The Haywood Street Congregation was formed seven years ago, after long-time members of the dwindling congregation at that location heard God’s call to try a new way. The old Haywood Street UMC was merged into Asheville’s much larger and well-financed Central UMC, with a commitment to populate the church with “mission-oriented activity.” Eventually, the new Haywood Street mission would be led by a young pastor, Rev. Brian Combs. Pastor Brian was sure he was being called by God to be in ministry with the unsheltered. The Western North Carolina Conference of the UMC, the Blue Ridge District and Central UMC facilitated and supported the new mission. Central UMC’s pastor, Rev. Rob Blackburn, gave Brian the keys to the Haywood Street building. As Blue Ridge District Superintendent, Rev. John Boggs, explains, “We had that vision moment … we tried to figure out how to be Incarnational.” For more information about the history of the Haywood Street Congregation, read our piece on the church here at Transformational Ministries.
Several dozen clergy, lay people, and activists from the United Methodist Church and beyond got a first-hand taste of the Haywood Street Congregation, a radically welcoming church of and with the poor in Asheville, NC. We were participants in the Haywood Street Congregation’s first Ministry with the Poor Experiential Training held at the Asheville Congregation on May 1-3, 2016. This was the first of at least five Ministry with the Poor experiential trainings that will be held across the country this year.
Instead of beginning the training with organized panels and discussions or a structured tour, we were thrust right into the church community, without preconceived expectations or agendas. That experience allowed me to see how the Holy Spirit guides the church’s “holy chaos” into a living example of the gospel witness.