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'Souper' Bowl party at shelter an exercise in fellowship

Sunday - 2/2/2014, 11:30pm  ET

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Rev. Rutherford Cooke addresses the crowd at the Central Union Mission at halftime of the Super Bowl. (WTOP/Thomas Warren)

WASHINGTON - Homeless men in the district were the guests of honor at a Super Bowl party held Sunday night at the Central Union Mission in Northwest D.C.

"It's a tradition … and, we spell our party s-o-u-p-e-r," says Rev. Rutherford Cooke, director of overnight guest ministries at the mission.

It's an event the mission has hosted for more than 20 years, and at the mission on Massachusetts Avenue, at least 120 homeless men watched the game on a big-screen TV in the cafeteria and feasted on chili, hot dogs and peanuts.

Darren Swan has been in the mission for a week and searched for words to describe how he felt.

"It makes me feel good that we have a mission like this that can say ‘Look, we going to help those who are less fortunate, and at least give them a chance to enjoy life'," Swan says.

Lionel Fowler was a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Army. Along with staying at the shelter, he works in one of their programs. He calls the mission a spiritually uplifting place.

About 120 men showed up for the Super Bowl party at the Central Union Mission. Rev. Cooke says that with snow in the forecast, many of them will stay the night. (WTOP/Thomas Warren)

"If this wasn't around I'd probably be traveling somewhere," he says with a hearty laugh. "I'd probably be sitting around the Mall or something, making myself useful or educating myself."

During the Super Bowl halftime show, while most of the country was watching Bruno Mars perform, the men at the mission listened to Rev. Cooke preach - although the reverend ended his impromptu lesson with the popular phrase "Not a sermon, just a thought" - a phrase made popular by McLean Bible Church Pastor Lon Solomon in a commercial heard on WTOP.

The Central Union Mission has been around since 1884, and hails itself as the oldest in the District. Along with temporary housing, it also offers social counseling, daily Bible lessons and medical and legal services.

Rev. Cooke says many of the men stay stayed overnight, and he expects an influx of new dwellers with the forecast on Monday calling for snow. During the game, he was at ease watching the camaraderie of men who otherwise would've been out in the cold.

"In this setting they're able to enjoy a football game and commune one with another … and that's what we love to see," Rev. Cooke says.

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