Seattle church plant reaching homeless, marginalized
By Joe Conway
Crazy. Not the first description that comes to mind for church planting, but for Keith and Kristine Carpenter the word comes up often.
The couple, married 21 years, moved to Seattle four years ago and helped launch Epic Life Church. The church plant celebrated its two-year anniversary in September 2011. God used a still, small, yet extremely direct voice to move the Carpenters to their new home.
“I was sitting in church, minding my own business,” says Keith Carpenter. “ I felt like God tapped us on the shoulder and said, ‘I want you to go start a church.’ And I was like, ‘What?’” One week later Kristine received a message.
“My wife had a pretty crazy dream. She’d never been to Seattle, but she said, ‘I saw this word, it was just the letters Aurora in Seattle.’ So we checked out Aurora in Seattle and found it was a main drag. That kinda got our attention,” says Carpenter.
A trip to explore Seattle and Aurora Avenue four months later confirmed their vision. They found the Aurora corridor to be a crazy place in need of extremely loud love.
“Most people, if you ask them about Aurora, they’ll say it’s bars and strip clubs and adult bookstores and all this stuff,” says Carpenter. “There’s just a lot of hurt along the street. And we started meeting people—walking up and down, talking with the homeless, spending time with them, knowing them by name—and people came in from those relationships.”
Epic Life Church meets in a movie theater. The congregation of 100 spans from the homeless to people with comfortable homes and incomes.
“We have a rocking good time,” says Carpenter, a North American Mission Board church planter missionary. “It’s not something we dreamed up. The only way I can explain it is that it’s truly God calling us to do this.
“We really have wanted to bring color to the city. This is a colorless city, spiritually colorless. Our vision at Epic Life is to see North Seattle transformed by finding an epic life in Christ.”
Another crazy occurrence came when a crack house burned down and the lot became a homeless hangout. More need? More love.
“We prayed for a year and then asked the owners if we could create a garden,” says Carpenter. “They said no. So we waited. We were patient. We asked again, and they said yes. So God’s allowed us to use this space without paying for it. As we have the money we put in plant containers. We see it as transforming people’s lives—a place to share the gospel. That points to what God does in our lives. He grows us and transforms us.
“There’s a homeless lady who lives in here. She has a botany degree, and she takes care of the plants. She sleeps on the sidewalk in the back. But she takes care of the plants. Crazy.”
The Epic Life community is excited that Seattle is a Send North America city, and is already working with a supporting church, Oakwood Baptist Church, in New Braunfels, Texas.
“They brought 130 youth and their leaders this summer,” says Carpenter. “When a group like that comes, it puts a lot of hands and feet on the ground to do ministry. They were able to help us put on a block party for several hundred people. People along Aurora are not just down and out, they are marginalized. Showing them they are loved and that people truly care has opened a lot of doors for us.”
Brandon Best, middle school pastor at Oakwood, said the benefits were mutual.
“We need to get away from our bubble, our place, to be able to experience and see things,” says Best. “We came up here to show some students and some adult leaders who we’re giving funds to. And not just be giving alone, but doing as well. And man, we’re excited about that.”
Epic Life is already looking to start its next church, this one in the south part of Seattle.
Connect with Epic Life Church at epiclifechurch.org. To view a video about Keith Carpenter and the church, visit namb.net/video.
Joe Conway is managing editor of On Mission.
“Part of the problem along Aurora is the motels,” says Keith Carpenter. “There are half a dozen built in the 1950s and ’60s that you would not take your family to now. Several are closed, locked up by the city and now serve as giant canvasses for graffiti artists. They harbor hidden homelessness, prostitution and sex trafficking.
“We are trying to learn to help people who are part of our church, but are still homeless. Many have given their lives to Christ, but they still struggle on the street. We have to get them off the street,” says Carpenter.
The Old Motel Project sprang from that desire. It is aimed at purchasing two of the old buildings and transforming them into centers of tangible aid.
“We take a woman off the street who sold herself for decades, put her through detox, and then what? It can take five or six days to get her into a long-term recovery program. In those five days she will fall back into it. We need a place to transition her. We’ve seen it happen several times. We have brought a few people into our home, but that is tough with a family,” says Carpenter.
A group from Epic Life Church has committed to assist with the renovation of the old motels, but the purchase price is around $300,000.
“We have our business model and know that it will take $5,000 per unit to renovate the space. But we will be able to have a place for people to transition from the street to long-term care. We will have income generation to sustain the business and have short-term mission housing,” says Carpenter.
A volunteer team is producing a video to help promote the project. The first trailer is online and features the voice of Bruce McDaniel, an example of exactly who Carpenter and Epic Life are reaching.
“Bruce is one of our members who came off Aurora,” says Carpenter. “We had fliers for our launch. Bruce found one of the fliers in a mud puddle and showed up at worship. He was a crack addict for 30 years. He came to Christ and now he is helping us reach people on the street.”
City transformation is at the heart of Epic Life’s church planting model. Along with The Old Motel Project, the church is also developing a strategy, currently called Business for the Poor.
“It is a co-op model with transformational power at the heart,” says Carpenter. “We have an economic development team working out how we can help people start businesses along Aurora. We have people coming to Christ who live on the street behind the church. They come to worship and go back to the street. We need to help them find ways off the street.”
Visit theoldmotelproject.tumblr.com to view The Old Motel Project trailer.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC