VOL 1, NO 11
Problem: Urban congregations often have great needs, but lack the
human and financial resources available in suburban congregations.
Solution: Partnerships between urban and suburban congregations match
resources with needs and create opportunities for interaction among people
of diverse backgrounds.
The Front Porch Alliance (FPA) was created by
Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith to encourage religious organizations to
improve their neighborhoods. The Alliance pursued this mission in part by promoting
partnerships between urban and suburban congregations.
In October 1999, FPA sponsored a luncheon
that attracted about 100 people, representing several dozen congregations. On
its Web page, FPA declared that "a strong movement toward urban-suburban partnerships
is occurring," and advised readers to watch for future updates regarding the
But there would be no updates. FPA was created
by a Republican administration, and in November, the Republican mayoral candidate,
Sue Anne Gilroy, lost her election bid to succeed Goldsmith. Most of the Alliance’s
staff sought jobs elsewhere. They have not been replaced. In the new administration,
a truncated version of the Alliance survives under the umbrella of the Department
of Metropolitan Development.
The history of the Front Porch Alliance is
similar to that of many urban-suburban partnerships. They form because of the
vision of one or two people; they flourish because of the energy and focus of
this leadership; and they dissolve when the leadership loses interest or moves
on. A few survive for several years, or even decades, but these are rare. Congregational
partnerships of any kind are scarce, and the future of those that now exist
is impossible to predict.
Attendance at the Front Porch Alliance’s luncheon
in October was impressive, but Jeanne Huiett, co-pastor of There is Hope Church
on the near east side, described the meeting as somewhat forced and awkward.
The tendency, she said, was for "people to sit near people they already know."
Del Bock, pastor of The Christian Center on the
city’s southeast side, and a featured speaker at the meeting, agrees that there
was little immediate result from the luncheon. Yet he believes the Alliance
gave momentum to a movement that ultimately will be revolutionary. "Whether
there’s an organization like the Front Porch Alliance to facilitate this thing,"
he said, "that doesn’t change what’s in my heart."
Bock envisions a broad-based partnership between
numerous congregations, urban and suburban. It might involve a merger of several
small congregations, forming one large church with a mission to serve the entire
city—particularly the urban core. Or it might involve a collaboration between
several autonomous churches, banding together to support a multi-purpose activity
center in the inner city. This center, in addition to holding religious services,
would provide recreation facilities, poverty relief, and education—and it would
seek to reach people from all over the city.
"The wheels that were set in motion last year
are still turning," Bock said. "The churches are very serious about doing something
together, because we have learned that we’re not effective when we’re separate.
We do a few little things—we paint some houses or pay someone’s rent. That’s
fine, but it’s scattered. Give us three months, and you will see a core of cooperating
and participating churches, with people, ideas, money, and time—all of these
things coming together. We want to see total community transformation."
Bock’s vision for a broad-based partnership
may or may not translate into action. Skeptics can point to false starts and
unfulfilled dreams—endeavors that started with much promise, but then vanished
without a trace. Yet dreams do sometimes become a reality.
THREE INDIANAPOLIS EXAMPLES
Following are the stories of three congregations
engaged in partnerships with other congregations. None of these are so elaborate
as what Bock envisions, but are representative of the kind of partnerships that
most congregations have the energy and resources to pursue.
There is Hope Christian/College Park Baptist and Southwood Assembly of God
Jeanne Huiett and her husband, James, founded
There is Hope Christian Church in July 1999, and serve as its co-pastors. The
church grew out of a Saturday "Kids’ Church" program at Brookside Park.
The park program, a collaboration among several
congregations, offers food, contemporary Christian music, and recreational activities.
Most of the children who participate in Kid’s Church live in the poor neighborhoods
near Brookside Park.
Jeanne Huiett, a teacher in the program, developed
friendships with several of the children and their families, and wanted to work
more closely with them. This desire led to the founding of There is Hope at
1205 East New York St., in a building that was formerly an auction house.
Numerous small churches were already established
in the area, but the poverty of the east side far outstrips their capacity to
help people. The Huietts wanted to address the needs of the area, not only spiritually,
Huiett describes There is Hope as being a "crisis
relief agency" as well as a church. It provides formerly homeless people—who
have recently found shelter—with basic goods such as utensils, bed frames and
large appliances. There is Hope also houses other services, including a food
and clothing pantry.
There is Hope has a large warehouse that is consistently
full, because of the partnerships that Huiett has formed with churches on opposite
ends of the city—College Park Baptist on the north side, and Southwood Assembly
of God on the south. Both churches send donations regularly—truckloads full
of food and clothes, toys, children’s books and tapes, furniture, and appliances
that their members have donated or collected.
Huiett said that these informal partnerships
grew out of relationships she formed while involved with other projects; and
both have become an integral part of what the Huietts hope to do through their
"Frankly, every inner-city church is soon
going to need the support of suburban churches," Jeanne said. "Just to have
the friendship alone is a real benefit. God is bringing the church universal
together, into one family."
Speedway Christian/Door of Hope Church of the Nazarene
A year ago, Speedway Christian and Door of
Hope Nazarene, both on the west side, began collaborating on a youth program
called Seeds of Hope—a program that came about primarily because of the pastors’
wives. Both worked as teachers in an elementary school, and as they became friends,
they agreed that they should collaborate on something. They decided on a youth
program to be housed at Door of Hope’s facility at 2132 W. Michigan St, which,
though old, is a large facility with a gym.
The program begins each Monday at 5:30 p.m.
with a meal. About 6 p.m., the children begin breaking up into four groups based
on their grade in school, from kindergartners to high school seniors. Each group
gets 20 to 25 minutes of recreation time in the gym. The remainder of their
time—about an hour—is spent in a classroom, listening to a Bible lesson or doing
crafts and other activities.
Speedway Christian provides the core group
of volunteers to support this program—about six regulars, with several more
attending less regularly. Two other west side congregations, Lynhurst Baptist
and Westlake Church of Christ, also participate by providing volunteers. On
any given night, 15 to 20 volunteers and 50 to 80 children show up for the program.
The churches are different in many ways.
Door of Hope is an African-American church in a poor neighborhood. Speedway
Christian is a white church in the solidly middle-class town of Speedway. And
the churches belong to denominations with very different theological views.
Volunteers from the three other participating
churches emphasize religious conversion more than those from Speedway Christian,
who tend to stress the importance of living a moral life. But these differences
have not been a major barrier. The teachers prepare their own material, and
no one checks to ensure that it conforms to a particular dogma.
The problems that the churches have encountered
center on how the program should operate—whether it should be tightly structured
or free-flowing. Adam Kirtley, Speedway’s associate pastor, described this as
a cultural divide. Speedway Christian has wanted to impose a more rigid structure
on the program, while Door of Hope has preferred to keep the structure relaxed.
Bridging this difference has proved difficult.
On several occasions over the last year, the leaders of the program have reached
a breaking point—that is, they have cancelled the program for the week and called
the workers together to discuss its future. They’ve done "resuscitation" on
it, as Kirtley put it.
After a year of operation, the churches seem
to have reached a workable compromise, and the programming "is running as smoothly
as it ever has." Still, Kirtley said, Seeds of Hope isn’t what some people hoped
it would be, or what it might become. It doesn’t reach out to entire families,
for example, and it’s in operation just one evening each week.
"The up side is that we’re giving these kids
two hours a week of structure in their lives and positive influence," Kirtley
said. "The down side is that we’re giving them only two hours a week—time to
get a free meal and play some basketball. On any given day, you can look at
the same set of facts and feel differently about them. There’s so much potential
there, and it’s hard not to feel good about it. But on some level, it’s getting
harder to show up every Monday. It’s stressful and chaotic, and you wonder whether
you’re making any difference."
Kirtley and others hope that the program
will be the seed of something much larger—for example, a community center open
all day, offering a wide range of services and activities.
Metro Church/Eastview Vineyard Fellowship
Sharyn Cheek, pastor of Metro Church, says
that her goal is to carry out the vision of the church’s former pastor, her
late husband. Cheek became Metro’s pastor after his death seven years ago. At
that time, Metro had about 700 members and was growing. Since then, it has fallen
to fewer than 200 members. But within the last couple of years, Cheek said,
she has discovered the energy and determination to revive her husband’s vision.
Metro is unusually active for a church with
200 members. In 1993, at the height of its growth, Metro added a new sanctuary
to its facility at 5815 East 42nd Street, which brought the church
to 88,000 square feet.
Through its Reach Out and Restore ministry, Metro
helps people who are making the transition from welfare to work, by offering
education in secretarial and computer skills and by helping with job searches.
Metro also houses Hip-Hop Haven, a Friday night youth program where about 150
teens come to play non-violent video games, eat snacks, dance, and hang out
with their friends.
Metro recently began a transitional housing
program for homeless women. The program has space for 12 women, but at present
serves five. It will give them a place to stay for up to two years, and provide
mentors to assist them in getting back on their feet.
"I’ve found that a lot of people in this
situation don’t have a strong family support network," Cheek said, "so they
need moral support from people who care about them. We’re learning more about
how important that is."
Metro is in the process of working out a partnership
with Eastview Vineyard Fellowship, near Greenfield. Eastview’s pastor, Buddy
Baird, used to attend her husband’s church. She tried to get Baird interested
in the Front Porch Alliance’s urban-suburban partnership discussion last fall,
but the idea did not connect with him when it was presented in the abstract.
What sparked Baird’s interest was his recent
tour of the Metro ministry. "When he came and saw with his eyes, it made a total
difference in his attitude," Cheek said. "Sometimes, seeing helps."
Baird and Cheek worked out a date for an open
house at Metro, so that anyone from Eastview who was interested could tour it.
In the meantime, Baird began telling his congregation about Metro’s work, and
Cheek’s assistant visited Eastview to make a presentation about Metro’s vision
for its future.
The partnership will probably involve regular
financial help, Baird said, but Eastview will also provide volunteers to serve
as mentors in the transitional housing program. "It’s a tremendous opportunity
for our people to use their talents," Baird said. "It allows people to see,
in a practical way, that they can help people and live out their faith. That’s
BRIDGING THE DISTANCE
The biggest obstacle to the startup of urban-suburban
partnerships is geographic distance. Leaders who never meet will never start
a partnership, and unless they are connected by denominational ties, there are
few opportunities for pastors of urban and suburban congregations to mingle.
Even a strong relationship between pastors
does not guarantee a partnership’s success. It is equally important that congregations
develop a sense of ownership and commitment.
"The most important thing to remember about
church staff is that we probably have more power to keep things from happening
than to make them happen," said George Davis, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist
Church in Carmel. "First, there has to be a staff-to-staff relationship. That
seems to be a prerequisite. There also has to be cooperation among lay people."
For several years, St. Mark’s has been involved
in a partnership with Vida Nueva United Methodist Church, a Hispanic congregation
on the near east side. The partnership is multi-faceted. St. Mark’s allows Vida
Nueva to conduct a Spanish-language service in its building each Sunday evening,
making Vida Nueva more accessible to Hispanics on the north side. Together,
the churches publish a liturgical calendar, with the prayers printed in Spanish
and English. They also conduct several joint activities each year—a combined
service, a lunch, and a Christmas party, among others.
St. Mark’s also provides occasional, unbudgeted
financial assistance to Vida Nueva, and the issue is sensitive. The psychology
of partnering is the greatest challenge once partnerships are established. The
crucial question is this: How can a suburban congregation enter into a partnership
with an urban congregation, without turning it into a paternalistic relationship?
"The issue in these partnerships is that
one congregation has certain kinds of resources," Davis said. "The struggle
is to get beyond that and to understand what people have to offer each other.
In some ways, it’s a parable of the whole culture: whoever has the wealth is
judged to be in power. And at some level, they are. But what you have a chance
to discover in a partnership is that money is not the last word, or even the
best definition of what people have to give each other. That’s a struggle for
any partnership—to understand one another as persons, as children of God, and
as brothers and sisters."
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church at 34th
Street and Park Avenue has struggled with this issue from the other end—as the
urban church in an urban-suburban partnership. Our Redeemer has a long-established
relationship with Pilgrim Lutheran in Carmel, and is developing a relationship
with Resurrection Lutheran on the city’s south side. Resurrection plans to help
Our Redeemer implement a new "drop-in" center for the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood,
possibly offering a workout room, televisions, games, and food.
Resurrection plans to help out with this project
financially, but it will also contribute volunteers and expertise. Lyle McKee,
pastor of Our Redeemer, said he would not enter into the partnership if only
a transfer of money were involved.
"There is still a perception on the part
of suburban congregations that what they have to offer, mostly, is money," McKee
said. "But, the way I see it, suburban churches have another set of skills to
contribute to the mix. They no doubt have accountants; they might have an engineer
and an architect. Those would be good assets to bring to a conversation between
churches. But if we’re developing a new ministry, and if you’re just going to
throw money at it, then I don’t want that help."
REASONS FOR PARTNERING
Despite the obstacles to urban-suburban partnerships,
congregations do attempt them—often from a sense of obligation to a specific
church or neighborhood. Pilgrim Lutheran’s partnership with Our Redeemer dates
to the 1950s, when the latter donated money and members to help found Pilgrim
on the rapidly growing north side. Because it is a "daughter church" of Our
Redeemer, Pilgrim feels a sense of obligation to the older church.
Similarly, Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church
recently partnered with First Baptist Church, North Indianapolis, on a summer
computer education program for youth. For 40 years, Bethesda was located near
First Baptist on the near west side. When Bethesda moved to 6205 North Michigan
Rd. in 1993, the church wanted to show its former neighbors that it hadn’t forgotten
"What excited me about it was the idea of
giving back to our community," said Bryan Kennie, director of community outreach
at Bethesda, "because it was a chance to reach back and have an impact on a
church that people might never expect us to communicate with."
In other cases, partnerships are created
out of a sense that, although they are far removed geographically, urban and
suburban congregations ultimately share a common future. If they are interconnected,
one cannot be healthy if the other is dying.
David Schreiber, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran,
said that members of his congregation recently learned this while working on
a housing project near downtown. The work involved nearly all of Resurrection’s
congregation, and Schreiber said that the project helped his people realize
that "the spiritual health of the city is connected to the economic health of
its people." He believes Resurrection’s evolving partnership with Our Redeemer
will give members the opportunity to build relationships that keep this awareness
McKee, of Our Redeemer, agrees that partnerships
have the potential to foster a broader social vision, and he believes that unity
across geographic, cultural, and theological divides is no longer just an "option."
Given the size and urgency of the challenges facing congregations, cooperation
"We simply can’t permit this kind of divide
to persist within the body of Christ," McKee said. "We’ve got to be about the
mission of the gospel together. There’s so much provincialism in the church,
so much prejudice, racism, and fear. These kinds of partnerships provide the
opportunities—which the church almost uniquely provides—to pull together people
who would not otherwise be at the same table."
POINTS TO REMEMBER:
- Partnerships between urban and suburban congregations often come about from
a sense of loyalty to a specific neighborhood or congregation, or from a sense
of the interconnectedness of the whole city.
- Partnerships typically form because of the energy and vision of one or two
leaders, not from the initiative of lay people; many result from an established
friendship between clergy.
- Geographic distance can be an obstacle to partnerships, but there are often
theological and cultural barriers to overcome as well.
- An on-site visit moves the partnering process along more effectively than
- A partnership that involves only financial aid, and that is paternalistic
in spirit, is likely to crate resentment. Making the partnership truly a partnership,
not just a mission outreach by the wealthier congregation, is crucial.
CONTACTS & RESOUCES:
Bethesda Temple Apostolic Church
P.O. Box 68224
Indianapolis, IN 46268
The Christian Center
1825 S. Franklin Rd.
Indianapolis, IN 46239
College Park Baptist Church
2606 W. 96th St.
Indianapolis, IN 46268
Door of Hope Church of the Nazarene
2132 W. Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46222
Eastview Vineyard Fellowship
1672 N. 600 West Rd.
Greenfield, IN 46140
5815 E. 42nd St.
Indianapolis, IN 46226
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
3421 N. Park Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46205
Pilgrim Lutheran Church
10202 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46290
Resurrection Lutheran Church
445 E. Stop 11 Rd.
Indianapolis, IN 46227
St. Mark's United Methodist Church
4780 E. 126th St.
Carmel, IN 46033
Southwood Assembly of God
8700 S. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46217
Speedway Christian Church
5110 W. 14th St
Indianapolis, IN 46224
There is Hope Christian Church
1205 E. New York St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Vida Nueva United Methodist Church
2601 E. New York St.
Indianapolis, IN 46219
With federal funds now available to religious organizations, the opportunities
for urban-suburban partnering are greater than ever. Two Web sites are of
Faith Works, the state of Indiana's program to encourage faith-based initiatives,
can be found at www.state.in.us/fssa/faithworks.
Faith Works can also be reached by calling 1 (800) 599-6043.
An important resource for information about what other congregations are
doing is maintained by the Welfare Information Network, at www.welfareinfo.org.
See in particular the page "faith-based involvement," at www.welfareinfo.org/faithbase.htm,
which has links of interest to congregations looking to partner with government
agencies and with other congregations.