Erin Patrick and the community she creates
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of the Advocate, which focused on the ministry of the laity.
Erin Patrick discovered something she loved about the Methodist Church when she was in fifth grade—she loved the sense of community.
Erin said, “One day my brother started going to church with some of his friends and because he is older than me and way cooler, I thought that I needed to go to….so I went only to hang out with my brother.
It was Dolgeville United Methodist Church. I really liked the community there—it seemed like one big family so it just kind of fell into place. I checked out a whole bunch of churches, but I really liked the sense of community that the Methodist church had… I always kind of knew there was a God and I found him at the United Methodist Church.”
Erin is 27 today and is a church planter. She is doing amazing things in the city of Syracuse through The ROAD where she serves as Church Planter, Wholely Grounds Café Manager, and Event Planner. She is fostering that sense of community that helped her find God as a kid and she is doing this for a wide array of populations: the homeless and the hungry, the special needs community, senior citizens, musicians, and more.
The ROAD was started by the Rev. Becky Laird in 2011; it was the restart of West Genesee United Methodist Church that voted to restart and hand everything over to a new leader. Rev. Laird said, “My vision was to create a faith community where everyone, no matter their faith background, their economic status, career, gender, marital status, family status, etc., would feel welcome and be able to find a way to connect with God. The other part of the vision was that we were not dependent upon people coming to us, but that we would go develop community where people were.”
One of the major ministries that Rev. Laird started was Open Street Communion. This project involves dozens of volunteers gathering together on Thursday nights and packing lunches to hand out to the homeless in downtown Syracuse’s Perseverance Park every Friday at noon.
Rev. Laird was reappointed in 2016. At the time, Erin had been very involved at The ROAD, particularly with their Wholely Grounds Café located in the building that The ROAD had moved into an Onondaga Hill neighborhood in August of 2014. With Rev. Laird being reappointed, Erin decided to approach the Rev. Dave Masland, Upper New York Conference’s Director of New Faith Communities, to see if she could possibly become a planter for The ROAD.
Erin said, “So, I talked to Pastor Dave (Masland) and he said, ‘Take this assessment test and see if you might be a good fit for it.’ So I did, and here we are.
There were six or seven different pages to go through—your spiritual gifts, whether you’d be happy in the church planter atmosphere, your leadership skills, I think maybe how well you might be able to network with people and build relationships.
I know I got 100 percent on the faith one and Dave said that was great, but I was more shocked at the leadership section being high. I have never thought of myself as a leader; I just know that I am a hard worker so I figured whatever needs to be done here, I’ll work hard and we’ll pull through that way.”
Rev. Masland described the assessment he uses; “one of the tools I use in helping to identify and recruit high-potential church planters is the Lifeways Church Planter Assessment. This survey compares potential planters to current planters who are happy and fruitful as church planters all across the country (and across various denominations) in 24 areas. These 24 indices are all related to personality traits and leadership style, and have nothing to do with theological training or perspective. Erin Patrick scored much higher than average in a number of key areas: preparation, persistence, networking with others, service evangelism, evangelistic optimism, ability to recognize and address blind spots, and (higher than all others) in emotional resilience. Each of these things points to a person with a very high potential for success as a planter of New Faith Communities. Her positive attitude, her persistence even when things do not go as planned, and her ability to relate to and network well with others are things that gave me confidence in her ability to take The ROAD to the next place God was calling it to go.”
And The ROAD was going new places. Erin wanted to keep the ministry to the homeless and the hungry strong, but she also wanted to serve the neighborhood where The ROAD building was located.
Erin said, “There aren’t as many hungry and homeless up here so we really had to switch our minds to look at the area we are in and make connections and find out what they need.
When we first moved in the building, nobody knew who we were. People knew downtown because we’re on the street corner every week. So, up here, I basically went door to door (handing out flyers) saying, ‘Hey, we’re your new neighbors. Here’s who we are. Would you like to meet us or come join us for something?’
One thing we learned is that there is a huge community of seniors in this area…and many of them have been dropped off and have no family left. They were craving community.”
Serendipitously, 75-year old Michael McCormick happened across The ROAD. A conversation with Erin started an amazing ministry with a retirement community just a couple of miles away from The ROAD.
Michael said, “I was at the library on a Saturday afternoon. And I knew that church was over there…it had been there a while.
So I decided to go over and check it out and all these ladies were there for a jewelry/craft show, which I didn’t know was happening.
I saw Erin in the café area and I said, ‘Maybe I’ll have a cup of coffee or something.’ So she made me a sandwich and I had a cup of coffee.
I told her where I was from (the retirement community he lived in) and I said it would be nice if you come over sometime and I will introduce you to the crowd and maybe some people will come over and visit you. I’ll tell them there is a restaurant over here.”
The next week, Erin went to the retirement community and posted a flyer in the community room inviting people to join her for coffee later that week. She said, “So I came over and brought coffee and quite a few people came to meet with me. I asked then what they needed and 96-year-old Ethel Chakan said, ‘I wanted people to come out of their room and hang out with us so here we are two years later!’”
Since then, Erin has brought a Wii bowling game to the seniors every Wednesday from 2:30-5:30 p.m. Ethel, a regular, said, “I just like getting people out of their room and together.” Erin refers to Ethel as one of her best friends; she visits Ethel often just to play cards. When asked what he thinks of Erin, Michael refers to Erin as “dynamite!” He said, "I knew she was good the first day I met her. You just get a feeling of goodness.”
In addition to her ministry with seniors, Erin has started a ministry with the special needs community. Music therapists were using the Onondaga Hill Library (across the street from The ROAD) for one-on-one sessions with their clients and felt the need to find a better place that had more flexibility with timing. Kat Fathers is one of those music therapists. She began using The ROAD for one-on-one sessions with her clients. She loved the peace and warmth and sense of welcoming that Erin and The ROAD offered so she told every music therapist she knew about it.
Registered Music Therapist Gail Healy learned about The ROAD from Kat. Gail saw The ROAD as a place to expand her music therapy work far beyond one-on-one sessions. Erin said, “I was introduced to Gail through Kat. Gail told me she had this vision of doing a drum circle. She asked if she could use the space (at The ROAD) and I said ‘Absolutely!’” Currently, Gail leads drumming circles with adults who have special needs every Tuesday and Thursday morning and afternoon. Each session had up to 15 people with special needs along with their individual mentors. Erin said, “We’ve built relationships with over 100 people in the special needs community.”
Gail said, “Erin is so incredibly giving. Since the first encounter, The ROAD community space has been used for numerous classes, get-togethers, and a safe, comfortable place for individuals with special needs to spend time with friends and to be a part of the community in which they live. Erin humbly declares that we have done so much for her and the mission at The ROAD, when in fact; my drumming classes would not be experiencing this rate of success without the warm community space that The ROAD provides.”
Erin loves welcoming the drumming circle attendees. She said, “I am so in love with this group. When they’re here, I just listen in awe.” The morning drumming circle attendees and the afternoon drumming circle attendees interact and feel the warm welcome of The ROAD staff during lunch at the café, which takes place between each session.
In addition to the homeless and the hungry; the seniors; and the special needs ministries, Erin also opens the doors to The ROAD to musicians every Monday for Open Mic. Many of the musicians are in their 50s and beyond and participate in Open Mics across the Syracuse region every day of the week. Erin refers to this core group as the “Old Guys with Guitars.”
When their regular Monday night gig at a nearby venue cut Open Mic from their schedule a couple of years ago, Erin welcomed them to have their Open Mic at The ROAD. A typical Monday will have 15-20 performers ranging in age from their teens to their 70s. Bryan Dickerson, one of the Old Guys with Guitars explained, “This is one of my favorite open mics; Erin is the heart of The ROAD; she makes it very comfortable for us all to be here.”
When it comes to events, Erin has a way of creating an awesome variety of experiences at The ROAD so that people from all different walks of life can feel connected to her and connected to others. She has hosted craft fairs, murder mystery dinners, mommy and me tea parties, as well as Alpha courses (a series of sessions exploring the Christian faith).
Community…that is what attracted Erin to the United Methodist Church as a young child and that very concept helps her to create a thriving ministry at The ROAD. Erin said, “Going back to where I’ve come from…I really only kept going back to that church because of the community I felt. So to create a community here that connects people from everywhere and helps others meet people they would have never met without this purpose was my vision. I had to hold on to ‘Community.’”
To learn more about building communities at The ROAD, watch the video at: https://vimeo.com/uppernewyork/theroad.