September 28, 2008

The Church Has Left the Building ; St. Joe Serve Unites Congregations By Enriching Community Service

By Erin Wisdom

Last year, the teacher's lounge at Edison Elementary School was looking a little drab.

Then St. Joe Serve stepped in with some paint, curtains and other touches to make the space much more welcoming. But the ministry also left its mark on more than the lounge.

"It impressed me that they didn't know me, but they took time to step out and serve my school anyway," says Jennifer Patterson, Edison's principal. "They were like, 'We're just here to serve you, not to preach.'"

The impact it had on her serves as a snapshot of what St. Joe Serve -- which is a partnership of 13 St. Joseph churches and will be holding its annual project day Oct. 12 -- hopes to accomplish. The ministry began when the Rev. Bob Miller, pastor of Wellspring Community Church, and the Rev. Micah Fries, pastor of Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church, set out to find a way to build trust with people in the community.

"We just want the community to know they can count on the church," the Rev. Miller says. "We encourage churches to do projects in their neighborhoods, and while we're doing these projects, we're relating with people."

Last year, St. Joe Serve tackled about 40 projects, including some for elderly or disabled individuals who needed help with home repairs and some in conjunction with service organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. It also, for the first time, partnered with the City of St. Joseph's community development office, which already had a similar program called Neighborhood Pride.

"It was really a perfect fit for us and allowed us to do what we'd been doing, just on a bigger scale," says Gerald McCush, the city's community development manager. "Right now, we're continually trying to find projects. I don't care if it's one or 10 -- it still makes a difference, especially in that one person's life."

Because this relationship had formed between the city and St. Joe Serve, Mr. McCush contacted the Rev. Miller after the ice storm last winter, and St. Joe Serve was able to take part in cleaning up some of the damage. The relationship also has allowed St. Joe Serve to utilize the community development office's budget for some of its supplies and to hold its meetings at City Hall.

"We're really trying to make an intentional effort to meet on the community's grounds," the Rev. Miller says.

And as St. Joe Serve grows, he adds, he's making an effort to encourage congregations to utilize their specific gifts and to be creative in the ways they seek to serve people. He's also hoping more churches will want to become a part of the effort, which has developed several catch phrases over the years -- including the one printed on the back of this year's St. Joe Serve T-shirts: "The church has left the building."

"There probably was a time the church was seen as asking people to come see us, come see our services, instead of going into the community," he says. "But we want to show people we want to be there for them."

Although the project list for this year's event is still being finalized, some of what the Rev. Miller's congregation will be doing includes volunteering at Noyes Home for Children and setting up a "sale" at the church in which all items can be purchased with vouchers that will be sent to families of Edison Elementary students.

This sale is one way Ms. Patterson, who began coming to Wellspring Community Church after last year's St. Joe Serve, will be on the giving end of the ministry this year. And hopefully, the impact it had on her life will be far from the end of the story.

"We want to add value to the community," the Rev. Miller says, "and to get to the point that if a (St. Joe Serve) church were to leave, it would be a big blow to its neighborhood to lose all the love it was showing people."

Serving St. Joe

The churches that make up St. Joe Serve are Wellspring Community Church, Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church, Green Valley Baptist Church, The EDGE Christian Fellowship, Living Hope Church, New Hope Foursquare Church, Word of Life Church, McCarthy Baptist Church, Mitchell Park Christian Church, Riverside Church, The Lifehouse, Turning Point Church of the Nazarene and First Church of the Nazarene.

Following their work day Oct. 12, the churches will meet for a 7 p.m. worship service at Frederick Boulevard Baptist, 5502 Frederick Ave. For more information about the work day or St. Joe Serve in general, contact the Rev. Bob Miller at 387-8410.

Lifestyles reporter Erin Wisdom can be reached at [email protected]

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