Stories of Hope: Union Women's Shelter

Reflection by Toni Voorhies, a founding host of Union’s Shelter. Learn more about the shelter on our website or by emailing

I have always thought of God as a creative Spirit, but I had not used the word 'imaginative' before.  So when Kierstin asked me how I see God's imaginative Spirit present at the Union Women's Shelter I was stumped. After some contemplation, I thought that if imagination is the capacity to visualize a reality that contradicts our experience, then obviously the Spirit is imaginative.  When I applied this idea to the Shelter, I decided that God has a massive imagination.
I joined up with a group at Union who wanted to invite homeless women into our building a couple times a month to spend the night - to create a volunteer shelter for homeless women.  We believed that God was calling us to share our space, and I thought it was a chance for me to do more than just despair about the issue of homelessness in our city.  As we discussed the questions of how and when, I looked around at our space and the equipment we had been given.  I saw a hard concrete floor, an imposing cavernous room, 14 small, hard mattresses, very worn linens, plastic bins, an industrial kitchen and a clean but basic bathroom.  It didn't feel welcoming or homey.  I thought the best we could hope to provide was a dry space, a bed (kinda) and some food.  But, it was what it was and it was all we had to offer.  Our partner from Noel House assured us it would be enough, more than enough.  I convinced myself that offering a dry space and a mattress was enough for women who would otherwise be on the street.  So I joined in enthusiastically with the team, and we began to host women overnight.  We were trepidatious, to say the least, but I could actually hear God whispering, "come along. You got this. Just go with it."

That was over five years ago.  As a team of volunteers, we have leaned into the space and the evenings together with the homeless women.  I try to serve at least once a month by spending the night, and I often volunteer to serve a meal.  

Our guests arrive in the evening after having spent the day looking for a safe place to hang out, keeping track of their stuff, trying to work out necessities like food, hygiene and medical concerns, looking for helpful resources, sometimes working, all the while knowing they are not welcome in public spaces.  They are ignored, looked down on, or worse by people who encounter them. Repeat guests enter our space and visibly relax.  They tell me they are happy to be at Union because they feel safe and welcome.  They say we treat them like 'real people' and that the space is so quiet and peaceful.  They love our meals which are home cooked and full of flavor and vegetables.  They LOVE our ice cream for dessert.  They like being greeted and welcomed, instead of ostracized and ignored.  They like sitting around a table eating with a community that cares about them, or resting quietly on their mattresses, or sorting safely through their things. When a woman comes to us for the first time, it usually only takes an hour before she asks me hopefully, "are you guys open tomorrow night, too?", because she senses something different about coming in from the cold world to our warm welcoming space. 

The thing that is strange, and wonderful, is that when I walk into Union on Shelter nights, I no longer see a hard, cavernous space.  I know that I am going to experience warmth, conversation, laughter, peace, companionship, and good food.   Something I could not imagine has been created, not just for the homeless women, but for me, too.  God could imagine the community and warmth of our space from the beginning.  He knew that the reality of our shelter would be formed not from the concrete and the mattresses, but from the relationships that would be forged.  It might sound crazy, but our building feels the most like a sanctuary to me on the Monday nights when I stay there with the homeless women.  God's imaginative Spirit could see a warm, safe refuge and he called me to come and be part of creating something that I could not visualize on my own.  Imagine that.  He wanted me to experience the joy of creating sanctuary for others, and to have an experience of being in a sanctuary space.  

I still often feel despair over homelessness in our city.  I have learned a lot about homeless women, but God hasn't given me the answers to homelessness.  God has taught me the power of sanctuary and given me a longing to experience more of his imagination.

Stories of Hope

There is a heaviness in the air as daylight dwindles, as we grapple with disappointing leadership and as we grieve shootings, broken immigration policy and a world that feels chaotic and cruel. How can we be people of hope in the midst of this heaviness?

When hopelessness creeps in it, it can feel isolating and as if nobody or any time has known our grief. Yet, the questioning of hope is not a new experience, nor is the feeling that things are too untouchable, too big or too broken for hope to seep through.

Earlier this month we read this passage from Romans, “ We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). This verse is rich and has uplifted, challenged and called the church for centuries. And today, as I reflect on my own feelings of uncertainty and loss of hope, the word that stands out to me is boast. We must share, exclaim, shout out our stories. How can we begin to move towards hope if we do not first share our feelings of loss and heartbreak?

In response to the hopeless and fragile feeling that there is too much brokenness for light to shine through, I felt compelled to organize stories of hope within our community. Where are there intentional acts of goodness and generosity being done throughout our community and city? The answer: They are happening all over! All you have to do is ask people to share (or should I say boast)!

This is not a blog series to pat our community on the back and give us a gold star--that is, to feed our own ego. But rather, these stories are being shared with the hope of encouraging us all what can be done when we give space to listen and respond to the Spirit. Many of the ministries of Union started because someone came to us with a need or someone noticed a need and asked for something simple, like making sandwiches, that in turn blesses hands that prepare and eat. These are stories of fishes and loaves-stories of listening and giving out of abundance. Stories of what happens when we say “yes, let go and participate with the Spirit’s ongoing work.”

Peace and Light,

Kierstin Brown

Epiphany 2019

The word invitation is a lovely word that communicates your presence is desired. On Epiphany Sunday we celebrate that God sent an invitation to the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Wise men (aka Magi, Kings or Scholars) accepted the invitation in the sky and were overwhelmed with joy when they met the infant Lord Jesus. It was an invitation that most likely changed their life perspective for good.

As you enter 2019 what is an invitation God offers you? May you be overwhelmed with joy by God’s love for you and God’s desire to be with you. 

Jesus is the Light of the world. Jesus transcends your daily circumstances to communicate your intrinsic worth. “See what love God has given us that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are!” (I John 3:1)

The Story Between Us: The Letter to the Romans

It helps to read the Letter to the Romans as a symphony in four parts, Romans 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, 12-16.  When read in parts, we begin to see that Paul is telling the BIG Story of salvation for all people. To allow this writing to speak afresh into our lives, we invite you to look for themes, ask questions, wrestle with the text, pray, read it again.  We encourage you to not only read Romans but listen online.  How do we need the message of the Gospel today?


The Letter to the Romans is  a story of a God who is deeply and abidingly committed to keeping the Word God spoke long ago and that is echoed throughout creation — a God who keeps his promise that all people, all nations will have access to the good news that they are God's created ones,  who matter. Embedded in the sometimes complicated style of Paul's writing, is the Big Story of how God reveals and fulfills this promise through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and provides a new way of being together through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this story we have these two groups of people who have heard the gospel of Jesus, but are having a hard time living into the story they have embraced as true— because they are having a hard time embracing one another.  They are both a part of the newly formed 1st century church but both groups are vying for first place in the heart of that God. As if they could compete for such a place…but the disciples were the same with Jesus!

The  Jewish believers – are holding tight to a very long history with God.  Okay, yes, Jesus is fine and good but, remember, they seem to be saying:  we are people of the law…the law is our identity. The Gentiles, boast in their new status — They are the new kids on the block.  They don't have the baggage of the past. Perhaps they are boasting in grace…. The more they sin, the more grace can abound. Their identity is that they don't need the law or tradition. They certainly don’t need circumcision or any of these food laws!

And, into their struggle, Paul tells them there is only One story and it is the story of the cross of Jesus.  There is no other story, in fact. When they call upon the name of the Lord, their new identity is through the cross and to be joined as a new people.  This is the way to righteousness.

As Romans 3 states so powerfully, both Jews and Greeks –are all under the power of sin – no one is righteous…not even one.  Or as the Message translation says: Whether insiders or outsiders, we all start out in identical conditions — sinners. The playing field is level, Paul writes in Romans 5…'while we were still sinners …Christ died for us.   Jew, Gentile, Insider, Outsider.

And, there at the cross, Paul states in Romans 8 "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  God has done a new work of taking people who were estranged from one another and makes them a New People…a new community…God's People.  

For, Romans 10 states:  There is no distinction (no matter what our back story) between any of us..For the same Lord is Lord of all and generous to all who call on his name.

The challenge Paul lays out to these first century believers is this, will you live in the BIG story of the grace of Jesus Christ?  Will you receive the Second Chance that Jesus offers to live by His Spirit?

If so, then Romans 12 provides a way to respond.

Just as in any good story, there comes a point after the crisis has ended, when the question must be asked:  What is next for our heroes?  How will Dorothy live back in Kansas?  How will the scarecrow lead now that he knows he has a brain?  The tinman, now with a heart?

Romans 12, asks us the same question:  The crisis is over.  There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus our Lord.  How then will you respond?

This passage has so many rich words and phrases that you could stop to meditate upon. Rather than analyzing each word, there  is one overarching invitation that I would encourage you to focus upon and let the words of Romans 12 hang on this one invitation:

Love as you were created to love!

Then Romans 15 gives us imagination of how to live outwardly “welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed you.”

And, Paul will then invite them boldly -- will you join me in my assignment and bring witness that Jesus is the one who brings joyful hope and abiding peace?

Will you participate in a new humanity  -- that is not based on ethnicity, heritage, gender, status or skin color?

And, Romans 16 concludes with greetings from a diverse community  of faith that is living into this message of good news for all as they seek to form society anew -- and radical to the culture around.

The Letter to the Romans  is about identity -- Who are we?  Beloved saints, who are part of an new humanity formed through God by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and sustained by the Holy Spirit. We are people invited into a Big Story of God’s hope and transformation for the world, united by the reality that God’s Spirit is working in each of us. And, you are invited to be yourself in this Big Story, created, loved, valued by the one True God and free to live in response.  You are God’s beloved saints.


Prayers of the People 07.01.18

Our gracious God,
You have told us through your prophet Micah, “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, & what he requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness, & to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We confess our failure to live these values of Your Kingdom, & we ask for your cleansing & healing from our self-centeredness. We confess our national failure to live these values, & we pray for revival in our land, that people across our country will turn towards you & welcome the transformation of Your Spirit in their lives, that we may see our prejudices transformed into justice for all persons, our meanness & desire for revenge transformed into kindness & mercy, and our arrogance & self-centeredness transformed into humility.

Jesus, you welcomed the children, you took them in your arms & blessed them. You said that anyone who welcomes a little child welcomes you. You told us to let the children come, not to stop them, for Your Kingdom belongs to the childlike (Mark 9:36&37, 10:13-16). Jesus, we pray for the children, all the children of the world who suffer due to war, famine, disasters & injustices of various kinds. In our country we pray for the swift reuniting of families. You know who each child is, where each child is, where each family is. We need & ask for your miraculous intervention to bring about the restoration of families. Thank you for all those working & advocating for this.

And for the children here among us, may we each take the opportunity to welcome & bless a child this morning by speaking to them & showing an interest in them. We pray for our day camps this summer, that children will feel welcomed & valued, that they will deepen in relationship with You, with one another, with adults in our community. We thank you for Lena’s leadership of our Children’s Ministry, & we pray for just the right person to lead in this next season. We thank you for Laurie’s leadership of our Middle School Ministry, & we pray for just the right person to join her in co-leading.

Jesus, you are the Great Physician & the Good Shepherd. You said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary & carry heavy burdens, & I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). You have invited us to “come boldly to your throne of grace that we may receive mercy & find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). Sometimes we can’t do these things for ourselves, we need one another to do it for us, and so we come boldly before your throne of grace on behalf of those among us who are weary, who are carrying heavy burdens, who are in special need of your mercy & grace. We lift up those who are struggling with health issues, with chronic health conditions, with frightening diagnoses, with mental health issues, with woundedness, with loss & grief, with relational issues, with a struggling marriage, those who need a job, those whose jobs present daunting challenges. Jesus, we pray for your healing in body, mind & spirit, for your comfort, for your restoration, for your hope, for a strong sense of your presence with us in the midst of whatever our circumstances are. We pray for the grace to stay connected to you, to your community & to your greater purposes in the world.

Lord, thank you for bringing Ashish, Kaeli , Brennan & Adeline into our midst. Thank you for the beautiful story they shared with us a few weeks ago of how you led them from youth ministry in Portland to the ministry of hospitality in South Lake Union. We pray your blessing upon their family & their presence & ministry here in SLU. As Ashish shares your word with us this morning, fill him with your Spirit, with your joy, with your freedom, & we are grateful that you will interpret his message to each of our lives. May our hearts, minds & spirits be open to receive your word to us today.


Cathy Thwing , Sunday morning worship

Prayers of the People 5.6.18

David prayed: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” Ps. 139-23, 24

Lord, we pray, search us, and know our hearts. Try us and know our anxious thoughts --all the places where we have questions, fears, doubts, and lack of understanding. Lord, see if there are any hurtful ways in us, ways that are hurtful to you, to ourselves, to those around us and to your world.

Lead us in the path of everlasting life. Help us to follow in your footsteps, to be humble and patient, to see and love a person fully and wholly, and to seek You always. Help us to access your wisdom and truth in our lives. Use us as your instruments, your hands and feet to bring your good will to fruition. 

We pray for places in the world where war, violence, poverty, epidemics, both human-made and natural disasters have torn families apart and destroyed lives. We pray for hearts to change where conflict seems to have been a way of life for a long time, such as in Palestine & Israel. We pray for people fleeing violence in South & Central America. Lord, bring healing and restoration to all these peoples.

We pray for government leaders all over the world. Give them wisdom, integrity, and commitment to justice. May they be agents of goodness and change. 

We thank you for the newly restored relationship between North and South Korea. We pray for these countries and others around the world to be kept accountable to their promises. Lord, bring your true peace to these places. 

We pray for those among us who are suffering from health issues, those who are going through difficulties finding work or at work, those who are hurting from loss or strained relationships, those who are experiencing financial hardships and more. You know each person by name and every detail of what they’re going through. Lord, please step in and make your presence known to us. Please use us as your hands and feet in the lives of people around us. Help us to be attuned to these needs and to how you want us to step in.

Gracious God, we ask that you open our eyes to see how you’re moving in our lives and in our world. Thank you for including us in your Kingdom work of healing, justice and peace. Help us to trust in your equipping us and using us in community. We give You thanks for sending us your Holy Spirit, your Son Jesus Christ, and in your Triune Name we pray all these things. Amen.

Sayuko Setvik , Sunday morning worship