Welcome to the church of "holy chaos"

Courtesy of Faith & Leadership

Haywood Street garden team. -Photo courtesy Haywood Street Congregation

On a cold, rainy day in early March, a 30-something man walked into the sanctuary at the Haywood Street Congregation for the Wednesday midday service with a shaggy mixed-breed dog on a leash. Dark-haired and bearded, dressed in a brown T-shirt and army-green painter's pants, the man looked like a dozen other young guys you might encounter in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

But he wasn’t just another guy. He was the pastor, the Rev. Brian Combs, and the dog was Penny, the Haywood Street “church dog.” As the two made their rounds, greeting congregants, organist Edward Smith launched into “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Moments later, assistant pastor Darryl Dayson -- young, dreadlocked and wearing jeans -- stepped up onto the chancel and welcomed everyone, inviting them to “join in creating community.”

On that day, as on every other Wednesday, the created community at Haywood Street(link is external)was a rare and stunning mix -- many homeless and some “housed,” Christians and Jews, pastors and parishioners from other churches, black and white, young and old, families and single people, gay and straight, sober and … (for a few) maybe not so much. And Penny wasn’t the only dog.

Known as a church of “holy chaos,” the Haywood Street Congregation is a United Methodist mission church that was launched in 2009 as a place of welcome and ministry for people who are homeless or otherwise living on the margins in downtown Asheville. In addition to the Wednesday worship service, the church offers a long list of programs, including recovery groups, Bible studies, AA meetings, a clothing closet, a community garden and an eight-bed respite-care unit for homeless people who need a place to recuperate after a hospital stay.

All this is bursting forth in a building that was formerly home to Haywood Street United Methodist Church, a long-struggling congregation that was closed in 2006 and merged into Central UMC a few miles away. At a time when mainline churches and their leaders are searching for new ways to do and be church, Haywood Street is an example of entrepreneurial and innovative ministry happening within a large denomination.

“This doesn’t fit any molds,” said the Rev. Larry Goodpaster, the bishop of the UMC’s Western North Carolina Annual Conference. “Brian has demonstrated for the whole church a model -- not the only model, but a model -- of how to be engaged with those whom society has forgotten. We knew early on that this was going to be different.”

Click here to read the rest of the story and see some great photos. Courtesy Faith & Leadership www.faithandleadership.com. Photos courtesy Haywood Street Congregation.

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