“We are God’s people being transformed by the Holy Spirit to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ
in the world in word and action.”
The mission statement of Lake Nokomis Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis indicates they are a congregation that desires to live out its faith, not just in words, but also in acts that make the world we live in a better place. We talked with Robbie Becker, Lake Nokomis’ Families Moving Forward host coordinator, about what it means to be part of the collaborative.
Lake Nokomis Lutheran is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and has been in the Lake Nokomis neighborhood for over 100 years. They celebrated a centennial of ministry in 2012. “We have a long history of service and a growing focus on justice, and are a Reconciling in Christ congregation,” Becker said.
The initial contact with Beacon was in 2006 when Lake Nokomis became involved in building Riverview Apartments, affordable homes for seniors in the community. Minnehaha United Methodist and other neighborhood leaders were part of the nearly seven-year effort with Beacon to make it a reality. “I wasn’t a member then, but it was a learning experience – showing up and speaking up in the face of some initial opposition – our first ‘advocacy’ effort,” Becker said.
Lake Nokomis started hosting Families Moving Forward in 2014. “We have learned many things, including: the guests are very similar to us; most guests are working; they want the same things that we do for their children and families,” Becker said. “The experience has dispelled many common beliefs around homelessness and the people who are experiencing it.”
Lake Nokomis is a devoted host congregation. Besides hosting Families Moving Forward, the congregation participated in actions including our planning of visits to elected officials and the recent Congregation Convening held in January. What is behind the enthusiastic engagement?
“We have learned to collaborate with other neighborhood churches. The shared experience energizes our team of volunteers and develops a deeper relationship in our ministry,” Becker said. “Our neighbors at Living Table UCC, St. James Episcopal and Minnehaha United Methodist are now part of our FMF volunteer team. When we attend convenings, we see the tremendous potential of the whole collaborative to have an impact.”
In mid-January, the congregation held an intergenerational educational event called “What if All People Have a Home?” The event which was for children, youth and adults, included games, a video from Beacon featuring a local family who had experienced homelessness– along with a backpack exercise. The event also included art projects- large mandalas representing the community moving from homelessness to home. “It made sense to offer this as a cross+gen event, because we encourage families, youth, people of many ages to volunteer as hosts. Young people know that some of their classmates are experiencing homelessness. It’s real,” Becker said. Senior Congregational Organizer Emily Goldthwaite Fries was on hand to speak to the class, as well as during the worship service which followed.
When asked what would Lake Nokomis say to other congregations considering joining Beacon, Becker said it is all about faith first and foremost. “It is a leap of faith; but it’s a leap worth taking,” she said. Second, to get an understanding of the process, serve one or two nights at an experienced congregation,” Becker said. “We learned a lot this way by helping at Woodlake Lutheran prior to our first hosting experience.”
Becker stressed that congregations that choose to host are not just providing a roof over people’s heads- they are providing something far more important: hospitality. “Be welcoming!” she exhorts, noting that the families who come to the doors of a congregation are exhausted and the children may be overly active. At such a sensitive time in a family’s life, Becker says a church must plan carefully and always be flexible. “You need to be able to flex because the situation for each family is very fluid,” she said. She concluded by saying that learning is a never-ending process. “We learn from each hosting experience and it gets easier,” she said.
Lake Nokomis has learned not just to live out their faith with words, but with the actions of sheltering those who have no place to call home and to work to make sure that all people have a home.
Special thanks to Congregational Organizers Kat Vann and Emily Goldthwaite Fries for their help with this story. Photos are by John Walsh.