Church reopens as outward-focused mission
In January 2009, after a lengthy visioning process, members of Community United Methodist Church in Holiday, Fla. voted to close the doors of a Sunday-focused church in an economically depressed neighborhood and reopen them as Joining Hands Community Mission Inc.
|Volunteers stock the Metro Market of the Holiday Tent at Joining Hands Community Mission. The food bank occupied what was the fellowship hall when the building was known as Community United Methodist Church. The space is now used as a tax-preparation center. The market is in a smaller space.|
"It was a moving experience," the Rev. John Powers, Gulf Central District superintendent, said. One by one, church members testified "how God had called them to a new ministry and that as they were giving up their life as Community UMC of Holiday, they would be raised to new life in solidarity with the growing numbers of homeless and at-risk families of southwest Pasco (County)."
Thirty to 40 volunteers work Monday through Friday mornings at the mission. They assist people with online registration for public food assistance and Medicaid using laptops purchased with a grant from the Florida Conference. Volunteers also run the emergency clothing closet, assist with administration and distribute food for those in crisis. Overnight emergency shelter is available. The mission serves 40 to 60 families most weeks.
"We are a resource center," explained the Rev. Dan Campbell, who served as pastor of Community Church and is now the mission's chief executive officer. "We act like the Department of Family Social Services."
There is a difference. The Web site, www.joininghandsmission.org, describes Joining Hands Mission as "faith-based social services."
The weekday ministry meets basic needs, and on Sundays a worshipping community gathers for contemporary and traditional services and Sunday school. The congregation "is a blend of those who have been worshipping here for years, those who have come here as volunteers and families of those who have received services," said Nancy Dougherty, mission director.
AA and Al-Anon meetings occur during the week. Other small groups gather to pray, to play dominos or to visit shut-ins.
Special events of the mission may attract 200 volunteers. The Holiday Tent from Thanksgiving through Christmas in 2009 served approximately 1,000 families with food, toys and other gifts.
One recipient wrote "to thank everyone that helped make my babies' Christmas the best they ever had. You were so generous. Your helpers even wrapped the gifts for me. We also enjoyed a 2real' Christmas dinner and not just mac & cheese and hotdogs, like last year. God bless you."
When someone comes for food, explained Dougherty, "a volunteer personal food shopper walks (with them) through what we call our Metro Market area. The volunteer learns the person's name, gets to know them and lets them know someone cares." A grant from United Way buys half of the food. The community donates the rest.
This summer the mission will offer day camps for children that will include breakfast and lunch. A quilting ministry has provided hundreds of quilts to youngsters.
Other partners in Southwest Pasco United Methodist Church Cooperative Parish, which includes the mission and Asbury and First United Methodist churches in New Port Richey, focus on ministries with youth, children and older adults.
About 90 local businesses are also involved with the mission from time to time, Campbell said.
He and the Rev. Phil Maynard, director of the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation, are presenting a model for church-to-mission transition to other Florida conference churches.
"The reality is that we are including the faith-based community, business community and other social service agencies, governmental and nongovernmental," Dougherty said. "Together, we are doing a really good job to touch families that we could not possibly reach if we continued to act on our own."
Diane G. H. Kilmer, freelance writer, Nashville, Tenn., with contributions from Jenna DeMarco, staff writer, Florida Conference e-Review.