Normal Heights UMC is no stranger to embracing the unconventional use of space. In their otherwise traditional sanctuary, all of the pews and chairs are gathered in a circle. Everything in worship takes place in that circle, including singing, preaching and communion. Most importantly, the circle allows all who come there on Sunday mornings to see each other as they worship.
So, it is not surprising that Rev. Brent Ross is dreaming about how to better use excess space on the second story of his church building. Old offices and classrooms are not handicap-accessible and, therefore, not available for meetings, classes, or other typical things that happen at church. What, then, is an atypical use of empty, yet beautiful, church rooms?
Normal Heights UMC is located in the hub of an increasingly popular San Diego neighborhood that is home to antique stores and quirky coffee houses. Well-kept single family homes, as well as crowded apartment buildings, house families, students and immigrants. Indeed, Normal Heights has become a highly desirable place to live for many. Unfortunately, gentrification comes along with the resurrection of an older community. Many long-time residents have been evicted, some of whom are unable to find new homes quickly. Sometimes displaced families who have children in the local schools receive temporary housing outside the neighborhood making getting to school difficult. What if an unlikely emergency housing solution could be found in unused rooms at Normal Heights UMC?
“Champing” is a movement primarily seen in England and Scotland where old churches in desirable neighborhoods are being opened for camping/airbnb style lodgings during the week in order to provide both cheap and creative housing and an alternative revenue stream for churches. Rev. Brent was awarded a 2017 Transforming Ministries Conference mini-grant to study the feasibility of Champing in Normal Heights.
“We have space in an amazing neighborhood in the heart of San Diego and could also designate 2-3 of these rooms for people who need emergency housing. This would, in essence, give those in need a place to stay that does not feel like a shelter or handout,” wrote Pastor Brent in his proposal.
“Church exists for the world,” explained Pastor Brent upon his return from the conference. “Our job is to be in touch with the needs of our neighborhood and be creative in the Gospel’s response to that.” Champing sounds like an unconventional yet not unimaginable way to respond to the emergency housing needs of the transforming neighborhood of Normal Heights.