On the days I make my way to Parkrose Community UCC – where I’m the intentional interim pastor, I pass the Parkrose micro-village on our church campus. I have an urge to pinch myself as I pull into the church parking lot.
I do this to make sure that the amazement of having a micro village for houseless LGBTQ+ folks – in partnership with WeShinePDX (https://weshinepdx.org) and Parkrose’s ministry, is not a dream.
When I arrived as intentional interim pastor to Parkrose Community UCC in NE Portland in July 2020, we were in the midst of navigating a global pandemic. It became evident that our houseless crisis and the pandemic weren’t going away any time soon. As the houseless community grew outside our church doors, the community inside the church was almost nonexistent.
The church had a long history of allowing people to seek shelter on the property overnight, asking them to move along in the morning. Also embedded in the DNA of Parkrose was a strong drive to feed, clothe and shelter the “least of these”. Along with many churches, we were struggling with understanding our purpose if we couldn’t gather in our building. On a daily basis, our outside community of overnighters increased – whether in the church courtyard, or in cars in the parking lot.
Early that fall a spiritual direction associate of mine, who attends a sister UCC church, shared with me her church involvement with Church at the Park – and their safe parking program. Partnered with this non- profit, her church was going to allow a designated amount of houseless people live in their cars in the large church parking lot. I often encourage churches I minister to in partnering with non- profits, so I went to our Community Life and Youth Coordinator – presenting a novel idea of approaching non-profit organizations to work with us in providing better care for our houseless community.
We brainstormed and heart-stormed to discern how we could create this ministry at Parkrose. As it turned out, that wasn’t possible since Church at the Park didn’t serve our county. Erica, our Community Life and Youth Coordinator, took our idea to a parishioner – who was a social worker. She reported back to me that Providence Hospital’s program Better Outcomes Thru Bridges (BOB) contained the values our ministry wanted to embody in our community. We wanted to be in partnership with their “serving some of our community’s most vulnerable and underserved people, and to empower individuals on their journey toward better well-being by engaging with compassion, dignity and integrity.”
In our first visioning conversation with BOB’s outreach coordinator, we explored not only the possibility of partnering with them, but creating an intentional three tent community on the church campus. The immediate goal was to allow three people to live in tents on the church campus, and providing them with the resources BOB had to offer. The long-term goal was to eliminate the tents by providing the three guests with Conestoga huts. Once the council presented this ministry to the congregation and it was approved, community building was passionately underway.
The congregation was inspired to be a part of the solution to the houseless crisis as a way in which to live out her ministry. The first several months were filled with promise. Six months later, when the summer came – and the wildfires, we found ourselves challenged by a crisis. Seeing that we were a church that allowed designated people to live on her campus, we became an invitation for many others to claim that they had the same rights. It soon became an unhealthy environment for our community, the three designated guests, and our congregation. Sadly, I shared with leadership and Erica that it was becoming evident that we would have to shut down this ministry.
We were headed in that direction when Jan McManus, Executive Director of WeShine, came to pay me a visit. She shared that our church had been on her organization’s radar for some time as a potential site of a 10-person micro village. WeShine had the infrastructure to create a healthy, life-giving community. And, as the saying goes – the rest is history. In just over a years’ time we celebrated the soft opening of the Parkrose Micro-Village. Recently, I was gifted with a book by a colleague who pastors a church involved in hosting a 20 person micro-village. Pastor David Libby wrote the book titled, “Scrappy Flock of Sheep, the Cost of Loving Your Neighbor”. It has become our identity as followers of Jesus.
Pastor Dianne Rodriguez
From prcli.org Newsletter