Resurrection Lutheran Church in April. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Resurrection Lutheran Church in April. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Church congregation to vote for third time on hosting winter emergency shelter

Pastor says she will likely leave role if vote is unsuccessful.

The congregation of Juneau’s Resurrection Lutheran Church will vote for a third time on Sunday about whether or not to host the city’s cold-weather emergency shelter. The vote follows two unsuccessful attempts to achieve enough support in recent months.

Pastor Karen Perkins said if the congregation again votes it down she plans to step down from her role with the church.

“I think it would be pretty clear that it would be an end to my pastorate,” she said. “That is not a congregation that I was called to be a pastor of, and it just describes a mismatch between me as pastor and the congregation.”

In previous years the church-run shelter has typically opened in mid-October — following the closure of the Mill Campground — and welcomed patrons during nights when the temperature in Juneau is below freezing. Last winter it was reported the shelter saw upwards of 70 patrons some nights.

However, in a split 14-14 vote held in June the congregation chose not to apply to operate the shelter this year. In another vote in early September, the congregation was further divided with a 19-12 vote split in opposition to the shelter.

Perkins said on Monday that she can’t say how confident she is about how the third vote will go. She, alongside congregation president Karen Lawfer, were the people who decided a third vote was necessary. In a letter to the congregation announcing the planned vote, Perkins and Lawfer wrote there have been developments to the situation since the September vote they felt were substantial enough to necessitate the third vote.

“We humbly ask that you prayerfully consider our calling to live the Gospel as stewards and as the body of Christ,” it stated.

Perkins said that internal church politics are also at play, which she thinks is disproportionately factoring into the opposition to the shelter.

“I would like to be more confident that we have moved the needle enough,” she said. “It’s embarrassing that we have to bring it back before the congregation and to bring something back for a third vote, but the alternative is to drop it and I can’t. I can’t drop it.”

Perkins said the vote on Sunday will be slightly different than the first two times. The congregation would again vote on whether or not to run the shelter. However, this time around it would be with the understanding the church would ask for an additional “usage fee” from the city which would be above the $285,000 cost to run the shelter. She said the additional costs would ensure the church has the necessary funds to cover wear and tear costs associated with the shelter the $285,000 does not cover.

Perkins said she couldn’t share the additional amount the church would be requesting for the “usage fee.”

If the vote is again unsuccessful the city is considering utilizing a portion of the Downtown Transit Center lobby to shelter people along with repurposing a public transit bus to use as a winter warming shelter, running it idle during the night time for people experiencing homelessness to stay on.

Deputy City Manager Robert Barr has repeatedly called the bus and lobby “last-ditch options.”

“If it’s successful (the vote) that means that we have a potential path forward in negotiating for a warming shelter at Resurrection Lutheran,” he said. “If it’s not successful the situation doesn’t really change much. We’re still in a place where we don’t have a great option, our backup option is not a great option and we’re still trying to come up with a better one.”

It is unclear if non-congregation members will be allowed to be present at Sunday’s vote.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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