Churches Help to Open Youth Shelter

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Brooklyn Area Ministers Association played key role in responding to homeless youth; first suburban youth shelter to open soon.

What happens when a group of churches partner with city officials, school districts, police and fire departments and other interested parties in a community to address a desperate need? Action, progress and help.

Six years ago, the Rev. Steve Larson of Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park took over leadership of the Brooklyn Area Ministers Association (BAMA). He had a vision to broaden the base of the organization and looked for ways to partner with numerous churches. Early on, BAMA partnered with city government and police and fire agencies on several initiatives affecting the community.

Through that work, Larson and the Rev. Rachel Morey of Brooklyn Mosaic United Methodist Church began to hear about the growing problem of youth homelessness in their communities of the northwest metro.

“We invited the churches that were interested in working on this together to a homeless task force,” Larson said. In addition, they invited county, school and city officials as well as counselors and representatives from youth organizations. Over the course of several years, the newly formed partnership developed a Host Home program, backpack programs supplying food for needy children and youth food shelves.

The Rev. Adriaan Overbeeke of Crossroads Alliance Church in Brooklyn Park said it was the youth food shelf that got the attention of his congregation.

“That was something that really galvanized our people,” he said. “We created kind of a mobile food shelf through the use of some backpacks at Osseo High School for several years.”

But BAMA’s most significant project, perhaps, was still to be developed.

11 youth pastors lived on the roof of Discover Church to raise money for Avenues youth shelter (photo: Sun Post, Paul Groessel)
11 youth pastors lived on the roof of Discover Church to raise money for Avenues youth shelter (photo: Sun Post, Paul Groessel)

Through partnerships with the city, community groups and churches, Brooklyn Park will soon open the first suburban youth shelter in the Twin Cities. Brooklyn Avenues will be a 12-bed shelter run by the nonprofit Avenues for Homeless Youth and is slated to open later this year or early next year.

What makes the project so unique is that each partner—churches, civic organizations, city officials, etc.—carried the weight of the project as determined by their ability. Churches alone could only do so much and city officials alone could only carry a certain aspect of the load. However, together, the Brooklyn Park community worked together to help meet a desperate need in their community.

A partnership like this, according to Larson, “is just not heard of.”

Overbeeke said he has been in ministry for more than 25 years, and this was the first experience he’s had with this sort of collaborative effort.

“What’s happening here is very unique and distinct because the churches that are collaborating are across the spectrum in terms of mainline through evangelical and everything in between,” Overbeeke said. “We want to move for the betterment of our community, engage a very real issue that hits close to home.”

Larson and Overbeeke—and others involved in the effort—hope this type of partnership gets repeated across the Twin Cities.

But Larson believes it takes a group of pastors who have a heart for the community.

He believes Jeremiah 29:7 is a good call to action: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

“First off, [we need to be] praying for each other and the churches,” Larson said. “And those pastors sitting down with other pastors just over lunch to get to know each other. If we don’t know the heart of the neighboring church, we can’t work together. The city, the community has to see Baptists and Lutherans and Methodists and Catholics sitting down at the same lunch table together. That’s what we see here in Brooklyn Park.”

Larson also believes it takes a group of pastors who are willing to go “above and beyond” to get to know the mayor of their city, the principal at the school and others who serve the community.

“It’s a willingness to partner together and to recognize that this is something that betters the community, meets a very real, legitimate need and frankly it takes that level of partnership,” Overbeeke said. “The city by itself can’t do it. The church by itself really can’t do it. It needs that broader level of cooperation.”

On Thursday, October 30, Redeemer Covenant Church will host the seminar “Transforming Churches to Transform Communities” with Eric Swanson, author of “The Externally Focused Church.” The seminar will take place at Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park and is designed for pastors and lay leaders on how to make your church one that looks outward.

The seminar will run from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. For a limited time, readers of the Transform Minnesota eNewsletter can get a special discounted registration of $30 by calling (763) 425-8774 by October 10. Callers must say they saw the article in the Transform Minnesota eNewsletter in order to receive the discount.

Carl Nelson, president and CEO of Transform Minnesota, believes partnerships like this are essential for gospel-inspired transformation to seep into every community across the state.

“When churches focus most of their attention inside their church walls, they are missing opportunities to make Christ known across their communities,” he said. “The churches involved with BAMA saw a need—youth homelessness—and determined to play their own role within the larger community to demonstrate the love of Christ to those without homes. That partnership is essential to transforming our state for Christ and one we continue to encourage churches to adopt.”