Flener receives 2012 Mary Morris Award for Exemplary Service to Society

By Kim Chaudoin on 4/20/2012

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Lipscomb University student Brett Flener received the 2012 Mary Morris Award for Exemplary Service to Society from the university in a special ceremony April 19.

Brett Flener
Brett Flener, Richard Goode

Flener, a senior law, justice and society major, is the co-founder of the non-profit Open Table Nashville in 2010 and the lead organizer in the student group Lipscomb University Advocates for Unhoused in 2012.

The Mary Morris Award is given annually to someone who demonstrates a high level of service to community and church and who exhibits vision in creating new avenues to expand Christian principles in unconventional ways.

“Brett's leadership and commitment to working for housing solutions with the unhoused in Nashville is significant, said Christin Shatzer, director of service learning. “Brett's humility and determination makes him a powerful force for change in our community. These qualities reflect the spirit of Mary Morris' life, and we are excited to honor Brett with the Award this year.”

The Mary Morris Award was established to honor another outstanding servant to humanity who died of cancer at age 36 in September 2005. Morris was an associate professor of education and founder of the Center for Character Development at Lipscomb University, which promoted the Character Counts! program in schools, businesses and organizations throughout the city.

“Hearing people speak about the kind of person Mary Morris was in her time at Lipscomb is a humbling experience,” said Flener. “During my life, I only hope I can cultivate a portion of the spirit she spread among her peers and the Lipscomb community.  I am honored to stand alongside past recipients of this award, especially Andrew and Lindsey Krinks, both of whom have been instrumental in forming and sustaining the person I am today.”

Flener said his commitment to service stems back to his childhood.

“During my formative years I watched my parents embody the meaning of hospitality through their actions with others. I was raised in the Christian faith tradition and believe in the God-given dignity of every person. I strive to model my service on the character of Jesus as depicted by the gospels,” said Flener. 

Flener said he has been inspired in his approach to service by a comment made by  Lilla Watson, an Aboriginal elder, educator, and activist who said, "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." 

“I try to keep Watson's ethos close to mind whenever I am serving others,” said Flener. “The idea of co-liberation is the model I base my service on. Co-liberation acknowledges that both the giver and the recipient of service are in need of freedom from differing kinds of oppression, and that such freedom is often discovered in community rather than isolation. I am passionate about the relationships that I have had the opportunity to form over the past few years and the love that has been shared in the process.”

Open Table Nashville (OTN) is a non-profit interfaith community that disrupts the cycles of poverty, journeys with the marginalized and provides education about issues of homelessness. Flener, along with four friends, created Open Table Nashville after many of the homeless citizens of Nashville became displaced from the historic flood of May 2010. Flener has served in a variety of roles within OTN including developing the organization’s mission and identity, participating in street and campsite outreach, facilitating furniture exchanges, criminal court advocacy, making presentations to faith and civic groups, coordinating fundraising events, training interns and forming of the board of directors.

Lipscomb University Advocates for the Unhoused (LUAU) was designed to practice hospitality as the Lipscomb community and to partner with faith communities to seek solutions and reduce the criminalization of unhoused people. The initiatives of LUAU are to launch a house of hospitality near Lipscomb, partner with faith communities to create spaces where unhoused people can legally and peacefully exist and work for the repeal of Tennessee’s “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012.”

Previous winners of the award include Nancy Moon Gonzalez, who develops curriculum and character education for schools in Guatemala and Honduras; Randy Steger, founder of Healing Hands International; Jon Lee, director of the Living Water Project; Tom Burton, executive director of AGAPE; and Andrew and Lindsey Krinks, local advocates for the homeless.