Grace Lutheran Church, as far as I can tell, has always had a reputation as a welcoming community. In the last several years, we’ve put that welcome to the test in a number of concrete ways, by creating space for our smallest members in the front of our worship space, by our near-unanimous vote in favor of being explicitly welcoming and affirming of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and by opening our doors to our neighbors experiencing homelessness on some of the coldest days last winter.
That last example is on-going, which many of you know, as Grace has been in conversations for more than two years now about how to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness in Dakota County, where the rental vacancy rate is below 2% and the number of emergency shelter beds – especially for single adults – doesn’t even begin to meet the need.
There is good news, though – we’re making progress! I’m privileged to sit on a county working group, with other clergy and county staff and commissioners committed to finding the most holistic long-term solution we can for the residents of Dakota County. The county staff who sit in these meetings are clear that we would be nowhere near where we are today in this process if it weren’t for the work of the faith communities raising community awareness, and they’re grateful beyond measure for our support going forward.
That process will take time, however, and winter is coming. There is good news here, too – Matrix Housing has been contracted by the county to coordinate a temporary, rotating emergency shelter from November through March. This plan assumes that churches and other organizations can step up to provide space, volunteers, and both financial and in-kind donations, and Matrix will provide the organization and professional staffing.
Grace Lutheran has been a leader in this process from day one, and this winter will be no different. We’ve signed up for three 2-week stretches of hosting the shelter in the upper level of our space, which will require patience and flexibility and hospitality and creative problem-solving from everyone involved. It will be inconvenient, even! But we believe that God’s wide welcome calls us to create a wide welcome for all of God’s people, even when it isn’t easy or convenient, and we hope you’ll join us in responding to this need.
We are the host site for the opening of the shelter (Nov. 1-11), and while our other dates are on the schedule for 2018, we’ll wait to confirm them until the other host sites are confirmed, as well.
Stay tuned for opportunities to learn more about the logistics of what will be needed – volunteers to stay overnight (with professional staff), to cook and serve dinner and breakfast, and to help with transferring the shelter to the next site; financial and in-kind donations (a specific list will be forthcoming); and other ways in which you can be a part of our collective, community effort to alleviate homelessness in Dakota County.
I’ve said before that I feel lucky to be your pastor. That’s never as true as it is when we’re working together to widen our welcome for God’s people, and I’m grateful for your participation in bringing about the kin-dom of God in this way.