Church Empowers Neighbors to Serve One Another

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Great Lakes

By Kim Ousley

One year can make a difference. The Avondale neighborhood of Anderson, Indiana, has been receptive to pooling their gifts and talents together to help each other. South Meridian Church of God obtained and utilized a grant to find those gifts among their neighbors. From art to cooking to gardening, neighbors are being empowered to give back to their own community. The Vital Worship Grant through the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship through the Lilly Endowment allowed the church to reach out and encourage neighbors to share and come together.

Cherilyn Horning, community development director of the grant project, says it was a year of living intentionally, inviting gifts of the neighbors into the worship service and beyond. “We welcomed adjustments and felt good about that,” states Horning. Originally, there was a vision to hire teens and an adult to go around the neighborhood and chat with neighbors about their gifts and talents. Unexpected factors, such as weather, played a part in this idea to be reconsidered.

Instead, they were able to switch gears in the midst of this and take a different direction. Horning shared how a woman at their church lives just down the street at a senior living apartment complex and interviewed her own neighbors about what they love to do or feel they are really good at, in terms of their interests, gifts and talents.

Ladies discovering and/or revealing their gifts at South Meridian!

“Then winter hit,” Horning says. “We didn’t anticipate the fact that everyone would be shut inside. The impact of the seasons led to renewed energy in the spring.”

One lady in the neighborhood shared her love of cooking by making the meals for the after school tutoring program, open door. This allowed folks to come together and share in a spirit of community. Also, there were worship arts classes free and open to everyone interested in learning how to integrate art and personal gifts into worship services. Horning spoke of a woman who is a muralist, who collaborated with the church in making murals on big canvas sheets to eventually be hung outside on the garage part of the church building.

Horning refers to the word “bricolage” as creating something new out of what’s available. This is what brings neighbors together through hospitality and connection, and includes a young man who was paid to mow for four different neighbors’ yards who couldn’t otherwise take care of them. “Pay neighbors to benefit neighbors,” Horning says.

Crime Watch and providing meals at a celebration are two of the many little things that added up to such a great outcome at the end of the one-year grant. Even with challenges regarding adjustments, underestimating how slow the process would be, plus winter weather, they were able to regroup and find other avenues that did work.

Setup crew at South Meridian.

Another important aspect of the neighborhood was Horning realizing about 30 percent of the community around them are disabled in some way, unable to get outside or go anywhere. She is working on other grants that might help and encourage these folks, also. Maybe someone can sew and make useful items for those in need, for instance.
Pastor Steve Wimmer reflects on the opportunities the grant gave the church. “It was an opportunity to step forward in our efforts to increase the congregation’s awareness of the neighborhood of which we are a part and to welcome some of the gifts of our neighborhood into our congregation’s worship.”

He also felt it helped them enter into a new phase of noticing the assets of the neighborhood, helping neighbors connect with one another, and help the church connect with each other. “It reminds me of Jeremiah proclaiming to the exiles of Judah that they must seek the welfare of the city to which God had sent them,” Wimmer says. “And pray to the Lord on its behalf, because in the well-being of that city they will find theirs, as well.”

Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.

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