Experiencing the Downtown Welcome Table: Ministry with the Poor Training at the Haywood Street Congregation

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.

Churchyard art at the Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, NC. Photo credit: Nicholas Laccetti.
Churchyard art at the Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, NC. Photo credit: Nicholas Laccetti.

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.

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The Haywood Street Congregation: A Welcoming Table

Relationships blossom at Haywood Street. Photo courtesy of the Haywood Street Congregation.

The Haywood Street Congregation
297 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
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Ministry Overview

“Our Mission is to be a transformative, open community of Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, creating opportunities to serve and be served so that all who participate are empowered to claim their identity as a child of God.”

At the Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, NC, various core programs provide a platform for the “ministry of relationship,” which Haywood Street defines simply as the act of “being with.” It contrasts with “doing for” and forms the basis for Haywood Street’s “unique and transformative companion ministry.” These core programs include:

  • The Downtown Welcome Table serves a free sit down, family style luncheon for up to 400 people each Wednesday, with cloth napkins, flowers on the table, and china plates. Through partnerships with some of the very best local restaurants and chefs, referred to as Chefs at The Downtown Welcome Table, once a month the Downtown Welcome Table becomes a gourmet affair. Free haircuts are available to those waiting to be seated for lunch.
  • A radically welcoming mid-day, mid-week worship service draws in hundreds of worshippers.
  • God’s Outfitters Clothing Closet is a free store that serves about 150 people on Wednesdays.
  • The ‘Love & Fishes Bountiful Garden’ produces fresh, organic produce, grown by and for the community.
  • The Haywood Street Respite, a transitional living and healing space, accommodates up to eight adults in need of a home-like place to rest and recover after being discharged from inpatient hospital stays.

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