Fargo’s record lows during the winter months are -36 in Dec., -48 in Jan. and -47 in February (noaa.gov). That is COLD. Brutally cold. Did you know that more than 800 people in the Fargo-Moorhead area do not have a home to sleep in at night?
The “FM Sheltering Churches Project: Housing the Homeless” has provided a much needed safety valve for overflowing homeless shelters in their area in the past three years. Last year, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fargo opened its doors to the homeless and will host again November 16-22, 2014. “Our facility is ideal for this,” said Immanuel’s Pastor Steve Schulz. Schulz accepted the call to Immanuel in 2012. At that time, some members of the congregation voiced their concern that while Immanuel was blessed with such a wonderful Celebration Center and Welcome Hall, should they be using it more? Were they doing all they could with their expansive space for the Lord’s work?
“With our last bitterly cold winter, the local homeless shelters were overflowing,” said Schulz. “In an effort to put ‘Witness, Mercy, Life Together’ into action, the folks at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Fargo opened the doors of our church to homeless guests during the week of April 6-13, 2014 as part of the ‘Sheltering Churches Project.’ We couldn’t have done this without Lutheran Church Extension Fund. LCEF helped fund our Celebration Center and Welcome Hall. A lot of times we think of LCEF as just buildings. Well, these buildings that LCEF helps fund are used for witness and mercy,” said Schulz.
Guests first arrived at area shelters and were only transported to the emergency overflow host church in the event that there was no more room in the permanent shelter. All guests must first go through regular check-in processes at the permanent shelter. Over 50 members at Immanuel received special training for the “Sheltering Churches” event, which included 16 other churches in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
Each night for a week, Immanuel’s Celebration Center was transformed into sleeping quarters for homeless guests. Some nights they would host 17 guests, sometimes as many as 30. Immanuel teams began set up on Sunday afternoon, guests arrived and began checking in at 8:00 p.m. Pastor Schulz was on hand to visit and pray with the guests from 8:00 p.m. until midnight. The Welcome Hall served as a place to eat a hot, nutritious supper and join in some friendly conversation. Those members who were blessed with the spirit of hospitality shared it that week with these people who had nowhere else to go.
Throughout the week, there were many opportunities for Immanuel members to witness their faith in Christ and serve these guests. Members and pastor prayed with them, shared Christian literature with them from Lutheran Hour Ministries (LHM). The LHM material covers very pertinent concerns for this group such as anxiety, Where’s God in all this? and Has God abandoned me? Members provided clothing and other needed items. There were set up teams, meal teams, tear down teams, cleaning teams and more. “Our members extended God’s “mercy” to those who have so little, and rejoiced in our “life together” as the body of Christ,” said Schulz.
After breakfast was served at the church, the shelter bus would come in the morning to pick up the guests. “A lot of the guests had jobs so the bus would drop them off near their work. The rest would be transported back to the shelters,” said Schulz. “Our guests were so courteous and gracious during their time with us. Thanks and appreciation were expressed by many of the homeless for the care and compassion shown to them. And in return, the members of Immanuel who participated in the project were richly blessed. Our members are already asking to sign up for teams again this year when Immanuel will provide a week for the Sheltering Churches Project.”
The FM Sheltering Churches Project, which began nearly 4 years ago, provided 1,418 nights of shelter for 325 individuals in its first year. This project benefits not only the homeless people it shelters, but the entire Fargo-Moorhead community, as well as the church members who volunteer. Currently, 18 congregations have made a commitment to offer their buildings to provide overflow sheltering for the homeless this winter.
FM Sheltering Churches is a volunteer-run organization that works to build a partnership between area shelters and the churches of our metro. Homelessness is on the rise in our community, but instead of building another shelter, we seek to provide warmth and comfort in existing facilities (namely churches) while we work toward long-term goals and permanent solutions.
Every week of our cold season, a different church serves as the overflow shelter facility. Each host church provides volunteers to coordinate and facilitate their week of sheltering with assistance from volunteers across the metro. Volunteers go through a training session to learn more about homelessness and prepare for service with the FM Sheltering Churches organization. Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/fmshelteringchurches or http://fmshelteringchurches.org/.