Grant Given to Indiana Church for Neighborhood Outreach
By Kim Ousley
What makes a community within a neighborhood? Is it the rich heritage passed down from the generations before, or is it the cultural diversity blended together to create a mosaic or tapestry of its story? Avondale is the neighborhood surrounding South Meridian Church of God in Anderson, Indiana. The area has been declared by the press and police as a high-poverty and crime area in the recent years. Pastor Steve Wimmer states that it takes no creativity to see the challenge. Thankfully, with help from a grant given recently to the church, something will be done about it.
“But what would a little creativity and a different kind of mindset do to help us see all the gifts present here?” said Wimmer. “I believe working with those strengths holds greater promise for the neighborhood than focusing on all its problems.”
Last September, a team was organized to help find the funds to do the project ideas the church wanted to implement in the future to reach out to its neighbors. The stewardship visioning team was thinking about long-term ways of providing financially for the ministries of the church, not just in the short-run, but also in the long-run. Stephen Ragsdale led the group and came across a prospect.
“Essentially, the Vital Worship Grant is a one-year learning experience related to worship,” shared Wimmer. “It provides up to $15,000 and we were able to obtain the whole amount.”
This program is made possible through a Vital Worship Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by the Lilly Endowment, Inc. These grants are for congregations, parishes, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other worshiping communities in North America.
Cherilyn Horning was hired in February to become the new community development manager. She will also spearhead the grant projects for the next twelve months.
“What the grant is intended to do is to recognize that vital healthy worship is really important to the church,” said Horning. These projects will include hiring youth in the neighborhood to be “roving listeners” to go in a group with an adult supervisor, Laura Batts, and strike up conversation with those in the neighborhood to learn what gifts they may have and how they can help each other with these gifts in the neighborhood.
Horning stresses that Batts will train the youth to talk with neighbors about self-identified gifts. “I have done some reading about Asset-Based Community Development, also called ABCD, and came across the idea of ‘Hands, Head and Gifts of the Heart.’” Findings include what people are passionate about already, such as environmental issues, racial justice, and healthy relationships within the community, Horning explained.
Part of the intended result of using those gifts is to use them in the Sunday worship service. Wimmer said they hope to find those willing to share their unique gifts with the congregation. “We want to create a neighborhood through a mindset of abundance and a mindset of assets,” he said. Plus, he said they hope to incorporate storytellers, artists, and the like, to share their gifts. “I’m just barely scratching the surface of immense giftedness of our community.”
There will also be four total events to invite the neighborhood and get to know the neighbors. Funds will provide food and entertainment. Wimmer also discussed that seed money might be available for someone to say paint a mural that would inspire their neighbors.
Horning pointed out that sometimes as a church we tend to only focus on the need or the negative aspects of the person. Her background in human services, nonprofit, and shelter work helped her realize there are times that people need help. “But we focus on their need which creates this dynamic that we begin to view them in the lens of their brokenness,” she said. “We miss something huge.”
“No one is not needed.” This is a phrase that Horning loves. It’s the emphasis the church wants to make, that everyone is needed. For example, there will be a seminar on how to write liturgy and prayers for worship service. Maybe the service could include artwork from the community. It is more important to find out from the community what they have to offer rather than automatically assume the church is the only one to provide with the gifts of the people within. The art of storytelling will also be included. The goal is to find people who are doing great things in the neighborhood and have them share their story. Then, have the congregation pray and uplift them.
“Of course, we welcome anyone to come to our church, but this isn’t why we’re doing this. We’re not doing this as some backhanded way of getting them to come to our church…we want to do this to celebrate the work their doing and give our church an opportunity to pray for them,” said Wimmer.
Wimmer added one more thought: “Our motive for doing this whole thing is to seek first the kingdom and how Jesus taught us to pray. He taught us that God’s kingdom would come, and God’s will would be done on earth as in heaven.”
Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.
Feature (top) photo: Kickoff grant event (bring-your-own dinner/free root beer floats) at South Meridian in June 2021.