In our second Congregational Profile, we look at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church of Plymouth. The congregation is a fairly new member of the collaborative, starting with Families Moving Forward in 2017. But in their short time, they have made a great contribution, including helping Cranberry Ridge come to fruition. We talked to three leaders in the congregation: Bob Carlson, a 30-year member; Linda Bushklien, who joined the congregation last year; and Rev. Joel Bergeland, the Associate Pastor. Here is the story of Mount Olivet Lutheran in making sure all people have a home.
How long has Mount Olivet been involved with Beacon? What made the congregation want to participate? How do you participate?
Pastor Joel: Part of our building is not being used by our congregation, and Mount Olivet’s thinking around that came to a place of “we don’t need this for ourselves – let’s use this for our wider community, especially those in need.”
Since our initial FMF hosting week last year, we have followed Beacon’s lead in learning about the need for affordable housing, and advocating for it as well. Last fall our congregation mobilized in support of the Cranberry Ridge development in Plymouth, and this spring we’ve gotten involved in the campaign for the state bonding bill to include robust support for affordable housing.
Bob: Our involvement with Beacon is only a year old, starting with hosting Families Moving Forward for a week in May 2017. II was aware of Beacon from hearing Lee Blons speak at an alumni breakfast about five years ago. I was impressed and thought that it was something that Mount Olivet should look into. I passed on some information to the appropriate staff person at Mount Olivet, who also expressed interest, but nothing happened. Then all of a sudden a year ago I heard that we were preparing to host FMF. So I was happy to hop on board in that effort, and subsequently in the Cranberry Ridge campaign.
How has the congregation been impacted since joining? What about housing issues did you not know before joining Beacon?
Pastor Joel: We have had a longstanding partnership with Habitat for Humanity, and local and international housing builds are still a passion of our congregation. Our understanding of housing issues is broadened by our partnership with Beacon – now we build homes for people in need, but we also provide shelter for those experiencing acute homelessness as well as use our voices to get more affordable housing built. We’ve been surprised at how much goes into the development of just one housing project – it’s frustrating sometimes thinking about all the work that we’re doing and how that only addresses the problem rather than solves it. We are growing more and more aware that housing in the Twin Cities is quickly becoming a crisis for many low-income working families, who through no fault of their own are finding themselves priced out of the market.
Linda: I think there is a much greater awareness of the housing crisis than there was a year ago. In particular, I was not aware of the huge role that race plays in housing insecurity. It was through a Beacon training event that I learned that after World War II, white GI’s were given loans to buy houses, but black GI’s were denied that opportunity. Through the years, home ownership has been a source of wealth that has been handed down through generations, at least for white people. This kind of bias and exclusion contributes to housing insecurity for people of color.
What do you think your Lutheran faith tells you about justice? How does your faith inform your work on housing issues?
Bob: Our faith tells us that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks about taking care of the poor and the outcast in our society more than he speaks about anything else.
Linda: The prophets exhort us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. There are many other reasons. One of those is that we want to be where God is, and that is usually in those spaces of trouble in the world. We get involved because God is involved.
Pastor Joel: Lutheran theology is insistent that at the heart of everything is God’s grace which comes as a gift to each one of us, and to the whole world. But if we think this grace exists only to soothe our consciences or to make us comfortable, we don’t understand it. God’s grace frees us from the illusion that our quest to make a name for ourselves or to live individual moral lives is what is going to give us meaning. Instead, grace awakens us to the reality that true life comes from discovering that our lives are intertwined with the lives of others through working for their good. Our faith means nothing if it stays within us; it is made real as we seek to live it out.
You have volunteered with Families Moving Forward. What made you leap from helping to shelter those experiencing homelessness to advocacy that allows everyone to have a home?
Linda : Sheltering families is short-term relief, but in order for the families to truly thrive, they need their own home. They need to be in charge of their own situation. Changing the structures that keep people poor is an important priority.
Bob: Advocating for affordable, stable housing is a logical “next step.” Providing temporary housing is necessary, but it is only a stop-gap measure.
Pastor Joel: Mount Olivet believes that God is not closed in by the walls of our church, but is loose in the world, inspiring acts of peace and mercy. So our role as a faith community is to listen for God at work in the world. We know that we cannot do everything on our own as a church, and so when we find people of peace in the world, we want to partner with them and support the work that they are better set up to do than we are. When we started partnering with Beacon, we followed their lead – we said “you know a lot more about affordable housing and how to get it built than we do – please let us know how we can support you in our work,” and we ended up getting invited into the work of advocacy. We realized that while there will always be a role for direct service and support, we impact more people’s stories when we raise our voices. We had twenty families or so show up to support Cranberry Ridge, and one congregant said to me “each one of our voices is going to impact two families who will get permanent housing out of this.” What an impact!
Mount Olivet got involved in the effort for Plymouth to approve Cranberry Ridge. What was that effort like? How did it change the congregation? How are you supporting Cranberry Ridge now?
Bob: As with FMF, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Cranberry Ridge resonated with so many in our congregation. Today there is much more awareness of the need for affordable, stable housing than there was a year ago.
Linda: Our pastors encouraged us to show up to support Cranberry Ridge. About 15-20 people just felt energized by the opportunity. I think it got us mobilized and out into the community.
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?
Bob: Both hosting FMF and getting involved with the Cranberry Ridge project have been “game changers” for many of us at Mount Olivet. Most memorable moments have been hosting our families a year ago and the Plymouth City Council meeting when the Cranberry Ridge project was approved.
Pastor Joel: Our church hosted a Beacon legislative action a couple weeks ago – I think it was really beautiful for our congregation to have respectful, civil, and passionate dialogue with our elected officials. Sometimes we get anxious when churches advocate for public policies – it feels too political to some. But having elected representatives from both parties speak about why housing mattered to them and why they support the bonding proposal helped transform the way we viewed what we’re doing. We are simply saying that the scarcity of affordable housing is a reality in our community, and we want you to prioritize that. That is not a partisan statement, it’s a statement of faith and values that can speak across the ideological spectrum.
What would you say to another congregation considering joining the Collaborative?
Linda: Getting involved with Beacon has been a great experience for us. It has given many people a way to do something good in the world. Mt. Olivet is a socially conscious congregation, with many active members that want to make a difference, and Beacon gives us a variety of ways to do that.
Bob: Don’t hesitate to get involved in whatever way you think will best suit your congregation. You will find a lot of support both from Beacon and from other collaborating congregations.
Pastor Joel: Get ready to be changed – we have seen new people step into leadership, and we have had really beautiful conversations together about how and where our church can make a difference. We’ve noticed more people praying for homeless folks in our worship services. Being part of the Collaborative has changed the way we view housing and homelessness – we can’t look at the world and not see it anymore!