posted on November 11
By Rev. Alexis Coleman
In Church Planting Bootcamp they tell you to write an elevator speech. Here’s mine:
What do you do with a closed church building in a town without a shelter for unhoused women and children, in a neighborhood with no Methodist presence, in a pandemic nonetheless? Why not open up the building, start an internet café/virtual learning space, create a non-profit, build new partnerships and start connecting with your neighbors? That’s the dream for Lydia’s Place, the third campus in the First UMC Asheboro family of churches. This campus will provide shelter for unhoused women and children and will become a neighborhood hangout and spiritual home for the underserved in north Asheboro. Why not, indeed?
Only, what happens when you hit the proverbial bumps in the road?
Calvary UMC was closed in June 2018. The building sat empty for two years. When I arrived in July, I found good space that needs a lot of TLC. Honestly, it was a bit overwhelming to try to figure out where to start. By the end of July, I had gotten several nudges from the Holy Spirit to create a space for students to come to do their schoolwork. Two interns landed in my lap at about the same time. Church members showed up ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and work inside and out to sweep up the dead roaches, wipe away the layers of grease and grime on the kitchen counters, clean windows inside and out, pull up and cut down weeds that had taken over the courtyard. The list goes on, but you get the picture. It was easy (and fun) to rename the campus, get a new logo created, order banners announcing that the space was open, and get phone and internet installed. The new name, Lydia’s Place, is based on the story of Lydia in Acts 16, who offered her home to the apostle Paul and those traveling with him in Philippi. We distributed flyers around the neighborhood. We were so excited when we opened on August 17.
We waited, anxious to practice the hospitality we had been talking about, and no one came. One week, two weeks, three weeks, four weeks. A new intern came and we met with our friends in the school system again. They gave us two hot spots to use. I was able to drop one of the two high-speed internet lines I had had installed. The new intern designed a new flyer and we distributed flyers again. And then Phillip came. A few days later he came again. The first two interns left. Phillip now comes every single day. Phillip is in his mid-20’s and is studying for his
CPA exam. He comes because the local library is closed and he gets too distracted when he studies at home. He makes a pot of coffee every morning and puts his lunch in the refrigerator when he arrives. But it’s still only Phillip.
How did we get it so wrong?
Let me count the ways! Basically, I didn’t make/take/have the time to build enough relationships in the neighborhood and with community partners. Although I did get feedback and help from church members who work in the school systems and they were all excited for this space, I didn’t know the community well enough to start a new ministry in a previously closed building so soon after moving there.
Phillip will take his CPA exam in December so we will keep opening the space for him until then. We have started receiving more calls asking questions about the space, so we’re keeping our options open for now. We are also planning to do a drive-thru breakfast on a Saturday morning in December. We want to see how many of the neighbors around the Lydia’s Place campus will come to pick up meals. We will have a small Christmas gift for them and I hope to ask them three questions: 1) what do they like best about the community, 2) what do they see as the greatest need in the community, and 3) how can we pray for them? Hopefully we’ll learn more about the neighborhood from the people who live there and they’ll feel like the church cares enough to listen to them.
We’re also hard at work on the shelter for women and children. I’m meeting the folks who will be my colleagues and community partners. The Executive Committee of our Board of Directors is working to form the non-profit organization. We will be drafting our Mission and Vision statements at our next meeting. We’ll also begin working on a strategic plan to be approved by our full Board.
I’m sure we will continue to hit those proverbial bumps in the road, but we’ll keep on keeping on, even in the midst of a pandemic. God never promised us that the way would be easy. God promised to be with us all along the way.
With that kind of promise: Why not, indeed?