A Uniquely Clean Ministry: Michigan Church Breaks Ground on Laundry Facility
By Julie Campbell
Most people wouldn’t pair the words “laundromat” and “ministry” together, but when David Colp, pastor of First Church of God in St. Joseph, Michigan, heard about a unique need in his community, he couldn’t get it out of his mind.
“It is an unusual ministry for a church,” said David. “At First Church, we have come to realize that mirroring the ministry of Jesus requires us to care about both the spiritual and the physical needs of those we have been called to minister to.”
The idea first came to the surface seven years ago, when the First Church staff began knocking on doors in Benton Heights, where the church has a campus.
“We just began to get to know the people of this under-resourced community,” David recalled. “We did not want to presume that we knew what their needs were.”
After speaking with the residents in Benton Harbor, it was evident there was a need for a laundry facility in the community, which was labeled a “laundry desert.” Many people living in the area simply do not have access to a washer and dryer, and don’t even have the money for a laundromat. Some have even reportedly resorted to using their bathtubs to wash clothing.
“In our community we have the world headquarters of Whirlpool, and many people who attend our church have skills and resources in the laundry area,” explained David’s wife, Crystal, who is pastor of adult discipleship at First Church. “Anyone who has sat at a laundromat for a couple of hours would know there are tremendous possibilities to use that idle time for social and kingdom impact.”
About one month ago, the church, along with its partners in the community, broke ground on the New Heights Laundry Hub.
“Realizing that a project of this scale would need partners outside the church, we formed a separate nonprofit that could house all of the local outreach ministries of First Church,” explained David. “This nonprofit is called New Heights Christian Community Development Association (NHCCDA). As a result, we were able to partner with organizations that would not financially support a church but would support a Christian nonprofit doing Christian community social work.”
This list of partners for this project is extensive: Berrien Community Foundation, Upton Community Foundation, Whirlpool Foundation, Corewell Health Hospital Foundation, American Electric Power Company Foundation, and individual donors, as well as significant donations from First Church. Of the $1.1 million project, First Church’s commitment was $250,000 with the rest of the money being raised from the above-mentioned pool of donors.
“Our NHCCDA executive director, Chris Britton, has been the point person in turning the vision into a reality,” said Crystal. “As David always says, ‘Chris has helped us go from the land of talk to the land of do!’”
Although the date for the facility’s grand opening has not been set, Crystal said the hope is to have it up and running by September 1 of this year.
The facilities will not be free, but they will be affordable to the community. There will be provision for individuals who cannot afford the laundry services. The hub will also provide employment opportunities for community individuals.
And the hub will serve many more purposes than a laundry facility alone. A section of the facility will house classroom/meeting space where the church plans to meet the spiritual needs of residents with Bible studies and Celebrate Recovery. Staff is also getting training to provide legal immigrant services through the laundry hub.
“This is why we are calling it a laundry hub and not a laundromat,” Crystal explained. “We desire it to be a hub that will bring the social resources of the community to the people instead of requiring the people to go to the various social services outside of their local Benton Heights community.”
Some other plans in the works include:
- Partnering with the hospital to bring health services,
- Partnering with Kinexus, a local workforce development nonprofit, to provide services to job-seekers,
- Working with a local financial nonprofit to provide financial education to individuals in poverty, and
- Offering parenting classes through an organization called Lifeplan.
“The staff of NHCCDA will oversee and manage the Hub with the support of the First Church staff, but the day-to-day running of the Hub will come from new hires from within the Benton Heights community itself,” explained Crystal. “Of course, there will also be many opportunities for volunteers from the community and our First Church family as we seek to do ministry and provide wrap-around services within the facility.”
The ultimate goal, said David, is the spiritual and social transformation of the lives and families of the Benton Heights community.
“We simply want them to see Jesus in and through us.”
Julie Campbell is an editor at Warner Christian Resources (formerly Warner Press) and a freelance journalist. A former city girl from Chicago, she enjoys country life with her husband, Russ, on a five-acre apple orchard in Madison County, Indiana. She is a blessed mom of three wonderful young adult children and one very spoiled red Doberman puppy.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) image: early illustrative rendering of the inside of the new laundry facility.