Stories of Faith in Action

Where allMay Dwell

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.

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.

“Showers provide a sense of dignity and are therapeutic. I don’t know a better way to remind people of their baptism.”Emily Norris

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.”

Ryan Sprinkle

Emily Norris sitting outside shower area
“You have people right off the street with their backpacks.” Ryan Sprinkle, a council member
Emily Norris sitting outside shower area