Friday, October 28, 2011

St. John’s Baptist Forms Partnership to House Transitioning Homeless Families

Left to right: Dennis Foust,  Darren Ash, and Larry Hewitt in
the new offices for Charlotte Family Housing.
by Rev. Laura Barclay

In October 2010, St. John’s Baptist Church formed a Space Utilization Committee to assess how to use the second floor of their building, leading to an amazing partnership with Charlotte Family Housing that shelters families above their worship space.

Larry Hewitt, chair of the space committee, related that the church has previously housed a hospitality house for families of patients in the neighboring hospital. The hospital proceeded to build stand-alone facilities, and St. John’s wanted to figure out how to utilize the space in an ongoing partnership with the community and ensure that the building would be serving God beyond Sundays and Wednesdays.

Bert Green, Executive Director of Charlotte’s Habitat for Humanity, put the committee in touch with Darren Ash of Charlotte Family Housing, and they began talks to form only the second shelter in town that houses families. Moving in above the Fellowship Hall with the name “Hawthorne Place,” dorms will house six families at a time, with common areas for a computer lab, laundry room, kitchens and closets.

Ash relates that this move has been a blessing at a time when Charlotte seemed to be pushing homeless populations to the north side of town, making them feel unwelcome downtown. Many of Ash’s clients work at the neighboring hospital and will no longer face a long commute.

Ash shared that the goal is to transition these families out of the dorms and into the comfort of their own apartments, and then offer counseling services to help them cope with past traumas. Charlotte Family Housing has rental vouchers for about 120 apartment units for transitioning families, and the organization shelters and houses around 200 families a year.

Left to right: Ash, Hewitt and Foust in the living area of the
new apartments for homeless families.
In addition to living space, families receive asset-based social work to overcome obstacles to housing, as well as vocational counseling, housing advocacy and subsidies, financial incentives like microloans, ongoing clinical social work, and volunteer engagement with clients.

New pastor Dennis Foust is excited about the investment the church has made in their partnership, and is looking forward to building relationships between his congregants and the new residents through Wednesday night suppers, worship, and volunteer opportunities. Ash noted that the level of faith these families had was astounding and uplifting to the employees, who note their reliance on God during difficult times.

St. John’s partnership is prophetic for our times. Charlotte is ranked #2 in the nation for family homelessness. Charlotte Family Housing formed this year as a merger between three organizations to more efficiently and effectively care for homeless populations.

This partnership exhibits a church actively aware and engaged in their community and committed to what Jesus identified as the greatest commandment—loving God and neighbor.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Three Days and Nights

Noah and Sophie 2 yrs. ago
by Dr. Dennis Atwood

It was Sunday night when we realized one of our cats was missing. For over two years the daily routine has been: pets outside during the day and inside the house at night. We have two cats and a dog—all female—which seems to provide some balance to our three boy universe, ying to our yang. (However, with son number one now in college the dog has defaulted to me.) My younger two sons each have a cat. The cats, and the boys, have a nightly drill. After showers and teeth-brushing is done, just before prayers, the cats assume their nightly position—Sox on Cole’s bed and Sophie on Noah’s bed. But Sunday night Sophie was nowhere to be found. This was the first full night in over two years that the cat had not come inside for the night. Noah, who is ten, was not happy about not having his sleeping buddy. We assured him the cat would show up. Next day, nothing. On Tuesday, I made some “cat missing” fliers and we put them all over the neighborhood. Tuesday night came. Still nothing. I called Animal Control. Nothing. For three days and three nights we scoured the neighborhood calling for a cat that was not there.

Since we live next to a small swamp I began to fear the worst. On Monday I heard a story about a hawk that had recently snatched up a small dog living nearby and dropped it several miles away—near a vet’s office ironically enough. That dog didn’t hunt again. I also heard about a coyote recently seen prowling the golf course behind my house. With each passing day Noah got droopier and droopier. It’s hard for a parent to watch a child suffer loss and not be able to fix it. But I knew there was nothing more we could do.

Then on Wednesday morning, as Noah and Cole were outside about to head off to school, suddenly Cole came running in the house saying, “I found Sophie!” “What? Where?” I asked. “In Miss Beth’s car! It’s still locked!” In a few minutes, after rustling up the next door neighbors, Sophie was free and Noah was a happy boy. Turns out curiosity almost killed the cat. Our good friends had been loading up their GMC Envoy on Sunday afternoon for a trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina. Apparently, Sophie crawled undetected into their SUV during the loading of golf clubs, beach stuff, and luggage. For three days and nights Sophie hunkered down in the belly of a GMC never making a sound. They never knew she was in there!

So as this cat’s tale turns out, Sophie took a spontaneous vacation to South Carolina for three days with no food or water. She could have jumped out along the way or been run over. But instead she hunkered down for three days and nights entombed in a GMC… and Wednesday morning was like resurrection! After the initial joy, Noah and Cole had to rush off to school. But their joy was palpable. Their beloved cat that was as good as dead, they could now touch and see and speak to. She was alive and present! It was priceless. More than the cat’s return, seeing my son’s joy was the greatest satisfaction of all.

So I’m going to tell them tonight to remember how it felt to experience the surprise and joy of being reunited with someone they thought was gone forever. I want them to remember the sights, the smells, the touches of holding someone they thought they would never see again. Separation and loss is indeed painful and real—even if it involves a family pet.

In a small, tangible way, Sophie’s excursion to Hilton Head reminded me of just how joyful and tangible and real it will be one day to be reunited with those whom we have loved and lost. Our pain here is real, and sometimes we need a signal of the greater reality that awaits people of faith in the Christ who spent three days in a tomb. That final Easter morning is truly going to be glorious. In a strange and funny way, a curious cat and a little boy gave me a grace-filled moment—a foretaste of the gift of eternal life.

Dennis Atwood is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Mount Olive. This article originally appeared on his blog.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Panelists Urge Repair of Broken Immigration System

Interfaith panelists Carlos Arce, Hector Villanueva and Carol Goehring at screening.
 by Steve Devane

A Catholic priest told an ecumenical gathering at the First Baptist Church of Raleigh, N.C., for a screening of the documentary "Gospel Without Borders" that his faith tradition's social teachings call for a good government to welcome the stranger and secure its borders for the common good.

"The first principle in the social teachings is that people have the right to move to other places to protect their life and the life of their family. This is a basic right," said Carlos Arce, vicar for Hispanics in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Raleigh. "Second, a country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration. These controls ... must be applied with justice, in human good and compassion."

Arce was one of three panelists who spoke after a screening of the documentary that presents a biblical rationale for welcoming strangers and debunks several misperceptions about immigration.

Other panelists included Carol Goehring, executive director of Connectional Ministries in the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, and Hector Villanueva, pastor of Iglesia Bautista La Roca in Siler City, N.C., who was featured in the documentary.

The Raleigh event was the third documentary screening sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

Villanueva gave his firsthand account of nearly being deported because of a 15-year-old crime for which he had already served a sentence.

Villanueva came to the United States from Mexico with his parents when he was 3 years old and acquired legal permanent residency due to a 1986 immigration reform law.

In the mid-1990s, however, he became addicted to drugs and was arrested for trying to cash someone else's check. He served 16 months in prison, became a Christian and was later ordained.

He moved to North Carolina with his wife and children to start a church in Chatham County, which has a large Hispanic population.

But in August 2010 he was arrested after applying for U.S. citizenship. The routine background check for citizenship uncovered the crime, and he was threatened with deportation to Mexico.

A judge ruled in Villanueva's favor last month, but the criminal record keeps him from becoming a citizen. He said to gain citizenship he will need a pardon from the governor of California, where the crime was committed.

"I want that right," said Villanueva. "I want to be able to vote."

Villanueva told stories of how police officers in his area hold license checks on the only road going to a neighborhood where immigrants live.

Yet no checks were made at a chicken processing plant where many Hispanics worked before it closed, he said.

"The people in the community don't want immigrants, yet they hire them," he said.

He said that undocumented workers cannot easily get legal status.

Acre said many immigrants want legal status, but don't have an "open window" to obtain it.

"The only way is to work for comprehensive immigration reform," he said. "This broken system is a real business for some people."

"The people you see in the documentary are not far from you," said Arce. "They are behind you. They are among you."

Goehring said churches could host "know your rights" seminars that teach immigrants how to navigate the legal system in the United States. Law students can often teach the workshops, she said.

Robert Parham, co-producer of the documentary and executive editor of, moderated the discussion with an audience of mostly Baptists, Catholics and Methodists.

People of faith should still work for change, even if it's incremental, Parham said. For example, people should use the phrase "undocumented worker," instead of illegal immigrant.

Churches also could show the 31-minute version of the documentary to their congregations and use a longer version over several weeks in Sunday school classes, Parham said.

Parham noted that several churches are located around the North Carolina state capitol, and he suggested a copy of the DVD be given to each state legislator.

Steve Devane is a North Carolina reporter on staff with Baptists Today. This article originally appreared on

Visit to learn more about's new documentary on faith and immigration. All CBFNC partner churches, divinity schools, and colleges will receive this free resource in the mail within the next month. We encourage you to hold a screening, partnering with other congregations and non-profits, or break it up by chapter using the discussion guide at for a Sunday School series. We are excited to be on the journey with you to discover how to help our immigrant neighbors. Visit CBFNC's Immigration page for additional resources.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Almost Christian - A Review

by Rev. Laura Barclay

I recently read Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church by Kenda Creasy Dean, minister and Associate Professor of Youth, Church and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. This book is both a dissection and reflection on the findings of the recent National Study of Youth and Religion Survey. Dean outlines several points: most American teens view religion in a positive light but do not think about it often; teens reflect the faith of their parents; most teens do not possess the religious vocabulary to talk about their faith; a small group of teens claim religion is important and they are doing better in a number of areas than most teens; and most teens follow a weak form of faith dubbed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (21). Based on these findings, Dean explains and responds to the data while relating vignettes of certain teens’ stories.

Dean posits that the faith of many American parents, and what is presented in many churches, lacks the depth of a true, lived faith. Instead, churches and parents settle for a weak faith (Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) that leads them to be nice in order to advance in society and achieve the American dream. Dean examines Mormon children, one of the exceptions to the rule. They are highly invested in their faith, possess the language to talk about their religious views, and have a high level of investment in their faith community and service on its behalf. While Dean is clear that Mormon views and practices are not ideal for many of us (women are excluded from leadership positions and young adults are encouraged to marry early, among a few views objectionable to moderates and progressives), she tries to determine what we might learn from Mormons that could help mainline traditions.

Dean determines that our churches and parents must have “missional imaginations” that are willing to engage in the mission of God in our communities, not for the churches’ gain, but to further the kingdom of God (89). This involves a justice-filled faith that is active outside the walls of the church. Dean also encourages churches to pair adults with youth going through baptism or confirmation (118). These adults, or catechists, would serve as mentors who walk alongside the youth, share their stories, and show their interest in the youth. This encourages adults to talk about their faith and mature in their walk, as well. Ultimately, we should seek transformation through our teaching in the church (172). Dean illustrates this by showing how one set of lessons paired with a missions project out of middle class suburbia and into a poor Mexican town transformed one teenage girl. The teen was able to give up what was most important to her and obtain a deeper, more authentic faith that allowed her to view the poor through the eyes of Jesus. In this way, certain youth on this trip were able to take the focus off of themselves and onto God and their neighbors, maturing their faith and helping them become better disciples.

Dean’s conclusions are ones in which I can agree: The church is both the problem and the solution (189). When we present a weakened form of our faith that exalts “niceness” over engagement in justice issues, exclude people from our churches who are not like us in the name of Christ, or present the American Dream as Christ’s ideal for us, we fail our youth. Instead, we need to embrace the mission of God and reorient our churches, inspiring our youth to follow Christ out into the world to serve the poor and oppressed. Until we commit to this, we cannot blame our youth for thinking that “being nice” and following the status quo is the same as following Jesus.

Find out more about the book here.