Vineville UMC initiative aims to tackle tough issues in the community
By Christie del Amo Johnson
On Sunday mornings, Pastor Tom Anderson is usually preaching at his Presbyterian church, Strong Tower Fellowship, in the Pleasant Hill community of Macon. But recently he found himself, instead, standing in a class at Vineville United Methodist Church just a few blocks up the road. Pastor Anderson was there to accept help from this congregation for the surrounding neighborhood they are both a part of.
“Strong Tower is a church made up primarily, if not totally from the neighborhood. That means that it’s a community that really needs help in order to do the things that need to be done,” he says.
Because of his church’s membership, Anderson and his congregation have been entrenched in the Pleasant Hill community helping to battle the poverty, crime and drug abuse in the area. Seeing the need to do more, a year ago, Vineville UMC members forged a partnership with Strong Tower and created an outreach ministry now known as “PleasantVille Neighbors.”
“Our role in the Pleasant Hill community is to bring the abilities God has given our people to help the people of Pleasant Hill deal with some difficult situations,” says Vineville UMC senior pastor Rev. Marcus Tripp. “While our people have much to offer, we are determined not to tell people what to do – rather, we are called to help them overcome some obstacles. Related to this conviction is our determination not to start new things, but rather to find who is already doing God’s work in the neighborhood and see how we can help.”
As outreach projects, many Sunday school classes got involved. The Allen Sanders class presented Anderson with a check for more than $13,000 to help renovate donated duplexes.
“These are going to be duplexes that offer a safe affordable place for people to live as long as they are willing to meet meaningful criteria,” says Cecil Baldwin, PleasantVille coordinator. “This is not a hand out. This is a place that is going to be a sanctuary and is going to be a seed to, I think, spread a better environment and make a more pleasant area in Pleasant Hill.”
Volunteers were also provided by the Greene Sunday school class on the second Wednesday of every month to bring dinner for children at Strong Tower while their parents underwent drug rehabilitation counseling. Church members have also come together to help at the local elementary school with a tutorial program called Morning Star and the Allen Academy Summer Reading Program, a partnership with another nearby church, Greater Allen Chapel AME.
“PleasantVille has meant a tremendous amount to our church,” said Rev. Tripp. “I often say, ‘Vineville is a church with a worldwide mission, but a special vision for Pleasant Hill.’ This focused effort helps define who we are and what we are called to do. The wonderful increase in our people’s involvement has given us new energy.”
The Crossroads class joined forced with Rebuilding Macon to rehabilitate dilapidated homes in the community. “As our church and our class was looking for a new emphasis, we decided pretty strongly that we wanted to be a part of what was going on in the neighborhood and at Strong Tower,” says Nathan Watson.
PleasantVille has even provided an opportunity for the youth in the church to get involved. “We have a group, a leadership team, that exists to literally do something,” says youth pastor Mike Kinnebrew. “They say, ‘We don’t want to be spectators. We don’t want to be just attendees. Challenge us with stuff to do. We want to lead. We want to make a difference.’”
These teens took to the streets and collected money to buy gifts that Strong Tower then sold to people in the community at a very low price, so they could have Christmas for their families. “It’s better than giving things out. They’re giving something in order to get something, in order to give something. It’s a beautiful picture,” Kinnebrew says. “The kids were just heart and soul behind it 100 percent. They had about four days to make a difference … to find themselves from doing nothing to doing something.”
Vineville church members say that “Do Something” theme will continue in 2012. Baldwin adds, “People ask, is this a Presbyterian ministry? Is this a Methodist ministry? No, it’s God’s ministry.”
Rev. Tripp agrees. ”We are discovering in our hearts what we already knew in our heads, that what unites us is far more important and powerful than what divides us. “
While Anderson will head back to his home church, he says regardless of denomination, the connection between these two congregations is clear. “I am excited about what I see God doing in this church. There are people who not only give, but the movement I am sensing is that they want to be relationally involved,” he says. “I’m Presbyterian. This is a Methodist church. So, it’s two denominations, but what I’ve learned is that there’s a third denomination. That third denomination is probably the most important one and that’s anyone who’s helping.”