By Barbara Nissen, special contributor
Oakland United Methodist Church in Topeka found a way to put its experience with the ABIDE program to work in the community. They started with children.
|Oakland UMC in Topeka|
“Part of the ABIDE process is to get to know and engage with our neighbors,” Pastor Georgia Hale said. “We decided to start with the children. So many of them are hungry.”
The 125-year-old church with an average attendance of 49 is located in a working class neighborhood that was once its own community called Oakland. The neighborhood now is populated with younger people, single parents, immigrants and lots of rental properties. Nearly 85 percent of school-age children receive free lunches. So, that’s where the Oakland ABIDE team turned its attention.
In addition to supporting the BackPack program, which provides food for 1,000 area children at risk for going hungry over the weekend, Oakland tried a new thing. They offered Vacation Bible School every Saturday afternoon during Lent for children in the neighborhood.
“Children have a meal and learn Bible stories,” Hale said. This year’s theme was water, so each week the children had lessons on Noah, Jonah and so forth.
“We held classes and activities in various places, so the children could get to know the church building and feel like it was theirs,” she said.
Oakland holds VBS in August but learned that consecutive Saturday afternoons work best because it’s too difficult to get people to commit to every day of the week.
While the ABIDE process focused their efforts, the congregation knew that with dwindling numbers they wouldn’t be there long if they didn’t reach out.
“There is a clear need, and, unless we’re purposeful in reaching out to the neighborhood, they won’t know we care,” Hale said.
One huge need in the community is a safe place to meet. Word is catching on Oakland UMC can be that place. Two new groups have recently started meeting at the church, including Oakland Narcotics Anonymous. An ambassador works with each group to welcome people and orient them to their chosen meeting place.
“There’s a spirit of opening our doors,” Hale said. “We want the neighborhood to know we have a desire for people to be there and not just people like us.”
As a result, the congregation is seeing new faces in their community worship, which includes children from the Lenten VBS and from the new groups meeting at the church.
The leadership team evaluates every program and does an after-event review including a written form to evaluate what is bearing fruit and what’s not.
“Plants require pruning to grow, and so do we,” Hale said.
From feeding and teaching children to welcoming community groups to supporting their members in reaching out, Oakland UMC is discovering “the seeds you are planting, God is using.”
For more information about the ABIDE program, go to http://www.kansaseast.org/pages/detail/1269, or contact Evelyn Fisher, Kansas director of Clergy and Congregational Excellence, at email@example.com or 800-745-2350.