On the left, several persons find shelter outside Ronald United Methodist Church days prior to the arrival of winter weather to the Seattle area. On right, the same area after that weather arrived and the individuals were invited inside the church.

By Sasha Terry

Members of Ronald United Methodist Church in Shoreline, Washington are connecting and resourcing their community through a new day center and overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness. 

The community work with the homeless began in the summer of 2018 when several people were camping outside of Ronald’s church building. Rev. Kelly Dahlman-Oeth, the pastor to the church, started small by offering these individuals coffee and a chance to build relationships. He also encouraged members of the congregation to interact with the individuals as they felt comfortable. Those relationships with members began to develop and they were welcomed into the church.

On February 3 of this year, the congregation moved 14 people inside the church before two weeks of snow and freezing temperatures. Shortly after, they took a bigger step voting to approve a 90-day pilot for a day center and overnight shelter ministry. Rev. Dahlman-Oeth began leading the “RUMC’s Love First Overnight Shelter Program”in a three-person coordination team with members Stephanie Henry, chair of the church’s finance team and overnight host, and Jason Metcalf-Lindberger, chair of the education team and overnight host. 

Rev. Dahlman-Oeth believes loving and serving one another is the work of the gospel.

“I repeatedly say that I cannot experience Christ, understand the gospel, or worship on Sunday mornings without walking alongside my vulnerable and marginalized siblings,” Rev. Dahlman-Oeth shared. “The selflessness that Jesus called us to is the benefit in and of itself. To look for some value-added, or some reward is to distort the call of Christ.”

The coordination team built relationships with Richmond Beach Congregational United Church of Christ, University Lutheran Church – Seattle, Dale Turner Family YMCA, and the Shoreline community. Each community provides volunteers as overnight hosts for the homeless working alongside those from Ronald UMC. Members of Ronald UMC also do laundry, provide rides to court, and prepare meals. 

An individual finds a quiet place to play guitar while enjoying shelter in Ronald UMC.

The utilities, maintenance and repair costs associated with this ministry are estimated between $5,000-$10,000 a year. Both the costs and new revenues are difficult for the church to measure, and it is also tricky to measure the impact of members who leave, and others that join, because of their feelings about this emerging ministry area.

“There were concerns about safety and security, but as the congregation has gotten to know our participants and as our participants have grown more comfortable in the church, many concerns have been found unwarranted,” Henry said. “The relationships, even friendships, that have formed are worth every penny spent and hour of restless sleep.

Ronald UMC plans to continue their shelter ministry and take it one step further by communicating more with the City of Shoreline. As part of their ministry, four volunteers have accompanied and advocated for individuals in the courthouse over misdemeanor crimes. The church is also working with local judges and others in the community to replace a punitive approach to homelessness with a therapeutic one.

A steering committee that Rev. Dahlman-Oeth serves on is working to bring the ‘community court’ model—a neighborhood-focused court that applies a problem-solving approach to local crime and safety concerns—to the city of Shoreline by January 2020. The King County Court system launched this project and currently there are community courts established in Burien and Redmond. Ronald UMC is looking to become the host site for weekly community court and a resource center.  

Using the resources we have been given in partnership with our community is a challenge every church is called to according to the Rev. Dahlman-Oeth. 

“You have been made stewards of those resources. They do not belong to you,” Rev. Dahlman-Oeth said. “If you open your doors and your hearts to the most vulnerable in your community, you will soon find Christ living among you as part of the gloriously, messy, beloved community.”

Sasha Terry is serving as a communications intern for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference this summer. She is a student at Biola University majoring in journalism with an emphasis in broadcast and minoring in Biblical and Theological Studies. 

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