Fairview UMC-a growing urban church
February 14, 2017 / By Blenda Smith
An urban church in a “changing” neighborhood— how many local churches in Upper New York Conference would fit that description? Fairview UMC in Binghamton, NY, is just that. We are also a growing church with baptisms, confirmations, and other new members in the last six to seven years. We don’t measure the strength of our beloved community with metrics. Rather, we have come to see so many opportunities to reach out to our neighbors with God’s love. We are not simply situated in the neighborhood; we are part of our neighborhood. We are in ministry with – not to – our local neighbors. That’s one secret to our congregational vitality and growth. People joining the church want to be part of something meaningful and beyond our building and Sunday morning services.
Welcoming diverse community members of various races and socioeconomic levels is an important “culture” for our church members. We share our building with a Haitian congregation. Our street corner is a hub for meeting people in the neighborhood. We give prayers/ashes on Ash Wednesdays, hot soup on cold winter days (and at the laundromat as well), popsicles to school children as they walk home on the last day of school and again in September with invitations to Sunday School, and we share “Hear a Story – Take a Story” for children’s’ summer fun with free books to take home. Soon ,we will offer an outside free book lending library. These are some ways we call out to the community that we have open hearts, open minds, and open doors.
We are one block from an elementary school at which children have many basic needs. Teachers know our church is the school’s emergency shelter if a disaster occurs. In the winter our Hat and Mitten [and socks and underwear] Tree in the narthex from Thanksgiving to New Year’s overflows with items from the congregation. The same happens in August with our Christmas in August Tree to supply the children (& teachers) with needed supplies to start the new school year successfully. Knowing the start of a new school year is important, we arrange for a cosmetology school to come and give free haircuts in our parking lot. We invite the Endicott Central UMC to bring a full truck from their Clothing Closet for children and parents to choose clothing for a fresh start to the school year. Summer time can be a challenge for working families. Arts, crafts, games and snacks in the local park bring out not only children, but also, parents andchild caregivers.
In some instances, we give a hand-up, namely our food pantry with no strings attached: come and have a bag of groceries (and prayers if desired). Monthly delicious home-cooked meals from scratch for up to 32 men at the local Rescue Mission Homeless Shelter are our message of caring. Last month, one of our members received a Hope Award from the Rescue Mission, namely, the “Faith Award” for his regular attendance and commitment to his faith journey at Fairview UMC.
We continue to find ways to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our neighborhood. As new members come from suburbia as well as from our community ministries, people “feel” something special at Fairview UMC. Of course, we know it’s the Holy Spirit moving in the congregation and bubbling out of our building. This is living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being God’s love with our neighbors.