In downtown Minneapolis, a tall, snow-covered sign hints at what happened to the homeless during the Super Bowl on Sunday: They went to church.
As football fans thronged Super Bowl Live events around U.S. Bank Stadium, Westminster Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation, became a refuge for the homeless and vulnerable. The church stands adjacent to the Nicollet Mall shopping district, only blocks away from the stadium.
Its sign beckoned: “Need to warm up? Come on in. Hungry? We have food. Experiencing homelessness? Leave your bag here for the day.”
Matt Johnson, Westminster’s interim associate pastor for faith in action, told me the invitation was intended to get more than a typical community center experience. “We put out a call to the congregation and people responded generously,” he said. “Volunteers were there the whole 10 days to make lunches and sit down and talk, taking the opportunity to engage with people.”
The church is no newcomer to homeless outreach. It received a certificate of occupancy for a mammoth addition on Jan. 19, just in time for the Super Bowl. But long-term plans include offering its ministry space for all-week support of the vulnerable.
Despite his position at Westminster, Johnson is an ordained Lutheran pastor. His cross-denomination job at this church of 3,100 members highlights the collaborative nature of what happened during Super Bowl LII, and is ongoing in downtown Minneapolis. Westminster Presbyterian, Central Lutheran Church (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), and First Covenant Church (Evangelical Covenant Church)—which faces the stadium—are three of the members of Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness (DCEH), founded 11 years ago.
The leadership of DCEH is Christian and Jewish, and its member congregations, including two mosques, tout a common ministry goal of helping provide “safe, decent and affordable housing in Minneapolis.” The congregations coordinate the delivery of many services, even at each other’s campuses, as well as work with St. Stephen’s Human Services, a Catholic nonprofit organization actively working to end homelessness in Minneapolis since the 1960s.
Using Westminster’s facilities, Central Lutheran hosts Street Voices for Change, a group of formerly and currently homeless people who meet regularly to inform local government and shape the ministries that bless the needy.
“We have the opportunity to listen and then consider how we or another congregation in our network could meet that need,” Johnson said, sharing Scripture that anchor his church and personal ministry: “Micah 6:8 is important, and various commands throughout Scripture to love God and our neighbor. But I use the lens of John 10:10 in my actions and decisions by asking, ‘How does this bring about abundant life—or not?’”
Westminster Senior Pastor Tim Hart-Andersen told me ministry to the vulnerable has “always been a core part of the church”—for 161 years. With its new ministry space, Westminster wants to help homeless people with daytime needs like a place to store belongings, to drink coffee, or receive counseling.
As he came in and got warm at Westminster during Super Bowl week, one homeless man told volunteers it was not just physical warmth but the kindness of Christians sitting down with him, listening, that most touched him.
“We strive to be present with people, to offer presence,” Johnson said.