Closed church reopens as mission to help families, end homelessness

By Jenna De Marco | Aug. 9, 2009 {1063}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Dan Campbell is available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

Can a church located in a struggling economic area close its doors and be resurrected for vital ministry?

Community United Methodist Church in Holiday, Fla., began answering that question July 1 when it became a faith-based, social service agency called Joining Hands Community Mission (JHCM). The change comes after the end of a two-year look at the church’s mission and purpose.

Rev. Dan Campbell

“Because we’d been through the visioning process and took the time to do that, when we got to the (charge conference) vote, people were ready,” said the Rev. Dan Campbell, pastor of the church. “And instead of downsizing, we could do something bigger.”

At a charge conference meeting in January, church members voted in favor of closing the church and reopening as a mission serving financially needy and homeless families. The vote concluded a four-church visioning process that began with individuals examining God’s call in their personal lives. In a second phase, the churches considered God’s call on their community of faith.

Community United Methodist Church member Ed Hale said the visioning process provided the preparation he needed. “Dan’s kind of taken us and made us look at what we were before … and kind of turned us around (to) look at what we should be doing,” he said.

The process culminated in three of the four churches deciding to merge into one multi-charge cooperative parish, effective July 1. The Rev. John Powers, superintendent of the conference’s Gulf Central District, presided over the charge conference meeting at Community United Methodist Church.

“It was a moving experience,” Powers said. “One by one, church members gave testimony about how God had called them to a new ministry and that as they were giving up their life as Community UMC of Holiday, they would be raised to new life in solidarity with the growing numbers of homeless and at-risk families of southwest Pasco (County.)”

The cooperative parish is called Southwest Pasco United Methodist Church Cooperative Parish and includes the mission and New Port Richey’s Asbury and First United Methodist churches. Powers says each group will retain its name and organizational identity under the umbrella of the parish.

Asbury United Methodist Church will specialize in providing senior adult ministry, while First United Methodist Church will focus on youth and children’s ministry. Joining Hands Community Mission will expand upon the burgeoning homeless ministry already established at Community United Methodist Church.

Children pray during the second annual Joining Hands Kids Camp held last year at Community United Methodist Church. The camp is offered free of charge for children in families in the West Pasco County area experiencing homelessness or financial hardship and includes breakfast and lunch, crafts, recreation, Bible stories, music, drama and other activities. The 2009 camp took place Aug. 3-7. Photo courtesy of Joining Hands Community Mission. Photo #09-1282.

Campbell is the mission’s chief executive officer, and members of the Community United Methodist Church congregation are at-large members of the district. A cooperative parish coordinating committee of members and clergy from the three sites provides guidance and leadership for the parish.

Serving families in financial distress

The primary goal of Joining Hands Community Mission is to serve as a central hub for financially distressed families, helping them deal with basic needs like food and shelter. Ministries include a summer feeding program for schoolchildren, food distribution for families, a weeklong and full-day summer camp for children, and a holiday tent offering food and gifts to recipients free of charge. Many of the services began in the past two years, giving the mission a built-in clientele. Sunday worship and Christian education will continue.

“I think the community (has) started to recognize that we’re there to help, and they’ve come to trust us,” Hale said. “We’ve gotten to know a lot of the kids in the neighborhood that we didn’t know before.”

Building relationships with the surrounding community is fundamental to the success of the ministry, says Nancy Dougherty, the mission’s director.

Nancy Dougherty talks with Florida Advocacy Days participants about their role in speaking for those who have no voice. Dougherty helped coordinate the three-day advocacy event, which is sponsored in part by the Florida Conference and held in late March in Tallahassee during the spring session of the Florida state legislature and annual Children’s Week event. File photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #09-1151. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1002, 4/15/09.

“One of the pieces that is really important, too, is that we are starting to build up a level of trust with the people who are in our mission area — that are really in a place of needing this. And that is not always easy,” she said. “It took a little bit of time and tenacity.”

Past events, such as the holiday tent and summer camp, opened the door for those connections.

In March, Pasco County Community Development, United Way and the Florida Housing Help Initiative joined Community United Methodist Church in sponsoring a foreclosure prevention event called “Housing Help Workshop.” The initiative is a project created by Alex Sink, chief executive officer for Florida. The workshop gave homeowners the opportunity to meet with mortgage lenders, HUD-certified housing counselors, local housing authorities and credit counselors, as well as seek legal help. State Senator Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) also attended.
 
“We had 160 families, and we had all kinds of banks — 15 banks — and Chase Manhattan rewrote eight mortgages that day,” Campbell said.

Now, the mission staff will be able to assist their constituents with additional services, such as online registration for public food assistance and Medicaid through Florida’s Automated Community Connection to Economic Self-Sufficiency (ACCESS) program.

“For people who are homeless and impoverished, the ACCESS center will be on our site,” Dougherty said. “And we are being trained to help them navigate the ACCESS center.”

An award of nearly $4,000 from the Florida Conference’s Alice W. Lockmiller grant paid for the technology. Two laptop computers with secure wireless Internet service will be available on rolling workstations.

“We needed rolling carts so the parents are able to get this ACCESS information and still be with their kids (in the dining areas),” Dougherty said.

Working to end, not manage homelessness

Providing a lifeline to the ACCESS center and other such services represents a holistic approach to serving as many needs at once for the increasing numbers of homeless and at-risk families, Campbell said.

“(It’s) right in our pews. We’re seeing it first-hand,” Campbell said. “The state has just passed a new bill for the way they count homeless people, so if you’re doubled or tripled up in a (single-family residence), you’re considered homeless.”

Estimates from the Coalition for the Homeless indicate that of the more than 4,000 homeless people living in Pasco County about 1,400 of them are under 18. In his work as the president for the coalition, Campbell said one goal is to bring together a wide spectrum of organizations that serves this population. A critical piece of this process is using the mission as a satellite location for a variety of service organizations, he said.

“We’re writing what’s called a ‘10-Year Plan’ to end homelessness in Pasco County. ... It’s a plan to end it. It’s not a plan to manage it.” 

Rev. Dan Campbell

“The one-stop resource center is the heartbeat of how you get all the agencies working together,” Campbell said.

Although space is currently available for a temporary resource center, the long-term vision is to build a one-story site behind the sanctuary. With assistance from a grant writer working for Metropolitan Ministries of Tampa, Campbell applied for a Pasco County Community Development Block Grant to reach this goal. The grant proposal requests $300,000 for phase one, which is the resource center construction; a second phase requests $200,000 to establish temporary housing at the mission.

“Phase two is to create 10 emergency bedrooms for families on the (mission) property,” Campbell said. “The whole administration building will be turned into six bedrooms, and half of the education wing will be turned into another four.”

Developing a plan for the most effective ways to help homeless and at-risk families stems from Campbell’s passion for eradicating homelessness. Two important resources are the local coalition and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), he said.

“We’re writing what’s called a ‘10-Year Plan’ to end homelessness in Pasco County,” Campbell said. “It’s a project we’re doing with the USICH. It’s a plan to end it. It’s not a plan to manage it.”

Under the plan, service organizations, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, and housing and employment providers all work in unison for a single, comprehensive community plan for combating homelessness. More information about the plan is available at http://www.ich.org or http://www.pascohomelesscoaltion.org.

Funding from several sources

As a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, the mission is eligible to receive financial assistance from government agencies, foundations, businesses and others with shared interests. One example of support is United Way’s contribution of nearly 50,000 pounds of food for distribution across the next six months. Campbell said other resources include private donations, Metropolitan Ministries, the Florida Conference and continued stewardship offerings.

Empty boxes wait to be filled with food items selected by guests visiting the 2007 holiday store at Community United Methodist Church as part of a combined outreach effort between the church and Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa. File photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #08-0726. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0782, 1/11/08.

“Our regular operating expenses are about $220,000, and $130,000 will come from offerings, and Metropolitan Ministries (will give) $50,000,” Campbell said. “We are about $50,000 short.”

Campbell expects the mission staff and volunteers will be able to raise the remaining money. Metropolitan Ministries also wants to challenge the community to match its donation, he said.

Meanwhile, the church buildings will be retained as district holdings leased back to the mission at about the annual cost of the property insurance.

Sharing what’s been learned with community churches

The transition from church to mission for the homeless has required attention to numerous complex details. Campbell plans to take what he’s learned and share it.

In partnership with the cooperative parish and the Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard, director of the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation, Campbell will develop a model for the process, as well as a presentation for interested churches. The conference’s Leadership Connection has awarded a $20,000 grant to fund this project. 

“There’s not a good road map for it, and that’s one of the reasons we want to write that up,” Campbell said.

The grant proposal indicates that the model could be completed by January 2010. Communities that might benefit from the information would be identified by June 2010; presentations might begin as soon as September 2010.

“In order to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, this proposed ministry (model) provides the opportunity for churches to be engaged directly in the transformation of their communities,” according to the grant proposal. “It also provides a forum for meeting basic human needs and the development of an ongoing way for churches to invite people in the surrounding community to experience the love of God in practical ways and build life-affirming, transforming relationships with the community of faith and be inspired to go back out and serve the world.”

More information about Community United Methodist Church and the mission is available at http://cumcholiday.org/ or http://communityumc.blogspot.com/.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.


Printer Friendly Version     Share