Sometimes “Dreaming Big” is about creating opportunities large enough to include and involve as many people as possible. This was the case when a dream manifested and a goal was achieved on Friday, October 3, 2014 on the West Side of Columbus.
A few Sundays into my new appointment serving two churches, Westgate UMC and Parkview UMC, I said in a Sunday message, “I want us to have an impact on the life of West High School. I want us [our churches] to be in West High by homecoming.” West High School is a Columbus City School that sits in between both churches and many members of the two churches are alumnae of West High, including our current DS., Rev. Kathy Brown. Sharing this dream was Phase 1 and by doing it during worship actually did a few things. First, it forced me to be accountable for the dream because it was now a very public goal. Secondly, by sharing this goal in church it gave the people an opportunity to be a part of the goal. Thirdly, there was a set time, homecoming, to focus on. However, in July when I shared this dream I didn’t know how it was going to play out, but I knew God was the author of this dream. We just had to discover our roles.
“How does a church start a relationship with a local school? You just have to ask.” Phase 2 happened in July when I called the principal and asked for a tour of the high school. I explained I was not only the new pastor at both churches but new to the West Side of Columbus. I wanted to get his perspective and experiences of the community as a local leader and educator. Principal Johnson was excited and shared the hopes and challenges of the high school during the two hour tour our West High. I asked when homecoming was; since it was July the principal was not sure. This was a simple connection to the high school.
Phase 3 happened one afternoon in August as I heard a drum-line playing outside the church office window. The West High softball field and tennis courts are across the alley and directly behind Westgate UMC. I figured it was the West High band and took this opportunity to strike up a conversation with the band director, Mr. Samson. He was just as excited as the principal to share the hopes and challenges of the high school band. I asked when homecoming was and if it was open to area groups. He invited the church to be in the homecoming parade. This was the second connection to the school and we had an official date for the homecoming goal, Friday, October 3rd .
Phase 4 is when I shared our invitation to be in the parade with both Westgate UMC and Parkview UMC in another Sunday message. Sharing this news with the congregations lead to another dream and opportunity. We decided to create special homecoming invitations and mail them to everyone in the church databases to attend a special homecoming worship service October 5th. However, we still weren’t sure about what we would do for the October 3rd parade. This shared dream took hold in the hearts of many of the laity.
Phase 5 started with a text message from Angela Fee, laity at Westgate UMC. Angela sent me a text the week of the parade wanting to know what was going to happen. I told her I didn’t have solid idea about what to do about the parade. Angela, however, did have an idea. She and some friends decided to make bags of candies. Friday afternoon we gathered to tie cards with information about the churches to the bags of candy so we could pass them out during the parade. I found a blank banner while moving into the offices and we put lettering on the sign. I asked Angela if she could gather some friends and kids to help with parade. Because what kid doesn’t want to be in a parade? Angela, her kids, her friends and their kids were ready for a parade. We walked to West High and were placed right behind the band and before the alumni float. Our band of children and adults walked, marched and a few times ran up to the people on the path giving them bags of candy, Rethink Church door hangers with church information and church postcards. One of Angela’s friends, Kristi, shared what she saw in the kids before, during and after the parade, “They had so much fun. I’ve never seen them so excited or proud.”
Please understand Westgate UMC and Parkview UMC are small membership churches that share an elder. This is the first time these two churches have ever been yoked together via a pastor. They are in the West Side of Columbus. That’s right. These are two inner city or urban churches. Did I mention this is a cross-cultural/cross-racial appointment, because it is? We never saw scarcity and lack in trying to make this dream into a reality and a goal into an accomplishment because with Jesus all things are possible. We took an assessment of what resources we had around us, we took an assessment of who was around us, and determined what we were going to do to live into this big dream as small membership churches. We took full advantage of this opportunity to encounter the community in a way neither church ever had before.
We stepped out in faith and marched with the band.
In the picture, Nikki Mayes, Kristi Mayes, Angela Fee, Sydney, Anton, Rayne, Leah, Skyler, Loki, Alex, Kalee, Cheyanne, and McKenzie. Photo by Pastor Leo A. Cunningham