NH Pastor Sleeps Outside in -9 Weather to Raise Awareness for the Plight of Homeless Who Are Suffering in Community

(Photo: Screenshot/NECN)The Rev. Steve Gehlert of Congregational Church in Lyme, N.H., (r), slept in a tent outside his church for one week to raise awareness about homelessness in his community, Jan. 23, 2014.

A New Hampshire pastor spent each night last week in a tent in front of his church in an attempt to encourage his congregation to be more compassionate toward the area's homeless.

"It's to help other people think about what homeless people are going through," the Rev. Steve Gehlert, 64, who pastors Congregational Church in Lyme, told NECN.

An experienced backpacker, Gehlert made it through a week where temperatures fell as low as -9 with a tent and two outdoor sleeping bags.

"I'm doing fine. I've been warm every night," Gehlert told V News. "I've been in the tent for eight or nine hours. But it's because I have the advantage of really good gear."

Despite his quality equipment, the pastor said that the experience was challenging for him.

"It's a relentless situation that has to wear people down, because you get tired, your energy is drained and every step of the way through the day is a struggle," Gehlert said, adding that he considered himself lucky because he still had access to a hot shower and a warm office daily.

Gehlert's camping was part of a litany of events that the church organized on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to highlight the civil rights leader's life of service and to call attention to Upper Valley Haven's work to help the homeless. The organization provides "temporary shelter and educational programming for homeless families and adults, as well as food and clothing to anyone in need," and serves more than 10,000 families in the area.

Renee Weeks, director of shelter and clinical services, said that her organization always has a waiting list for its housing shelter.

"It's not just when the weather's cold, it's 365 nights a year," she added.

Lynn Kenton, who attends the church, told V News that when Gehlert announced his plans during the worship service, "there was dead silence."

"I don't know what that silence means," she said, "but personally, I admire him and hope that this will make a difference, even with one or two people."

The pastor said that his decision to time his experiment with MLK Day was intentional.

"Martin Luther King was all about justice and remembering the needs of the less fortunate," Gehlert said. "His message was about creating a society where the less fortunate were treated with dignity and respect."