...On Wednesdays, before the downtown Asheville church has its come-as-you-are lunch and church service, Raven Gladys Rap is often among the homeless people waiting to eat. Lying on the grass among many others recently, she stares up through the leaves, thinking how much she loves that tree. She’s been homeless half of her 32 years; most recently she’s camping on a mountain near downtown Asheville. ...
“There are no restrictions here,” the pastor of the congregation, Brian Combs, said as he stood inside the clothes closet recently. “Grace doesn’t have rules to follow, papers to fill out,” he said.
Haywood Street Congregation, located in the century-old Central United Methodist Church building on the western fringe of downtown Asheville, is there to help, not to restrict.
Created two years ago to provide a mid-week lunch and service for the city’s homeless (though all are welcome), the church is the only one in Asheville whose targeted members sleep in shelters and camps hidden in and around the city.
The congregation’s minister, Rev. Brian Combs, a young man with a tangle of hair and beard that grows just as wild, welcomes all, in whatever state they show up.
Coming to Asheville from a street ministry in Atlanta, Combs hung out with prostitutes and people dying of AIDS, many of whom were amazed that he, unlike others, wouldn’t shun them. Combs said he felt called to be among his “brothers” and “sisters,” terms he still uses for those he serves. ...
Combs calls the church’s approach “radical integration” because it challenges people to accept each other, even the homeless who see, at lunch and at prayer, people with money and homes.
“Asheville’s a weird-enough town for people to try holding hands with someone they never thought they’d be touching,” Combs said, a mischievous smile breaking over his handsome face. ...
“So much of church is, you sit there and listen.” [Sandy Strauss, 56,] said. “But you might have a question. Brian’s service is like an open discussion. We all talk.
“Last week he invited us to take off our shoes and (walk like) Jesus did when he walked on the earth. I feel extra close to God when I’m in there. Brian makes everyone feel that we’re all ministers with God.” ...
In hopes of making visible the invisible lives of the area’s homeless, Haywood Street Congregation will hold “A Walk of Awareness,” on Sept. 11, that will take participants along the downtown Asheville routes the homeless take in search of food, clothing and shelter. The 3K-5K route (you decide its length) starts at 4 p.m. at Haywood Street Congregation, 297 Haywood St., Asheville. A celebration supper at the church is at 5:30 p.m. Registration is $30, available at www.awalkofawareness.com (online registration ends Sept. 9.). The event raises money for The Welcome Table, the congregation’s weekly community meal, and other ministry programs.Read the full article