Sections

Weather Forecast

Close
Advertisement
Sarah Einerson, executive director of Churches United, looks through her collection of contacts from other helping agencies and organizations at the outreach office in Mount Zion Church in Nymore. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

Bemidji churches offer helping hand

Email News Alerts
news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

From ancient times, churches and their members have reached out in charity to help people in need.

Bemidji churches have responded to calls for mission to disaster areas and informal assistance when members and nonmembers face hard times.

Advertisement
Advertisement

In the last decade, several church outreach programs have become more formalized and organized than traditional responses.

Churches United

In 2002, a group of leaders from a variety of Bemidji churches joined in their awareness of people seeking financial aid. The church members didn't necessarily agree on doctrine or style of worship, but they agreed on the understanding of pervasive poverty.

A sign in the office at Mt. Zion Church states: "Churches United is not an entitlement program. Any help you receive is a gift from the Christian community."

"We might profess our faith differently or have a different idea of what God is," said Sarah Einerson, executive director of Churches United. "The one thing we can all believe on is part of Christianity is helping those in need."

Now, 26 churches have adopted the Churches United logo - "Welcoming the Stranger as Jesus" - and donate at least $1 per member per year, although Einerson said most contribute more.

In addition, 17 volunteers who are members of the participating churches help out in the Churches United office, interviewing those seeking help, managing paperwork and organizing in-kind donations of clothing and household goods.

The organization started with Executive Director Dottie Moen in a tiny office in St. Philip's Catholic Church, which offered no privacy for those coming in with requests, let alone storage. The office now is in Mt. Zion Church in Nymore and storage is in rented space.

In 2010, Churches United provided money for food, fuel, utility bills, gasoline and other emergency necessities to 1,511 individual men and women and 1,013 families, including 1,913 children. All this on a budget of $50,000 a year.

Einerson said the assistance is meant to be a stop-gap, emergency outreach, so sometimes she has to say no to a request.

"We try not to let people leave empty handed," she said, so everyone receives a lunch bag and water, even if not the cash requested.

"Right now, the need is utility assistance. We've seen a little bit of a rise in the need for groceries," she said. "Gas to make it from paycheck to paycheck."

And the Churches United office, which is open from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, is busy with requests.

"We can see 20 people a day in four hours," Einerson said.

Last week, one of the clients was a 44-year-old woman who had had several rotator cuff operations and needed more surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. She had four grown children at home and needed utilities assistance. She asked that her name not be used.

"My kids are my life," she said.

She said she used to be a cook, but can't hold a job any longer because of her disabilities. Asking for help is difficult for her, she said.

"Sometimes I don't want to, but I have to," she said.

Einerson said that was a common reaction, especially with men.

"Men are more prideful," she said. "They say, 'I wish I didn't have to do this. I wish I wasn't here.'"

Einerson said she and the volunteers, as church agents, can be more personal, while respecting clients' privacy, than other helping organizations. For example, she said she can point out to someone needing gas money, but also smoking, that the cost of a few of packs of cigarettes would buy a few gallons of gasoline.

"We can say, when the other agencies can't, 'Are you out looking for a job?'" she said.

In spite of the recession and widespread need for assistance, Einerson said positive notes include no drop in donations and Churches United has a firm place in the community. The agency receives referrals from other organizations and, in turn, suggests other resources to clients.

"We know what we are capable of," she said. "We just need more help from the community to do more."

Servants of Shelter

Four years ago, a group of people became concerned that the board of directors at the homeless shelter, at that time Ours to Serve House of Hospitality, decided to become a family-only facility. Where would the homeless singles go for shelter?

They tried an experiment of asking churches to provide overnight accommodations and meals for people from Nov. 1 through March 30. In four-hour shifts, pairs of volunteers sit up with the guests to ensure everyone's safety.

"That's when it starts to get really cold, the dangerous months for people to be outside," said Michelle Sheets, one of the SOS organizers. "We knew we couldn't commit to all year."

The people needing shelter register at BiCAP, Churches United and, on weekends, Village of Hope. These agencies conduct background checks because the program does not admit registered sex offenders, although there is no check on other criminal records or warrants. SOS can accommodate 20 people a night.

Employees at Anderson Fabrics in Blackduck donated and upholstered heavy-duty foam mattresses, and the host churches provide bedding, supper, breakfast, a sack lunch and bus tokens for the guests to return the next evening. Zoning ordinances allow the sheltering for six consecutive nights per site. Super 8 motel offers the guests showers.

"Our church (Calvary Chapel) is part of that program," said Super 8 General Manager J.J. Emanuel. "It's nice they can come in and spend 45 minutes-half an hour freshening up and feeling human."

Donations furnished an enclosed trailer for bringing the mattresses from church to church.

He said most churches have no shower facilities, and Super 8 has housekeeping staff on hand.

Sheets said 14 churches hosted guests last winter with four more churches participating with donations and volunteers.

The guests check in at 4 p.m., have supper and get settled in. Breakfast is at 8 a.m., when they receive their sack lunch and leave for the day.

"We also try to refer them to agencies that can help them," Sheets said.

The goal, Sheets said, is to find a day shelter as spending the day outside is a hardship during cold weather.

"We haven't been able to have a day program because we haven't had enough volunteers," she said.

Peoples Church

Peoples Church is a multicultural mission congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with a special emphasis on outreach to people living in poverty.

Ten years ago, the Rev. Bob Kelly and his wife, nurse Carol Kelly, were moved by the spiritual and medical needs of the poor and homeless in the Bemidji area. As a result, they started an outreach ministry to the poor.

The church is now governed by a seven-member board with Bob Kelly as CEO and Carol Kelly as parish nurse. Associate Pastor Martha Levine has also joined the team.

As listed on the Peoples Church website, the outreach includes offers a variety ministries:

E Hospitality - "It is our duty and our joy to reach out with open hands and hearts. In Hebrews, we are reminded that in showing hospitality to our brothers and sisters we 'entertain angels unawares.'"

E Fishing - "Peoples Church offers a variety of venues for fishing including a pontoon boat. When the weather permits, every Friday we have a cook-out on the shore of Lake Bemidji followed by a fishing excursion on the Peoples Church Pontoon."

E Housing - "In inclement weather and especially in winter, Peoples Church opens up its sanctuary to the homeless."

E Foot Ministry - "In John 13 we read that Jesus took off his outer garments and tied a towel around himself. Then he performed the role of the lowliest house slave, washing the feet of everyone present with him at his final Passover meal. We re-enact this moment from Christ's ministry among us to remind ourselves that Jesus took every opportunity to show us what true servant-hood is."

E Bike Ministry - "One of our Board members, Dr. Dianne Pittman, has been the guiding force behind setting up a program for putting people who need them for basic transportation around Bemidji on bicycles." She collects and rehabilitates bicycles for the use of anyone who needs transportation.

E Parish Health Shalom Ministry - "We have on our ministry team a registered nurse, Carol Kelly, who serves the county as a home health care specialist. She can identify health issues and make referrals."

E Bible Circle - "We explore the Word of God as it pertains to our own lives and our personal spirituality."

E Nature Crafting - "Our newest ministry, and one that we believe will have a great impact on the future of our church, as well as help ministries of other churches, is our Nature Craft Ministry. Using the bounty of the northwest Minnesota forests, we offer individuals in the area the opportunity to sell the many craft items they already know how to make."

From ancient times, churches and their members have reached out in charity to help people in need.

Bemidji churches have responded to calls for mission to disaster areas and informal assistance when members and nonmembers face hard times.

In the last decade, several church outreach programs have become more formalized and organized than traditional responses.

Churches United

In 2002, a group of leaders from a variety of Bemidji churches joined in their awareness of people seeking financial aid. The church members didn't necessarily agree on doctrine or style of worship, but they agreed on the understanding of pervasive poverty.

A sign in the office at Mt. Zion Church states: "Churches United is not an entitlement program. Any help you receive is a gift from the Christian community."

"We might profess our faith differently or have a different idea of what God is," said Sarah Einerson, executive director of Churches United. "The one thing we can all believe on is part of Christianity is helping those in need."

Now, 26 churches have adopted the Churches United logo - "Welcoming the Stranger as Jesus" - and donate at least $1 per member per year, although Einerson said most contribute more.

In addition, 17 volunteers who are members of the participating churches help out in the Churches United office, interviewing those seeking help, managing paperwork and organizing in-kind donations of clothing and household goods.

The organization started with Executive Director Dottie Moen in a tiny office in St. Philip's Catholic Church, which offered no privacy for those coming in with requests, let alone storage. The office now is in Mt. Zion Church in Nymore and storage is in rented space.

In 2010, Churches United provided money for food, fuel, utility bills, gasoline and other emergency necessities to 1,511 individual men and women and 1,013 families, including 1,913 children. All this on a budget of $50,000 a year.

Einerson said the assistance is meant to be a stop-gap, emergency outreach, so sometimes she has to say no to a request.

"We try not to let people leave empty handed," she said, so everyone receives a lunch bag and water, even if not the cash requested.

"Right now, the need is utility assistance. We've seen a little bit of a rise in the need for groceries," she said. "Gas to make it from paycheck to paycheck."

And the Churches United office, which is open from noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, is busy with requests.

"We can see 20 people a day in four hours," Einerson said.

Last week, one of the clients was a 44-year-old woman who had had several rotator cuff operations and needed more surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. She had four grown children at home and needed utilities assistance. She asked that her name not be used.

"My kids are my life," she said.

She said she used to be a cook, but can't hold a job any longer because of her disabilities. Asking for help is difficult for her, she said.

"Sometimes I don't want to, but I have to," she said.

Einerson said that was a common reaction, especially with men.

"Men are more prideful," she said. "They say, 'I wish I didn't have to do this. I wish I wasn't here.'"

Einerson said she and the volunteers, as church agents, can be more personal, while respecting clients' privacy, than other helping organizations. For example, she said she can point out to someone needing gas money, but also smoking, that the cost of a few of packs of cigarettes would buy a few gallons of gasoline.

"We can say, when the other agencies can't, 'Are you out looking for a job?'" she said.

In spite of the recession and widespread need for assistance, Einerson said positive notes include no drop in donations and Churches United has a firm place in the community. The agency receives referrals from other organizations and, in turn, suggests other resources to clients.

"We know what we are capable of," she said. "We just need more help from the community to do more."

Servants of Shelter

Four years ago, a group of people became concerned that the board of directors at the homeless shelter, at that time Ours to Serve House of Hospitality, decided to become a family-only facility. Where would the homeless singles go for shelter?

They tried an experiment of asking churches to provide overnight accommodations and meals for people from Nov. 1 through March 30. In four-hour shifts, pairs of volunteers sit up with the guests to ensure everyone's safety.

"That's when it starts to get really cold, the dangerous months for people to be outside," said Michelle Sheets, one of the SOS organizers. "We knew we couldn't commit to all year."

The people needing shelter register at BiCAP, Churches United and, on weekends, Village of Hope. These agencies conduct background checks because the program does not admit registered sex offenders, although there is no check on other criminal records or warrants. SOS can accommodate 20 people a night.

Employees at Anderson Fabrics in Blackduck donated and upholstered heavy-duty foam mattresses, and the host churches provide bedding, supper, breakfast, a sack lunch and bus tokens for the guests to return the next evening. Zoning ordinances allow the sheltering for six consecutive nights per site. Super 8 motel offers the guests showers.

"Our church (Calvary Chapel) is part of that program," said Super 8 General Manager J.J. Emanuel. "It's nice they can come in and spend 45 minutes-half an hour freshening up and feeling human."

Donations furnished an enclosed trailer for bringing the mattresses from church to church.

He said most churches have no shower facilities, and Super 8 has housekeeping staff on hand.

Sheets said 14 churches hosted guests last winter with four more churches participating with donations and volunteers.

The guests check in at 4 p.m., have supper and get settled in. Breakfast is at 8 a.m., when they receive their sack lunch and leave for the day.

"We also try to refer them to agencies that can help them," Sheets said.

The goal, Sheets said, is to find a day shelter as spending the day outside is a hardship during cold weather.

"We haven't been able to have a day program because we haven't had enough volunteers," she said.

Peoples Church

Peoples Church is a multicultural mission congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with a special emphasis on outreach to people living in poverty.

Ten years ago, the Rev. Bob Kelly and his wife, nurse Carol Kelly, were moved by the spiritual and medical needs of the poor and homeless in the Bemidji area. As a result, they started an outreach ministry to the poor.

The church is now governed by a seven-member board with Bob Kelly as CEO and Carol Kelly as parish nurse. Associate Pastor Martha Levine has also joined the team.

As listed on the Peoples Church website, the outreach includes offers a variety ministries:

- Hospitality - "It is our duty and our joy to reach out with open hands and hearts. In Hebrews, we are reminded that in showing hospitality to our brothers and sisters we 'entertain angels unawares.'"

- Fishing - "Peoples Church offers a variety of venues for fishing including a pontoon boat. When the weather permits, every Friday we have a cook-out on the shore of Lake Bemidji followed by a fishing excursion on the Peoples Church Pontoon."

- Housing - "In inclement weather and especially in winter, Peoples Church opens up its sanctuary to the homeless."

- Foot Ministry - "In John 13 we read that Jesus took off his outer garments and tied a towel around himself. Then he performed the role of the lowliest house slave, washing the feet of everyone present with him at his final Passover meal. We re-enact this moment from Christ's ministry among us to remind ourselves that Jesus took every opportunity to show us what true servant-hood is."

- Bike Ministry - "One of our Board members, Dr. Dianne Pittman, has been the guiding force behind setting up a program for putting people who need them for basic transportation around Bemidji on bicycles." She collects and rehabilitates bicycles for the use of anyone who needs transportation.

- Parish Health Shalom Ministry - "We have on our ministry team a registered nurse, Carol Kelly, who serves the county as a home health care specialist. She can identify health issues and make referrals."

- Bible Circle - "We explore the Word of God as it pertains to our own lives and our personal spirituality."

- Nature Crafting - "Our newest ministry, and one that we believe will have a great impact on the future of our church, as well as help ministries of other churches, is our Nature Craft Ministry. Using the bounty of the northwest Minnesota forests, we offer individuals in the area the opportunity to sell the many craft items they already know how to make."

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
randomness