Williston church holds ‘last supper’ as it ends lodging program

The Rev. Jay Reinke, right, poses for a photo with job-seekers who stayed at Concordia Lutheran Church on Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, in Williston, N.D. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – People seeking shelter at Williston’s Concordia Lutheran Church will be greeted with a sign that reads “Overnighters is over.”

The church that has housed job-seekers for more than two years ended the program this weekend after city Planning and Zoning staff said the church needed several fire and building code upgrades for people to sleep there.

Concordia hosted a “last supper” Friday night that was filled with hugs, tears and group photos.

Several men who stayed at Concordia until they found jobs and housing stopped by the church to thank the Rev. Jay Reinke and church members. Reinke estimates about 1,000 people who moved to Williston to seek oil boom jobs slept at the church since May 2011.

Claude Rowe of Maryland was living in his car in November when he heard about Concordia. Rowe stayed at the church for about two weeks before getting an oilfield job that provides housing.

“If it wasn’t for this place, I might have gone back to Maryland,” Rowe said. “For me, it was a huge blessing.”

Joe Rogers, a plumber from California, thanked Concordia for the one night he spent at the church when the timing belt on his vehicle broke during the winter.

Robert Hutchinson of Washington said staying at Concordia gave him a safe place to sleep while he earned enough paychecks to find other housing. Moving into an apartment in Williston can require as much as $6,000 to $7,000 for a security deposit and first and last month’s rent.

“People don’t have that kind of money,” Hutchinson said. “That’s why they’re here.”

Hutchinson, who formerly worked in the mortgage business, came to Williston as he was about to run out of unemployment benefits. He and his wife now have high-paying oilfield jobs.

The leadership of Concordia voted to approve the overnighters program, but not all congregation members supported it, and neighboring residents raised concerns. The city got involved in March after church elders called to ask if it met zoning codes.

City staff inspected the church and determined it would need several upgrades, including fire-protection sprinklers, showers, a designated sleeping room, overnight supervision and resources for job searching and counseling. The church was told in an Aug. 12 letter to discontinue the program in 30 days until the facility could be brought up to code.

About 30 men slept on the floor of the church, and several said they will now sleep in their vehicles because there is no other shelter facility in Williston. Many shared ideas about possible rooms for rent, cheap cars for sale and job leads.

San Afes of Texas said the church gave him more than a place to sleep, it provided him family in Williston.

“It’s not just about sleeping. The church is doing something wonderful,” Afes said. “It’s like the city is breaking the family.”

One thought on “Williston church holds ‘last supper’ as it ends lodging program

  1. On Sun. July 5, 2015, I was channel surfing and landed on our local PBS STATION (WNED) hoping to find a good old British Murder Mystery to while the time away. Instead, I came across some sort of documentary that held me soooo enthralled, I couldn’t stop watching until the very end.

    I thought Pastor Jay (Pastor Jay Reinke) was Jesus Christ in the flesh (born again). Certainly the most Christian person, I had ever seen. I was sooooo impressed by him, and his beautiful wife, and children (2 daughters and 2 sons) for their empathy, and for inviting a “registered sex offender” (a Black male) into their home. The man was not the “regular” sex offender, but someone who in his youth 18 had sex with his girl friend (15). Pastor Jay was so welcoming and loving to this man, as was his entire family.

    He did his best to request the local Williston (ND) Planning Board to keep the Concordia Lutheran Church open for these migrants – from all over the USA and abroad – to house these persons. I was terribly saddened when 3 of these men who should have thanked him for 5 minutes of his kindness, and one night of a place to lay their head down and break bread, turned on him.

    There was an under current in the documentary, “The Overnighters” by Jesse Moss that was totally missed by me. It ended with a real thud. This good kind decent man, had sinned, and cheated on his wife and his children, with a same sex encounter with one of the migrants / refugees at his church. I am not sure, if it was the young bearded male who threatened to give the story of Pastor Jay harboring a sex offender in his home to the local newspaper, “The Herald”.

    I have very little respect for people who do not honor their body, which is a temple for their soul. However, I was deeply saddened, and not angry at this turn of events.

    I was heartbroken for Pastor Jay, his beautiful wife ( inside and outside), and his grown children. If any man deserves to be forgiven for one error in his life, this man does.

    I hope his Wife and children will forgive him, and the family will be healed. (As a woman, I know this is the most difficult type of betrayal to forgive). I hope and pray that the Lutheran Church will welcome him back, as Pastor in their fold.

    I will pray for this good man. Please forward my email (and email address) to both Pastor Jay and to his wife and kids. God Bless them all.

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