Government's Just a Word for Things We Do Together
I may have shared with you before about the Lutheran church in the boom town of Williston, North Dakota. Last year it received quite a bit of media coverage for one of the ways it serves the community:
Each time someone new arrives at Concordia Lutheran Church looking for a place to stay, the Rev. Jay Reinke has the same reaction: “Oh Lord, not another one.”
The small Missouri Synod Lutheran church in Williston has 30 to 40 job-seekers sleeping inside the church on a typical night, with dozens more who stay in their vehicles in the church parking lot. The practice started in May 2011 after a man from Idaho told Reinke he was going to give up and go home. Reinke invited him to sleep on the floor of the church.
After that, a second man stayed, and the numbers gradually grew. A total of 450 people – primarily men – have slept inside the church while they searched for work and housing, along with an unknown number who have called the parking lot home.
New arrivals to Williston are often unprepared for the city’s severe housing shortage driven by the influx of people looking for oil jobs. Those in need of housing quickly hear about Concordia through word of mouth.
When they arrive, Reinke gives them the same message: “I’ll say, ‘I need to tell you that you are a gift. You’re a gift to us. You’re a gift to Williston. Welcome,’ ” Reinke said. “Sometimes men have just started to cry. They have been so alone, they’ve just really suffered. And they haven’t felt welcomed.”
It was just a beautiful display of Christian love and charity.
I'm friends with the pastor on Facebook. It was fun to get updates on the ingenious solutions he and the congregation came up with to temporarily house the homeless in Williston and show them God's grace and mercy. I was saddened to see the note he put up last night:
Very sad tonight. Barring a miracle (which could come in the form of a reprieve from city Planning & Zoning if they allow us to propose installing a sprinkler system--funding yet to be pursued--in our fellowship hall), our Overnighters will spend their last night in the church on Thursday night. The P & Z has determined the health and safety of the men in our church is better served by allowing them to sleep outside instead of in a building without a fire sprinkler system.
I must admit that I cannot, simply cannot follow that rationale. (FYI--a year ago, the fire chief said our building was safe for our purposes without a sprinkler systerm. Two weeks ago, he said it isn't. What a difference a year makes.)
But on the positive side--tonight, the men on their own proposed that we have a "last supper" together. So they are busy planning a spaghetti supper and getting the word out to former Overnighters to come and join in our last night's festivities.
For anyone, especially any former overnighter, who wants to join...7:00 pm, this Thursday night. One other positive note. As I'm talking about the closing of the Overnighters with the men, and as I'm sharing two little handouts with them (Entitled "They're All A Bunch of Hypocrites. It's True." and "Hope has a name. Jesus."), a Muslim from Africa begins spontaneously to sing, "What a friend we have in Jesus," which he learned while a student at a Christian school in Africa. Much is bleak, but all is not lost.
Of course. Of course. What would we do without Planning & Zoning Commissions?