Collierville UMC receives 'Churches Reaching Neighbors' grant for 'Collierville Connected' ministry
TOP PHOTO: A $1,000 check is presented to representatives of Collierville Connected resource center, a ministry of Collierville United Methodist Church. From left are Rev. Deborah C. Suddarth, Tommy Hart, Rev. Jeff Rudy and Rev. Dane Wood. Suddarth, Hart and Wood are all with Collierville UMC. Rudy is presenting the check on behalf of the Memphis Conference's "Churches Reaching Neighbors" grant review committee. BOTTOM PHOTO: From left, Hart and Suddarth reflect on the mission and ministry of Collierville Connected. (Photos by Lane Gardner Camp)
By Lane Gardner Camp, Director of Communications, Memphis Conference
Collierville United Methodist Church (UMC) is one of seven churches in the Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church to receive a Churches Reaching Neighbors grant in the program’s second round of grants in late 2017.
The church received $1,000 in late November for the ongoing work of its Collierville Connected ministry, a partnership with seven other Collierville churches of different denominations.
The Churches Reaching Neighbors grant program was announced in 2016 by United Methodist Bishop Bill McAlilly to align with the theme for that year’s Memphis Annual Conference: Offering Christ: One Neighborhood at a Time. The annual conference offering that year was designated for the CRN grant program.
The first round of grants were awarded in late 2016 with a second round in late 2017. No apportionment dollars were used for any of the CRN grants.
When Rev. Deborah C. Suddarth, executive pastor of Collierville UMC, recalled the ministry’s genesis in 2016, she said it grew out of laity and clergy from Collierville UMC being inspired by teaching sessions at the 2016 Memphis Annual Conference in Jackson, Tennessee.
Dr. L. Gregory Jones, author of Christian Social Innovation – Renewing Wesleyan Witness, led the teaching sessions that had as their theme, "TraditionED Innovation."
Jones encouraged churches to embrace “social innovation” and “social entrepreneurship,” and move away from being part of the “broken institutional landscape.”
With Jones’ words in mind, a community development project was envisioned and activated to serve a well-defined neighborhood directly south of Collierville’s town square -- described in the Churches Reaching Neighborhoods grant application as being “UNaffluent” and “in the poorest zoning track in Shelby County outside the Memphis city limits.”
A team of churches developed Collierville Connected, out of which the first project has been a Neighborhood Resource Center.
Because of the neighborhood’s proximity to Collierville UMC’s original location on the town square (separate from its current large campus on West Poplar), a room in the town square building still owned by the church was identified to house the Neighborhood Resource Center.
Among other reasons, this location is close to a food bank and clothes closet for easy and direct referrals.
Tommy Hart, a member of the church and Collierville Connected board member, emphasized that referrals to other service providers is a more efficient use of community resources and avoids unwarranted duplication of services.
Hart said the “timing was right” in 2016 for the formation of Collierville Connected as “hearts” were “willing to let the holy spirit come in.”
Hart pointed out that the target neighborhood is the only one outside Memphis, but inside Shelby County, that has low to moderate household incomes, according to recent census data.
Hart and Suddarth said this fact surprises many who assume all of Collierville is affluent – and it illustrates why all churches need to study and understand who really lives in their neighborhood(s).
Rev. Dane Wood, associate pastor at Collierville UMC, calls the neighborhood “the forgotten part of town” where household incomes average approximately 60% of average household incomes for other parts of Collierville’s 38017 zip code.
The neighborhood also has a high number of renter-occupied dwellings and it is where Habitat for Humanity homes (another ministry of the church) have been built, Wood explained.
Suddarth described the neighborhood as being shaped like a triangle with 671 houses and 1,900 people, including 300 to 350 children/youth up to age 18. The one school in the neighborhood is Collierville Middle.
The Collierville Connected Neighborhood Resource Center is open on Tuesdays (9 to 11:30 a.m.; 4 to 7 p.m.), Thursdays (9 to 11:30 a.m.) and Saturdays (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) to offer things like computer access for job hunting and assistance in locating affordable childcare and preschool programs.
The Neighborhood Resource Center provides guidance for what it calls “life circumstances.”
When guests (never “clients”) visit the resource center with a need, question or problem, volunteers are trained to “see them” and "hear them" without judgment or preconceived solutions.
This philosophy comes partly from a book read by members of the ministry’s board: Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It, by Robert D. Lupton. The book offers models for charitable groups “to help—not sabotage” the people they want to serve.
Collierville Connected’s mission, according to ministry literature, is to partner with the neighborhood by “capitalizing on community and individual assets for the betterment of the common good of children and families” to “create opportunities, inspire hope, equip and mobilize persons toward a brighter future,” as well as “share Christ’s love.”
The part about "sharing Christ's love" alongside its many services made the ministry a strong candidate for the Churches Reaching Neighbors grant program, according to Dr. Joe Geary, director of Connectional Ministries for the Memphis Conference, whose office administers the grants.
One example of how Collierville Connected hopes to help the neighborhood with affordable childcare is not by providing such services, but by identifying individuals in the neighborhood who are already offering such services and helping them with things like licensing and budget management so their services are sustainable.
And Collierville Connected's next goal, Suddarth added, is to pull together an Affordable Preschool Committee.
Wood works closely with many in the neighborhood and says much of the resource center’s success hinges on “building trust,” to which Hart added the church will only be viable over time if it remains “inserted in the community.”
Operating funds for Collierville Connected currently come from participating churches, local service clubs and private funds.
One thing that has surprised Wood about the ministry as it has moved forward is “the excitement level” of volunteers from the participating churches and town.
He said he has enjoyed hearing “interesting stories” from older, long-time members of Collierville UMC who remember when the church was located on the town square and Collierville was a much smaller town.
Suddarth said Collierville Connected's Neighborhood Resource Center has such a large and well-trained volunteer base that there is currently no danger of what she called “volunteer exhaustion” that can sometimes hinder or end a ministry.