In the next several blog posts, I am going to take a deep dive into Shelter Church and explore how intentionality, prayer, and intuition have shaped each of the pieces that make our rag tag community whole.
About 8 years ago, Pastor Collette and I sat down over cold iced teas on a hot sidewalk at a local coffee shop. It was one of those meetings that you look back on and are in awe of how something so simple birthed something so grand. The two of us were still getting to know each other. Our churches were just down the road from each other and we shared a fierce passion for those on the margins. I was working at the local UMC, spear-heading Breakfast Church (a 6 morning a week free hot breakfast) and she was meeting needs and advocating for justice at the Lutheran church. We had come together to talk about how we could work together as downtown churches to serve those who came looking for assistance with more dignity. A group of clergy had met and the two of us had agreed to work on a solution. What we couldn’t have known on that hot summer afternoon, was that God had some REALLY big plans ahead. We both commented that we could feel the Holy Spirit swirling around our conversation and we agreed that we were all in and ready to take this ride.
First came the Community Connectors. Twice a week, they would set up a table at the Breakfast Church and with the pooled resources of the local downtown churches, assist people with emergency needs. As we learned more and more about the community we were serving, we realized that an emergency shelter was the most critical need. What better way to use downtown church buildings than to shelter people in them at night. We researched, talked, prayed, planned, cajoled volunteers and colleagues, and began a rotating shelter.
Always at the back of our minds and deep in our hearts was a desire to create a worshipping community for those we served. Shelter church was just a dream and some ideas sketched out on paper, but we knew it’s time would come. And finally, in our 4th season of shelter, it was time. We applied to become Mission Developers and to plant a Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community in the ELCA. We knew this worshipping community would look different than any kind of church either of us had experienced before and that was exciting.
We wrestled with what elements we wanted to include in a short, 30 minute service. We knew that for many in our hoped for community there was great skepticism about church. For some, as much as they wanted to be part of a church family, their addiction, mental health, or housing status made traditional church difficult to attend. While so many of our main line churches in the community extolled a radical welcome, that welcome cooled once people were in the door as their fully authentic selves. Barriers existed in the very traditions that make our comfortable congregations what they are- and that’s okay. But, we were determined to create something that broke down the barriers and allowed all who joined us to feel like they were part of something.
We set out to create a worship service that was accessible, in the moment, participatory, and left lots of space for the Holy Spirit to work. If there is one lesson I have learned over and over again leading Shelter Church it is that sometimes the spirit has a direction in mind and you are best to just go with it! Simple, spirit led, barrier free worship. Not a small task. What elements were we absolutely sure we needed? Communion, sharing of the Gospel, prayer, a little music, some kind of offering, and food. With these elements as our foundation we knew there was the potential for something life changing for all involved…
Next Post- Can we really commission a song??