Cade Barefoot Senior, M.Div.
Haw Creek Commons-Haywood Street Congregation
Rev. Brian Combs, Supervisor-Mentor
My name is Cade Barefoot and this summer I served a field education placement at the Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, NC. Haywood Street is a missional congregational of the United Methodist Church whose mantra and mission statement is “Holy Chaos. Abundant Grace. Welcome Table.” After serving alongside of this community, I am proud to say that I can personally attest that Haywood Street faithfully lives out this vision through its ministry with those experiencing homelessness and poverty in downtown Asheville.
On my first Sunday at Haywood Street, I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells that accompany a day of meals, fellowship, and worship. I am thankful for my supervisors who gave me a chance this summer to expand my comfort zone and run towards the most chaotic spaces at church. Although my instinct would have been to walk away or ignore the situation, I have been blessed by following the advice of my mentors who instructed me to directly engage with the most anxious, agitated, inebriated, addicted, disruptive, and distraught people on the campus. The pastoral care that I offered such folks was probably more of a benefit to me than anyone else. My personal experience now reflects the witness of scripture—that God meets us in the midst of our deepest suffering. Because we serve a crucified savior, no matter how quickly I responded to a need on campus, Jesus was already there. There is no depravity that Christ is unable to enter in and transform. God’s presence sanctifies what looks to the untrained eye as chaos and creates holy ground.
While the suffering and needs of the friends of the ministry are tremendous, there is a reciprocal abundance of gifts that Haywood Street is intentional in naming and celebrating. With an unconditional hospitality and radical welcome, the community gathers together, eats alongside one another, and participates in worship in a way that celebrates the sacred worth of every person. By encouraging congregational engagement in each aspect of worship—from the sermon and prayers, to the sacraments of baptism and communion—Haywood Street recognizes the wisdom and witness that both the companions and friends of this congregation have to offer. In many ways, Haywood Street’s ministry is an overtly Christian response to the needs of the poor and unhoused living in Asheville. As a result, the ministry is committed to being the Church, rather than a social service agency. Instead of trying to “solve” the problem of homelessness through the distribution of resources and services, Haywood Street comes alongside the mentally ill, addicted, and unhoused with a love and compassion that preserves the dignity of each individual as a person, rather than a case to be managed. That means no lines, no bureaucracy, no needs-assessment forms, no security cameras, no police, and no three-strikes policy. Just a ministry that does their best Jesus impersonation by offering an abundance of love and grace, no questions asked.
At Haywood Street, one of the most tangible ways that this love is shown is through a hot plate of food. The Downtown Welcome Table is in many ways the heartbeat of the ministry. Restaurant quality meals, served on a table set with linens, real china, and a flower arrangement communicate to guests that they are worth the best. More than calories for hungry bodies, the Welcome Table is a meal for the soul. The results speak for themselves as “friends” of the ministry are often eager to become “companions.” With their body nourished and dignity restored, individuals transition from simply benefiting from the generosity of the community to giving back their time as leaders. Consequently, my sacramentology has expanded this summer. Without a formal liturgy, prayer of confession, or epiclesis, God’s presence is celebrated in the meal that is passed around the Welcome Table family style. I believe that this meal is no less than a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet and thus surely a means of grace for all who sit down to eat.
I am blessed to have been sent to Haywood Street this summer. I am so thankful for the office of Field Education and all those who made this placement possible.
Cade Barefoot is a rising third-year United Methodist student from Durham, NC and an alumnus of UNC.