University Lutheran Chapel Ann Arbor Offers Winter Weather Refuge4 min read

Winter in Michigan is not the most enjoyable season. Freezing air finds its way through layered clothing when venturing outside. The inconvenience of winter often distracts us from remembering people in our communities experiencing homelessness in the harsh climate.

The Shelter Association provides the sleeping mats and linens, and the partnering organizations provide space and hospitality each night of the week-long shelter

Those who are unhoused do not have the assurance of warm relief provided by houses and cars. But through organizations like the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County (SAWC), creative initiatives like a rotating shelter, and willing partners like University Lutheran Chapel Ann Arbor (ULC), some folks experiencing homelessness know that they’ll have a warm place to sleep.

In March 2023, ULC had the opportunity to host a week-long rotating shelter for 17 men experiencing homelessness in Washtenaw County. SAWC works with area churches and civic organizations to host week-long shelters in an effort to provide spaces that are safe, comfortable, warm, and welcoming. Partnering with local organizations to host the men also relieves the overflowing public warming centers.

“ULC is all about authentic hospitality, active faith, and fostering genuine relationships. Being able to extend kindness and love to people outside of our regular circle is the definition of hospitality. God opened this door for us and in response we were able to serve these people with no agenda other than to love them,” said Charissa Hasper, ULC’s Director of Worship and Outreach.

Guests get caught up on work and other responsibilities in the evenings

Hasper led ULC’s team of 48 volunteers who made the rotating shelter possible. Volunteers took on roles like making home-cooked dinners or coming in the evening to hang out and play cards. Volunteers also stayed overnight with the guests, making themselves available to answer questions or just offer conversations for the men who needed a listening ear. In the morning, they transitioned ULC’s building back to working order for daily operations, helped brew coffee for the guests in the church’s coffee shop The Common Cup, and passed out to-go breakfasts and bus tokens as the men went on their way for the day to jobs or day-time warming centers.

Ken Huner and Kyle Gontjes, members of ULC, took on volunteer leadership roles for the week. Huner and Gontjes assisted Hasper in identifying ways to make ULC’s building welcoming and comfortable for sleeping, regularly spent time with the guests, and helped onboard the volunteers as they arrived for their shifts throughout the week.

“I was personally touched by meeting and getting to know these overnight guests. They are not just ‘homeless’ as they are labeled and all that implies, but these are real people with real life stories who have been redeemed by Christ,” said Huner. “I was also touched by the volunteers of our church who rose to the occasion out of their love for Christ to reach out to others. It was amazing!”

University Lutheran Chapel’s volunteer leader Kyle Gontjes (left) and Director of Worship and Outreach Charissa Hasper smile one evening while spending time with the guests

Gontjes, a 3rd year Ph.D. Candidate in Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School, fondly recalls the sparkle in one gentleman’s eye when their conversation shifted to his love of mathematics and psychology.

“Experiences like this reminded me of the joy of intentionally communing with others and being present,” said Gontjes, who noted that there was always a task to complete as a volunteer, but sometimes the best thing he could do was be present and attentive to the guests.

Located in the heart of Ann Arbor, ULC’s building is a hubbub of activity. As The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod campus ministry for the University of Michigan, the church owns The Common Cup, a coffee shop ministry widely used for studying, projects, and meeting place for students and area organizations. About 30 organizations regularly use spaces within the building each month in addition to ULC ministries and events.

“Having just a little bit of time to get to know a group of people who are kind enough to let us into their lives for a week and have fun while doing it, it was really humbling and cool to see,” said Hasper. “They really didn’t have to be as open with us as they were and it made us recognize the dignity that every person has. God was at work; we were just His hands and feet.”

Learn more about University Lutheran Chapel Ann Arbor at


Featured image: Charissa Hasper laughs with guests Glen (left) and Robert while hanging out one evening after dinner. Photos courtesy of University Lutheran Chapel Ann Arbor.

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About the Author

Rachel Thoms is the Director of Communication and Production at University Lutheran Chapel Ann Arbor

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Donna J Zuehlk - April 12, 2023

Wonderful. Thanks. Are there any specific needs that a congregation could collect like nutrition bars, etc.?