By Rick Wolcott*
“This church means a lot to the community because a lot of people need help. It’s a blessing to have the church here,” said Geraldine Williams about Heart 4 The City United Methodist Mission Church (Canal District).
What began on February 22, 2010 as an outreach center for the Goodyear Heights community, sprouted from Northampton United Methodist Church (Canal District), is now a stand-alone congregation of the East Ohio Conference.
“Heart for The City has been designated as a mission church,” said Bishop Tracy S. Malone. “It is an intentionally diverse and multi-generational faith community that is reaching a mission field that is underserved and has limited resources. This community ministry is extending the love and invitation of Christ through its worship and strategic offering of programs and services that are meeting tangible needs.”
Williams was one of 109 people who attended the consecration service for the church on Sunday, July 16. So was Kenneth Hayes.
“We’ve been coming to the pantry but this is the first time our family has come here for a service. We have six little kids and we came because the people are good-hearted people, Christian people,” he said.
“For us to be recognized and affirmed as a United Methodist Church with a set pastor means the world,” said Pastor Brett Bartels, who has been appointed to the church. “It means we now are accountable for our influence and our impact in this community around us.
“We’re called to this community and we have to plan accordingly so that we can be united with this community in mission and in ministry so that we might share God’s love and invite people to know Jesus personally,” he continued. “There is no greater joy in this world than being part of what God is wanting to do here and now.”
Bill Ellis said the church is a special place to many. “When you come through the doors of this church, you feel different. I know I feel closer to God when I am here,” the church’s head usher said.
One of many ministries of Heart 4 The City is Community Day, held the third Saturday of every month. On that day, residents can get a free lunch, buy household items and clothing for a minimal charge at the community store, visit the food pantry, and get a haircut.
“What excites me about this church is that you interact with the community,” said Dan Kearns. “This is not about white middle class coming together. This is about people of all different cultures and races coming together with needs, not just physical, but for God.”
Everyone at the church knows Kearns as the man who makes the popcorn. Some grab a small bowl of the tasty kernels on their way into the sanctuary so they can munch on them during the service. Others wait to enjoy their treat until the time of fellowship right before the sermon. Bartels instructs parishioners to use those five to seven minutes to introduce themselves to, and visit with, others – all while enjoying popcorn, donuts, coffee or tea.
“One of the things that tugs at my heart about this church is that in a small group of people you have this eclectic group of folks. Some are homeless and some are corporate lawyers, yet in that small mix of folks people know each other by name, they care about each other, they ask about each other, they’re willing to do for one another. It’s a beautiful picture, a small picture of heaven,” Bartels said.
“This church is super authentic. We don’t have a matched set of what we do every Sunday, we just go with the flow,” said Worship Leader Kileigh Su. “We are here to meet people’s needs. It’s awesome! As a family we love it.”
Community Day is just one way that the church touches the lives of the community. It also hosts archery, biking and fishing clubs in the summer, as well as Wednesday Club that provides Bible study, gardening, crafts, games and field trips for older elementary-age children.
The church and community also work together in the Good Soil Garden, which last year had 40 crops that produced 2,100 pounds of vegetables. Some were distributed through Heart 4 The City and the rest were donated to a neighboring community program.
“My conviction is that every church ought to be like this. Every church ought to look like it’s neighborhood, and reflect what’s going on in its neighborhood, otherwise we’re the church on the hill that’s irrelevant that no one knows about, that’s too inward-focused,” Bartels said.
“So we try to be tied to the community, whatever that looks like, whatever that sounds like, whatever is going on, we want to reflect that in a positive way that draws people to Christ so that we can make disciples,” he said.
“Heart is very unique in that it is a United Methodist community center that also has a worshipping community. I am excited about the potential for ministry opportunities that the new designation for Heart 4 The City will offer,” said the Rev. Ed Peterson, Canal District superintendent.
“We want to finish what we start,” Prayer Leader Alisa Stinson told the congregation during the consecration service. “We want to be a presence in this community, at this address, that says ‘the Lord is here please come, no matter your baggage no matter your lack of baggage, whatever you have whatever you don’t have, please come.’”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.