Midweek Message July 27, 2022

Dear Church,


Since early March, First Congregational Church has been hosting an Overnight Shelter run by Northwest Youth Services. Last week, Council voted to not extend the Lease Addendum for this program, so the Shelter will be wrapping up its time with us on July 31.


A couple of important things to know: The Ground Floor (daytime) program will continue. We also don’t expect this decision to adversely impact our long-term collaboration and relationship with NWYS. I know that many of us at First Congregational are excited to keep working with Northwest Youth Services, both on The Ground Floor and as other opportunities to team up arise.


Many of the challenges we experienced with hosting the program had little to do with the program itself, which I know was an excellent program with a very supportive, caring, and well-trained staff. Instead, it was challenges experienced by and with young people who were outside the program space, both during the day and late at night. We heard from our neighbors that some folks in our parking lot, and elsewhere outside the program space, were behaving in ways that were disruptive to the neighborhood and creating safety issues as well.


Having named a couple of important facts that I want you all to know about, I want to also take some space to reflect on this change, and how it might invite us to respond.


First, I hope you will join me in holding the young people who access this program in your prayers. It is a hard thing to be without reliable shelter, and it is a particular challenge to lose access to a space that had been a safe place to rest. I pray for these young people, as they work hard to find other places to rest, and I pray for NWYS staff, as they help young people strategize about what potential resting places will be safest.


I’m praying also in this season for legislators, administrators, and other people in positions of power, that they would continue to hear the call of those without housing to create new paths to safe and reliable homes. (And I’ll be holding these prayers in my heart as I vote in the primary election this week!)


Second, I hope you will hold the complexity in these conversations with care. For me, it was an utter joy to begin hosting the overnight shelter at First Congregational, and though it’s been a challenging season, I hold gratitude in the midst of challenge, and in the midst of grief. I want to hold the ways we were successful in providing shelter to some of the most vulnerable in our community for five months, even as I mourn that we didn’t have the capacity to keep providing it afterwards. There’s a lot we did well in hosting this program, and there’s a lot of good lessons we learned over the course of these last five months.


When I’m stressed, I start to buy in to one of the premises of white culture: that things, programs and even people are either good or bad, wise or foolish, right or wrong. I don’t think that’s helpful, and I pray that God will give me grace and rest when I fall back into that trap. I hope I can hold the story of this time with kindness and care, and with curiosity about how the Spirit might call us next.


Finally, I wonder how we might be called to respond besides prayer, besides holding the complexity of this moment. I watched this program, and some of the young people who joined us, stretch our capacity. I definitely found myself laughing, a time or two, as I found myself in a situation I was unprepared for, a place where my tools and training didn’t go far enough in resourcing myself or someone else. That is always a challenging moment- and when I’m at my best, I wonder about how I might respond next time.


I hope we can have NWYS staff and administrators come by to help us learn more about youth culture, supporting young people in the midst of homelessness, and whatever other tools might be helpful for us in the coming years. I know we can also learn from others, both here in Bellingham and farther afield.


Can we become a congregation that is ready to hold clear boundaries while we welcome folx who are very different from us? Can we become people of faith who are letting us be changed and renewed by others who don’t look or act like us? Can we find ways to be fully who we are, and to let the Spirit grow us into more authentic welcome for more and more of God’s children?


Lead us, Spirit, as we find out together.



Pastor Davi