ministry colleagues spending 3 days immersed in ministries with those experiencing homelessness.

Inside the climate was happy and much lighter than I expected in a place full of people in such need. Staff welcomed us as if we had known them forever and the guests smiled and said hello. We were taken upstairs to a “conference room” with a big table and Rachel, the director welcomed us along with Mary another staff person. Rachel said, “Charlie will join us as soon as he can” as if we knew him already. She began to share the RITI process of hospitality through the day center, guest house and congregational shelter. We began asking questions and the door opened and Charlie did indeed join us. He went around the table to every person, took us by the hand and said in his soft, comforting voice how happy he was that we were there. I knew he wasn’t just saying that, he looked right into each person. He laughed and said, “I was downstairs meeting with a guest who needed some reconciliation to rejoin our community, I needed to be reconciled with him too.”

I never forgot my experience with Father Charles Strobel. He founded Room in the Inn as a young priest who saw the need for shelter and opened the doors of his parish church and then asked others to do the same. The lives that have been changed because of that simple act of hospitality are unimaginable and mine is one of those. It allowed me to see the homeless community in my city as more than a weekly volunteer experience serving food or donations of clothing to clothes closets. I saw the people that Charlie called neighbors and shared that they are also his lifelong friends.

When my friend, Leo at my parish, Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church decided to explore shelter models I said, “you need to go to Nashville and see Room in the Inn.” I guess this is the place to say, “the rest is history.” But it is so much more than history. It is the story of a life that followed a call to radical welcome and so generously shared the “Charlie way” with anyone who wanted to listen (and some who had to be convinced to listen.) It seemed like a stretch to imagine that congregations in Memphis would open their doors the way they had in Nashville. I admit part of the reason was that I’m no Charlie! When I went to visit him to say we were ready to give it a try he very excitedly said, “get some people together and I’m there.”

After the gathering of people interested in hearing more about Room in the Inn-Memphis (still a dream) I walked to the car with Charlie and he gave me a big hug and said,

“Lisa, if you do this thing, this will be your work for the rest of your life, I’m warning you.”

And we both laughed but my laughter had a few tears. It was true, still is true and it has been the best gift of all of my life. With this call came a mentor, a friend, a priest and a cheerleader for every step of this RITI-Memphis journey. He checked in regularly, expected updates and sent prayers, especially during times of big decisions or struggles. I depended on that soft, comforting voice to say, “get to work.”

On the morning of August 6th Father Charles Strobel died after several years of Parkinson’s Disease. Early in his diagnosis he told me he felt like he had not “done it all” and he just was not ready for it to end. I have to say that even though I knew he was nearing the end of his life the last time I spoke with him I just was not ready either. I needed more of the advice, more cheering on, more corny jokes in text messages and most of all more of one of the most meaningful friendships of my life. Charlie would often remind me to remind others that the only reason not to help those who are homeless is because we just don’t want to. He felt an urgency to share that the will to love others as God has loved us is not an option but a mandate on the precious gift of life we have been given. He lived that urgency and instilled it in all of us who have been fortunate to learn the “Charlie way” of being in relationship. I am grieving, I am thankful, I am going to “get to work” because I hear that soft, comforting voice and contagious laughter every day. It permeates every part of Room in the Inn-Memphis. It is our beginning and it is also our future.

It took a baseball stadium to hold the people who came to celebrate his life. I sat there along with those who are unsheltered, country music stars and politicians. They all were feeling the same thing, a friend to everyone has left the planet. Rest in eternal peace Charlie, you did it all and we are so very thankful.

– Rev. Lisa Anderson

Executive Director, Room in the Inn – Memphis

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