Pandemic Church Plant Creates New Homeless Ministry

Pastor Emily Norris seated outside one of the shower units at the Dwelling. Source: Living Lutheran

After volunteering for several years at Augsburg Lutheran Church’s winter-overflow homeless shelter in Winston-Salem, NC, Emily Norris began to sense a call to vocational ministry emerging from one central need – to establish a congregation that homeless persons in the community could call home.

Norris said, “I heard very loudly that there was a deep hunger for a faith community that looked like them.” Following this call, Norris enrolled at Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, to become a pastor.

Returning home after completing her studies, by 2020 Norris was ordained and serving as the mission developer for the Dwelling – an inclusive ELCA faith community designed to serve Winston-Salem’s homeless community. Through a generous partnership with Augsburg Lutheran Church, the North Carolina Synod of the ELCA, the Moravian Church in America, Norris has been able to return to her hometown and help found her dream church.

Norris said, “I was so certain I was being called [by God] to start the Dwelling that even though the synod had [only] part-time funding for the position, I [took it].”

However, Norris’s excitement was tempered by the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted the day after her receiving the keys for the new space. The Dwelling was forced to shut down due to pandemic restrictions.

One silver lining did emerge. The ELCA COVID-19 Response Fund was able to provide assistance, helping transform Norris’s position into a full-time ministry opportunity.

Though it was not the best time to start a congregation during a pandemic, Norris nonetheless got to work. Assessing the needs of the community she served, Norris decided the ministry’s initial focus would be on providing free mobile showers. Visitors coming are able to take a shower and receive clean underclothes donated by congregations across the city.

“It was really a profound way to start,” Norris said. “Showers provide a sense of dignity and are therapeutic. I don’t know a better way to remind people of their baptism.”

Since its initial success, the Dwelling has received further financial support, allowing them to turn its temporary showers into permanent component of its long term ministry and hire additional staff.

Currently, the Dwelling continues to provide immediate assistance to help persons impacted by homeless while working with partners to create affordable housing for low income families that address systemic housing disparities.

To support the Dwelling, please visit https://www.thedwellingws.org/

Source: Living Lutheran