Congregations usually reflect the neighborhoods they serve. One urban church is bridging the gap between privilege and poverty, housed and homeless, with an unconventional gathering that meets needs of people at both ends of the economic spectrum. Lilla Marigza reports.
(Locator: Asheville, North Carolina)
The Rev. Brian Combs: "When someone on the streets comes up to me and says, 'Brian, are you homeless? Are you staying at the mission?' I can't get that if I'm wearing this."
The Reverend Brian Combs may not look like a typical pastor. Then again, his congregation isn't typical either.
The Rev. Brian Combs: "Andy, I didn't get a chance to hug you."
Every Wednesday, two to three hundred people make their way to Haywood Street Congregation, a United Methodist church in Asheville, North Carolina.
The Rev. Brian Combs: "Glad you're here. Aaron, you were trying to get some good winter shoes. You had any luck yet?"
This church is unique. Downtown business people can share a meal and worship with their homeless neighbors. Lawyers sit next to panhandlers, and addicts alongside financial analysts.
Surgeon Lem Kirby attends another United Methodist church on Sunday, but worships at Haywood Street midweek.
Dr. Lem Kirby: "I expected that I would come a time or two and then see what it is about and then probably not come back. But when you sit shoulder to shoulder with people who have nothing to hide and they've got nothing left but to rely on God &ellipsis; it changed my perspective."
Kevin Secina is one of Asheville's estimated 5,000 homeless.
Kevin Secina: "I can be honest and tell them, 'I just got out of the penitentiary a couple days ago and this is my story' and they don't look down on that &ellipsis; which is good."
Wednesday worship began here at the suggestion of a man living on the street.
The Rev. Brian Combs: "He said 'I need something during the middle of the day because that's when I struggle with crack, marijuana and alcohol and if you had a worship service I'd much rather be doing that than getting high.'"
On other days, the church offers art classes, opportunities for community service, and fun events like camping trips. Members are encouraged to share their stories on the web.
Web video: "My name is Jodi. I'm 31."
The Rev. Brian Combs: "You can leave all the labels even for a couple of hours outside of church of 'homeless,' 'mentally ill,' 'addict' all those things and just be 'child of God' for a little while."
Haywood Street's Downtown Welcome Table has now grown to feed up to 400 people each Wednesday. Some of the best restaurants and chefs in Asheville now sponsor the meal for this weekly fellowship.
To learn more about Haywood Street United Methodist Congregation, you can reach them by phone at 828-575-2477. Or visit www.haywoodstreet.org for photos and video.