How is Christ calling you to be in relationship with your neighbors? By connecting with community events in your area and offering to lend a hand, you may serve your neighbor and show the love of Christ to new people in an authentic way.
For two years in a row, The PF Chang’s Rock and Roll Marathon positioned the starting line for their race a half block from Tempe First United Methodist Church in Tempe, AZ. With the race scheduled in January, racers need a place to keep warm and use restrooms prior to the gun start. The first year of this location change, Tempe First UMC extended a warm welcome to 100 runners by providing water and coffee for participants, a large open area for stretching in the church fellowship hall, and church members that answered questions and provided simple provisions like band aids. The second year, word spread about the Tempe First UMC warm zone and the church served approximately 700 runners!
When asked about the reasons for opening the church for this event, Rev. Jeri Wilkerson shared,
“We feel that when people are shown the love of God they will want to try coming to church, and we want to be a church they feel comfortable going into. There is an expectation that nothing is free. They don’t come to church because they believe the church will want something from them. We want to break that cycle of consumerism, and serve them with no strings attached.”
Shortly after the race, a letter arrived at Tempe First UMC from an out-of-state runner. She explained how she had been to many races around the country and ran past many churches. Tempe First UMC was the first church she had ever seen open its doors as a warm zone, and she was grateful. This small act of gratitude let church members know they are making a positive impact, and so they plan to do the event again next year, and possibly host some follow up events at the church. Having something of interest to offer the running community will be key in serving them again.
Pastor Jeri’s ideas include more volunteer involvement and bringing runners together for a common cause. For example, participants in the Rock and Roll Marathon are able to run on teams and fundraise for a favorite charity. She explained,
“Having more volunteers who share a common interest in running would be great. Offering a study for runners on nutrition or exercise with a faith component would be fantastic. We hope to connect runners to train together as a team with other church members that are runners. Publicity about a community service event that is visible to the runners could also bring people back to the church. I think part of the race is the running, but another important component is the cause the runners are interested in supporting, like alleviating poverty. It would be beautiful if the church and people outside the church could get to know one another by working on a cause together.”
In a similar way, Central United Methodist Church in Phoenix participated in the annual Sunday Off Central Block Party, sponsored and organized by their neighborhood association. Local businesses and vendors, law enforcement, government officials, local museums, and entertainers in the Midtown Museum District came together on a Sunday afternoon in March to celebrate their community. According to Judi Hayer, organizer for the Central UMC table booth, CUMC has been the only participating church at the event for several years. CUMC volunteer, Kristen Hansen, offered free face painting, which enticed neighborhood families to approach the table and engage in conversation with church members with no strings attached. Of course, invitations to Sunday worship were available for those interested.
What do these two churches have in common? They are both making an impact in their community and their church name is being identified as a positive force in the neighborhood. They didn’t bear the expense and workload involved with organizing a community event. Any church big or small can do this. Are there upcoming events in your community where your church can lend support? Event organizers will be grateful for your church’s assistance, church volunteers will be able to serve Christ and connect with new people outside the church walls, and your neighbors will feel cared for in a genuine way. Doesn’t it sound like everyone benefits?
To find an upcoming event in your area, check with your local news or city government Community Events calendar. Examples from select cities in the DSC are listed below.
Click here for an example of a community calendar in Las Vegas, NV.
Click here for an example of a community calendar in Casa Grande, AZ.
Click here for an example of a community calendar in Safford, AZ.
Click here for an example of a community calendar in Phoenix, AZ.