In this month's Collaborative Voices, we spoke with Dean Seal, pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska. Shepherd of the Hill is the host site for Families Moving Forward-Southwest Program Center. We talk about the housing situation in Scott and Carver counties and how Shepherd of the Hill got involved in the collaborative.
How long has Shepherd of the Hill been involved with Beacon? What made the congregation want to participate?
It’s been about 5 years. One couple, Rick and Mary Holtmier, felt they were called by God to do to establish Families Moving Forward in the church. They would live in the church while hosting for the whole week, and they volunteered our church for holiday weekends that were hard to get other churches to commit to. They eventually recruited enough people to come with them and round out the staffing.
Shepherd of the Hill is the site for the Families Moving Forward Southwest Program Center. How did it come about that the congregation ended up hosting FMF? What has the experience been like for the congregation?
Hosting the program center has been a great thing for us. The Beacon people came to us because they had secured enough funding to lease a more permanent space. We had plenty of space in the building as well as a great lawn and garden out back with a playground set. We were a church that had been dedicated to the mission of hosting families through Families Moving Forward, so it made sense .
How has the congregation been impacted since joining? What about housing issues did you not know before joining Beacon?
For the congregation, affordable housing and shelter through Families Moving Forward are our two largest missions. We’ve heard stories about the lack of housing for a couple years, such as Amazon workers sleeping in their cars, or homeless youth in Chaska. Beacon helped us learn how to advocate for more affordable housing.
What do you think the Presbyterian/Reformed heritage tells you about justice? How does your faith inform your work on housing issues?
Presbyterians have a long history of social justice. For example, Northern Presbyterians sent missionaries down to the South after the Civil War to teach the former slaves how to read. We believe in collective action, which means we are called to go out into the world and heal.
"We are changed by the contact with the people we serve. I personally look forward to more Power Tools sessions, as well as the cheerleading events at Congregation Convenings where the Roll Call is taken. "
Beacon has collaborating congregations in urban and suburban settings. How are issues surrounding home different in exurban/small areas like Chaska?
Chaska has done a good job keeping a range of housing stock built and maintained. They have senior housing and some worker housing. But the forces against more housing are saying that Chaska should not do anything else, like put in a homeless shelter, until the other towns have caught up. So now they are falling behind again.
Waconia built several "nursing homes" but is having trouble staffing them, because there is no place for the employees to live. The pay is rather low, so the staff cannot afford to live there.
Shakopee has the same problem. They have brought in large employers, who have soaked up available housing even into Chaska.
In Carver, they built some affordable housing for immigrants. The city was ripped in half by the process. There is a new housing development with like, 100 houses (that's a guess) and they are all $300k and $400k housing - a giant suburban tract. But there is nothing for the people making minimum wage at the gas station, so those jobs go unfilled.
Launch Ministry is tracking about 120 young people experiencing homelessness in Chaska alone who have not been able to find housing. So Carver and Scott counties need affordable housing for young people, seniors, families, workers, and those experiencing homelessness.
What does the community need in the areas of providing shelter for persons experiencing homelessness and for affordable homes?
We need everything! Housing for families, youth, elders; affordable mortgages; emergency shelter for women; and emergency housing. Beacon's training in how to actively lobby local governments about getting something built has been very helpful.
What events and experiences connected with Beacon have been most memorable to you and your church? What upcoming events are you most looking forward to you?
We are changed by the contact with the people we serve. I personally look forward to more Power Tools sessions, as well as the cheerleading events at Congregation Convenings where the Roll Call is taken. That exercise gives us a chance to see how many people are part of the effort, how many congregations actually care.
What would you say to another congregation considering joining the Collaborative?
Start slow. Volunteer at another church, see what it is like, and then start to recruit people from your congregation. They need to build champions, people who will commit to showing up all the time for action, and fill the spots that are committed to when hosting. It will transform the congregation into a mission church. Young people do not care if you are Presbyterian or Methodist or UCC. They want to know what you are doing, and how they can help.