Last Sunday, Faith Lutheran voted to take an intentional step to discern if we will move forward with a “sacred settlement” on our church property. A sacred settlement, if completed in the future, would consist of 10 to 12 tiny homes with residents having various backgrounds. 

Some residents would be “missionals”—looking to downsize and model healthy living. Other residents would have experienced chronic homelessness. There will be intentionality in seeking veterans for some (but not all) of the spots. 

I was initially drawn to this model for one very important reason: unity. I heard the vision of Gabrielle Clowdus and Anne Franz from Settled (besettled.org) and immediately saw how a church like Faith in a community like Forest Lake could be the catalyst to make this happen. 

A sacred settlement matches the values important to Forest Lake: veterans, homelessness, environmental issues, and churches answering a call to respond to those in need. This work goes beyond Faith Lutheran—it will require collaboration from many.  

It’s also one piece of an enormous puzzle to solve chronic homelessness. Yes, shelters are important. Yes, low income housing is important. This settlement aims to show another solution to churches that could be replicated across the nation to help eradicate chronic homelessness in the future. 

This model doesn’t require tax dollars, and it allows churches to step up and be the leaders in a ministry to truly care for our brothers and sisters who have been outcast and shunned by society. 

Homelessness is a growing and significant concern that is common, often hidden, in our own community and county. In 2018, there were 277 people counted by Point in Time count which is mandated by the HUD. These numbers are understated, as they’re impacted by weather and most often don’t include people doubled up, living in their car, or finding refuge in places not meant for human habitation.  

Faith has begun new veterans and creation care ministries because of this project. Faith is a leader in supporting the St. Andrew’s Hugo Family Shelter. Faith is a committed leader with serving the hungry in the community. A sacred settlement matches our congregational identity of hospitality and compassion. 

I’m not naïve—I know that this will be hard work and there are many unknowns. However, this ministry is stirring up a new generation of leaders looking to engage in this mission. 

I also have concerns. I bet they aren’t that different from many of the members of my church and those in Forest Lake who are just learning about this. That’s why we created a development team. Instead of announcing that Faith is moving forward with a new ministry without community or city support, the purpose of our vote and this announcement is to begin the important work of a development phase to determine the viability of the project. 

These topics will guide the work of the development team:

Money. I’m expecting that the bricks and mortar will be funded by non-governmental grants and outside organizations. If you have a passion for helping the community, we are looking for you.  

Safety/security. As a parent, I would be skeptical if I didn’t know how residents would be chosen to live in this settlement. Faith, as a landlord, sets parameters regarding who will (and won’t) be community members. The development team will establish the covenants and vetting process of each of the members of the sacred settlement (including the missionals). There will be thorough background checks and a code of conduct. Community involvement will include county services and church/community advocates for the residents. The Community First model of a sacred settlement means that the residents will be receiving the one thing that has eluded them: a family or community that walks alongside them and loves them. 

Neighborhood support. This is an essential step that could not have happened until Faith endorsed the process. We have not started approaching neighbors directly because we were still in the exploratory phase. This work begins immediately—and it’s why this article and press release were written. We want to invite our neighbors into this conversation. Connections with our local police and government leaders have already started in anticipation of questions they might receive. The development team will set up community forums to answer questions and begin the dialogue. If you have questions, contact faithsettlement@gmail.com.

Finally, it needs to be stated that the development phase may determine that a Sacred Settlement is not the right fit here at Faith. There’s a lot of work ahead of us, and nothing is a done deal. 

We don’t know where the Holy Spirit will lead, but Faith trusts that God is calling us into something powerful. I appreciate your continued willingness to engage in this process and to acknowledge the careful discernment that has occurred at our church to bring this topic into the open. Thanks for being community alongside us. 

Pastor John Klawiter is the senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Forest Lake on North Shore Drive. All are welcome. For more information, email him at johnk@faithfl.org.

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