Faith,In project fuels hope for growth in members and mission in St. Louis
Written by Anthony Moujaes
September 4, 2012
A pastor from the St. Louis area, immersed in assisting the marginalized in his neighborhood, is hoping that the Faith,In project provides a community spark that fuels further outreach. After all, the slogan of the UCC initiative – live your faith, love your community – is what Bethany Peace UCC in Spanish Lake, Mo. is all about.
"I see [Faith,In] being a great tool and resource for my pastoral leadership in my congregation. Our congregation is in an impoverished neighborhood with an overwhelming list of social problems," said the Rev. Paul Emily. He pointed out issues of poverty, hunger and violence have taken a toll on the area surrounding his church.
He and his small congregation of just a few dozen spend all of their time working in neighborhood ministry. The days of Sunday morning worship with sermons are part of Bethany Peace's past. But Emily is optimistic about rebuilding his church, adding hands to help with ministry, and gathering a larger group active in community actions and services. He hopes the Faith,In project – now with more than 120 communities nationally – is the means to help the Bethany Peace UCC accomplish that.
Emily said he is using the Faith,In website to develop partnerships with other Faith,In communities in the surrounding St. Louis area, with hopes of connecting to more residents and introducing them to his neighborhood ministry.
In time, he sees a redefined congregation that proclaims its faith by demonstrating its love of community. "I am looking for new people and a new structure, which will support what the work and mission of the congregation has become," Emily said.
In the last five years, Bethany Peace has developed community programs for GED classes, youth mental health resources, summer meal programs, day camps, children's gardens, nutritional education, day care, a food pantry and clothing distribution.
These ministries are all through the help of partner agencies that need volunteers. Emily said the church's role is to provide spiritual care, and create a sense of community in the neighborhood by establishing new relationships. The challenge in fulfilling those roles is a lack of bodies.
"I envision gathering a grassroots group from the neighborhood who becomes aware of the community ministries and gathers as ‘the church' to act on their commitment to transform the neighborhood," he added.
The Faith,In project, launched as a national initiative by the United Church of Christ in July, continues to grow as churches around the country actively embrace community outreach, and make their mission work visible.
The part that Tim Schultz loves about the Faith,In Project is that it's a two-fold initiative. "We have faith in our church and in the UCC, but we also love living in Northeast Ohio," said the membership and media coordinator of Avon Lake UCC. "It's a positive message that we can show our religious faith and also that the city can rebound, that we're doing good things here."
While the Avon Lake church is just getting started with Faith,In, members have multiple ideas in the works. The congregation officially launched the initiative at its all-church picnic Aug. 26. The church also plans to participate in Avon Lake's homecoming parade for the first time this October, carrying banners expressing "Faith,In Avon Lake" and "Faith,In Cleveland" and handing out Faith,In merchandise, such as reusable shopping bags.
A huge visible symbol of the initiative was unveiled Thursday afternoon, Aug. 30, outside the UCC national headquarters. A 200-square-foot banner hanging on the side of the building in downtown Cleveland proclaims: ‘WE HAVE FAITH, IN CLEVELAND.'
"The United Church of Christ made the wise decision 20 years ago to relocate its headquarters here to Cleveland, and we are excited to embrace all aspects of this great city," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of the UCC's Local Church Ministries. "We are very proud to call Cleveland home because it is a city that has the grit and determination, the hopefulness that we want to have as people of faith.
"When we give back to the cities in which were are connected, we make them more lovable. That is the heart and soul behind our Faith, in Cleveland campaign," Guess continued. "It is living our faith by loving our community, by reclaiming our corner of the world where God has called us to do ministry."
For more information on the Faith,In Project, visit FaithinProject.com.