A unique partnership between a Savannah United Methodist Church and a former member of the U.S. Women’s Weightlifting National team has grown into a powerful ministry.
Aldersgate UMC, located in the heart of East Savannah at the corner of Pennsylvania and Tennessee Avenues, is a small, urban, neighborhood church. In the past 50 years, what used to be a blue-collar, middle-class community has transitioned. Crime, gangs, and violence had increased and there were two shootings in the neighborhood just last month.
The congregation knew they had to do something to help protect area children and give them a safe haven.
At the same time, former competitive weightlifter Kerri Goodrich was on the hunt for a building large enough to house Performance Initiatives, Inc., the ministry she founded that had quickly outgrown her garage.
The church had space and wanted to help the community. Goodrich needed space and had a ministry that was reaching troubled kids.
It took a few months to hammer out the details, but for the past eight years, Performance Initiatives, Inc. has had a home in Aldersgate UMC’s Family Life Center.
“It’s been a very unique partnership and a very successful partnership,” Goodrich said.
The ministry uses fitness and athletics – specifically weightlifting – to educate and mentor youth and children. It serves 40 to 50 kids each day, five days a week.
“I like it because it ministers beyond Sunday mornings,” said Aldersgate UMC pastor Rev. Ben Gosden. “Through this ministry, the church touches their lives five days a week.”
Most of the children served by Performance Initiatives come from “complicated” homes, said Rev. Gosden, who tutors students one day a week, and the ministry is a safe place for them to go after school.
The ministry runs from 3:30 p.m. until 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Students, most who are 7 to 12 years old, are tutored and receive help with homework before their fitness training sessions.
Leadership and life-skills classes are also offered, and kids participate in a Bible study on Wednesday afternoons. Healthy dinners are provided for those who stay beyond 5:30 p.m.
Aldersgate UMC members volunteer at Performance Initiatives, serving as mentors, tutors, and handymen. They have developed friendships with the students and now see some of them during Sunday morning worship services.
“We have kids who come to church with no parents whatsoever. They walk here,” Rev. Gosden said. “We’ve built relationships with them and they come, and there’s a growing sense of love and responsibility that we owe it to these kids to reach out to them.”
Aldersgate UMC’s partnership with Performance Initiatives is just one way the church is reaching out into the community. The congregation hosts a weekly meeting of Narcotics Anonymous; a weekly meeting of Hagar Ministries, a new women’s support ministry; and is in the process of forming a new Boy Scout troop.
These are fresh expressions of the congregation’s love, faith, and willingness to go where God is calling them.
“I’m a big fan of the church being open five or six days a week,” Rev. Gosden said. “It’s a great reminder that discipleship is supposed to be more than just one day a week.
“The question the church has to ask is, ‘where is God moving and how can we join in?’”