Twenty-Four-Seven Church Hospitality

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Scenes from Lake Washington UMC and Camp Unity Eastside: (clockwise from the top left)
A CUE resident sits at the tv waiting for the dinner line to be less busy; Tents at CUE; The Rev. Kelly Dahlman-Oeth accompanies a tour of Camp Unity Eastside; Steve Wiggins serves as operations director for CUE; Residents raise their hands as they participate in voting at the all-resident meeting for CUE.
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Twenty-Four-Seven Church Hospitality
By Jesse N. Love with Ellen Johanson | Special thanks to the Rev. Kelly Dahlman-Oeth and Steve Wiggins

Lake Washington UMC and Camp Unity serve the community together and boost its power to engage in mission and ministry.

On a wet and misty Thursday evening, men and women are gathering at Lake Washington UMC in Kirkland, opening the doors and leading others into the social hall. A warm and hearty dinner awaits: three kinds of lasagna, salad & assorted veggies, with brownies for dessert. Many are sharing the events of the day, like how their workdays were…or some have turned on the television to watch their favorite movies, waiting for the dinner line to shorten.

As dinner slowly concludes around 7 p.m., a meeting is called to order. With no microphones, voices echo through the large hall as they discuss managing food pantries, kitchen clean-up duties, and an upcoming relocation to a new church. This is an all-resident meeting of Camp Unity Eastside (CUE), formerly known as Tent City 4. CUE is a community of homeless men and women working together to be an “empowerment community” in the Seattle Area.

At this moment, the group is making plans as they prepare to fold up their tents and move on to their next host church. Lake Washington UMC served as hosts for this displaced community since November 2012. CUE and LWUMC are a week past the Temporary Use Permit that allows the group to be housed at the Church. For the members of Camp Unity and Lake Washington UMC, this time has served as a transformative experience for both a community in need and a church that is ready to serve.

“Folks have been incredibly gracious and helpful. The Camp is fully functioning and has been a great partner with our church,” shares the Rev. Kelly Dahlman-Oeth, Pastor of Lake Washington UMC. In November 2012, Dahlman-Oeth was “strongly urged” to attend an emergency Tent City 4 meeting. Two parishioners from his congregation thought it would be beneficial for a clergy representative be present. At this time, members of Tent City 4 were having internal conflicts with its parent organization. This meeting led to the dissolving of their relationship and an eventual exodus from TC4. Having adopted a vision to be “Continually transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit…by loving all those within our ever-expanding reach”, members of LWUMC would have this vision tested by offering their sacred space to this group. “What I do have is the certainty that Christ calls us to stand with the most vulnerable…I need to know if you will stand with me and with the residents of the camp,” wrote Dahlman-Oeth in a letter to his staff.

So, after an all-church conference on November 11, 2012, the members of LWUMC voted unanimously to invite the residents of Tent City 4 for a three-month stay at Lake Washington UMC. With only their personal belongings and a sense of uncertainty, this community now had a temporary home after an arduous period of time.

The LWUMC community struggled at first to accommodate CUE, but they eventually found various ways to make this group feel at home. Hallways were prepared with bedding throughout the church. Donations were gathered throughout the Eastside community and the Church facility remained open 24-hours, seven days a week for CUE residents. “We have never had 24-hour access at any church,” shares Camp Unity Operations Director Steve Wiggins. “We’ve never before had a church that’s basically opened their doors, said ‘Mine is yours/help yourself/do what you want to do.’ But that’s what they said here.”

One of the benefits of establishing Camp Unity Eastside is the ability to have a more connected relationship with its hosts. Dahlman-Oeth shared in a Facebook post how when he lent his personal vehicle to the residents of CUE, they helped fix minor problems with the car, like changing the oil and checking the car’s brakes. Residents also offered to support the Church by volunteering with office work, repairing and maintaining the facility, and more. “Our partnership with Camp Unity has allowed us to engage in more ministry and mission, offer better hospitality, and form relationships with our brothers and sisters who are currently living in a less than permanent dwelling,” explains Dahlman-Oeth. This growing partnership has also led to a few CUE members joining the Church family with one resident receiving baptism.

Maureen Horrobin, a resident of Camp Unity shares her feelings about some of the people at Lake Washington UMC: “They’re some of the most loving, sincere people who I’ve met. It’s hard to find some real authentic, honest people on this planet these days and I’ve found quite a few of them here. They’re really willing to step out of their comfort zone and try to be there for you and be supportive in a time of dire need. I’m totally appreciative.”

Today, Camp Unity Eastside is residing at Trinity Lutheran Church after almost four months at Lake Washington UMC. In a Facebook post, Pastor Kelly Dahlman-Oeth wrote “Thank you all again for your prayers, support, hours and hours of time, material and financial donations and especially your willingness to open yourself and begin to form relationships with folks you do not know.”


Some info about Camp Unity Eastside:

  • When last recorded at Lake Washington UMC, Camp Unity Eastside had 85 individuals: 73 men, 12 women, ranging from ages 19-68 years old.
  • Operations Director, Steve Wiggins talks about the diversity within CUE, “(We are a) very diverse group of people. From people who are day laborers to people with Masters degrees. We have school teachers, a college professor, a retired chemist, a person in advertising, professional salesmen, one works for Microsoft, we have construction plumbers, ex-military personnel, several from IT field…people pretty much from most walks of life. One guy just moved out had three years of medical school.”
  • Wiggins also emphasizes that CUE is an empowerment camp: “We’re not just an enabler or a camp that people can come to, sleep and get off the streets. Of course they can do that, but we are here to empower people in their lives, to get their lives back in order. We’re completely dedicated. Our mission statement is just about helping homeless leave the streets and develop a productive, fruitful life and to that extent we have a very strong leadership group here.”
  • For more info on Camp Unity Eastside, campunityeastside.org.

Jesse N. Love serves as the print & publications manager of the PNWUMC.
Ellen Johanson serves as the manager for the Regional Media Center.
Kelly Dahlman-Oeth is the pastor at Lake Washington UMC.
Steve Wiggins serves as the operations director for Camp Unity Eastside.
An extended version of this story will appear in Channels 62, April 2013.

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