In the October edition of Collaborative Voices, we go to Edina to highlight one of the newest members of the collaborative, Edina Morningside Community United Church of Christ in Edina. While Edina Morningside is a new member, in some ways they feel like they've been a part of Beacon for a long time. Pam DeLaittre, a member at Edina Morningside, spoke to us about how the congregation has been involved and what they have learned along the way.
Can you tell me a bit about Edina Morningside?
Edina Morningside Community Church (EMCC) United Church of Christ (UCC) has been in its present location in Edina, in the heart of the Morningside Neighborhood, since 1922. At that time Morningside was a separate community, later rejoining Edina in 1966. EMCC is the oldest Protestant church in Edina and has the oldest continuously running preschool in Minnesota. As the neighborhood changed and developed, then redeveloped over the years, EMCC changed and evolved from a “neighborhood church” to a “church in a neighborhood.”
Today, members and friends come to EMCC from many communities and generations. EMCC, an Open and Affirming congregation, has an active membership, with many volunteers and opportunities to volunteer! EMCC provides strong community outreach and varied programs and has done so throughout its existence.
You are one of the newest members of the collaborative, if not the newest. What led Edina Morningside to decide to become a part of Beacon?
EMCC has worked with various aspects of Beacon since 2014 (I think). We have been involved in collections of needed goods for Families Moving Forward (FMF) Southwest, the closets at Prior Crossing and 66West, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day needed items and meals for FMF at Parkway UCC. We adopted an apartment at 66West and provided everything needed to set up the apartment except the furniture and appliances and we celebrate birthdays with the young people at 66West twice a year and have participated in several Convenings. With all of that, when I was having coffee with (Congregational Organizer) Kat Vann one day she asked if EMC was interested in becoming a member of the collaborative. Imagine my surprise! We thought we WERE a member of the collaborative! After we both stopped laughing, Kat explained what we needed to do to become an official member and I got busy making that happen!
How has the congregation been impacted since you started getting involved? What about housing issues did you not know before getting involved with Beacon?
I think the biggest “aha” experience for our congregation is how prevalent homelessness is…even in a city like Edina. One of the reasons we decided to work closely with 66West is the fact that many of the young people there who now have stable homes were homeless in Edina.
Another impacting experience is preparing and serving meals for families who are working determinedly to move out of homelessness and into stable living conditions through Families Moving Forward (FMF). It has given us an opportunity to put faces and situations with families who are going through these hard times and seeing them as individuals. FMF is one of our favorite “outreaches”.
The final and just as disturbing learning is how long it takes anything to get done through the various bureaucracies of the state, county and city governments. This is not really new news but it is still distressing.
What does your faith tradition tell you about justice and how does your faith inform your work on housing issues?
Our faith tradition focuses on loving one another and watching out for the welfare of our brothers and sisters. With the arrival of Pastor Oby Ballinger two years ago, we refined our outreach focus. While it is important to treat the symptoms of societal ills in the short term, we would like to be able to positively impact the issues that create the symptoms. Our congregation has six major outreach ministries and they all direct our actions to house, feed, educate and protect the rights of our brothers and sisters.
What are the housing needs that you see in Edina that need to be addressed? How can Edina Morningside play a role?
The inventory of affordable housing in Edina, and in many communities, is very limited. We need to build NEW housing but also need to protect EXISTING affordable housing from the predatory “flippers” who are in real estate only for the money. Edina is on the right track but needs to continue to develop and pass policies that protect residents from inappropriate increased rents or being evicted when a building is sold and the rent is raised beyond their ability to pay. I was very pleased to see the recent article in the Star Tribune about landlords in Minneapolis who have agreed to keep rents at the existing affordable level for a specified number of years in return for property tax reduction. That sounds like a win-win to me.
Another concern I have is about the “slum landlords” who do not keep up their buildings until they are almost beyond repair. They then lose their licenses and the tenants are forced to move because the buildings are condemned. Where can these people move to? The licensing/maintenance laws have to be enforced before it comes to that point.
We already have members who are active with their city councils or other organizations developing and aggressively advocating for new policies that support retention or construction of affordable housing. Sometimes these rules or policy changes have to be taken in “baby steps” but it is important to keep one’s eyes on the final goal. We can engage additional members of the congregation to attend council or other gatherings/meetings to impact policy by convincing lawmakers to include funds for homes in the state bonding bill or in city or county budgets.
What upcoming events are you most looking forward to?
- Learning more about how we can impact the creation of 100 -150 new homes with family supportive services AND the creation of a dedicated source for rental assistance.
- Participating in Beacon Academy workshops to increase our skills.
- The January Congregation convening!
What would you say to another congregation considering joining the collaborative?
“Come on down!” Joining the collaborative gives your congregation the opportunity to:
- Put your spiritual beliefs into action.
- Gain new or improve skills through the Beacon Academy classes and workshops.
- Meet people from other congregations and share your outreach experiences.
- And finally, and most important, work to be sure that “ALL PEOPLE HAVE A HOME”.