Page 7 - ELCA
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Emily Norris had been serving at Augsburg Lutheran Church’s winter-overflow homeless shelter in Winston-Salem, N .C ., for a few years when she heard the rumblings . Many of the guests opened up to her, told her stories . One need kept arising .
“I heard very loudly that there was a deep hunger for a faith community that looked like them,” Norris said . They craved space where they could worship God and not feel judged for their housing status, their past or their appearance . Heeding their calls led Norris to Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, to become a pastor .
By 2020, Norris was ordained and serving as the mission developer for the Dwelling, an ELCA faith community designed for, but not exclusive to, people in Winston-Salem who are or have been homeless . Funding comes from partnerships with Augsburg, the North Carolina Synod, the Moravian Church in America and the ELCA churchwide organization, which draws on Mission Support for the Dwelling’s grant.
Starting a church during a pandemic wasn’t ideal . Safety restrictions made worship impossible, and the population Norris had hoped to reach became especially vulnerable . So she did what many ELCA leaders and congregations were forced to do: she pivoted .
After assessing community needs, Norris determined that free mobile showers would be the Dwelling’s anchor ministry . Visitors could take showers and receive clean underwear, socks and T-shirts donated by nearby members of the Dwelling’s synod .
“It was really a profound way to start,” Norris said . “Showers provide a sense of dignity and are therapeutic . I don’t know a better way to remind people of their baptism .”
Eventually the showers became permanent, with participants volunteering to help the program . By Christmas Eve, area restrictions for gatherings had been relaxed, and Norris held the Dwelling’s first service . In January 2021, it began offering regular Sunday worship .
With a living room for its sanctuary, couches and chairs for its pews, and free-flowing food, the Dwelling takes seriously its mission of hospitality . “It has a feather touch, where you can come in and get comfy,” said member Cheryl Morrison . “It’s OK to talk to the person next to you, get up to get a cup of coffee, doughnut or muffin .”
“This is a church for God’s people — the homeless — and they are the foundation of what makes this church work, which in my eyes is extremely special.”
“This is a church for God’s people — the homeless — and they are the foundation of what makes this church work, which in my eyes is extremely special,” added Ryan Sprinkle, a council member . “You have people right off the street with their backpacks .”
Christian community 7
Where all May Dwell

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