The Gift of Second Chances: Broadway United Methodist Church
by Christie R. House
Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis is all about second chances. Its current pastors both passed through the parish doors once before. One of those pastors, the Rev. Dr. Rachel Metheny, and a lay staff member, De’Amon Harges, met over lunch with a group of participants at the School of Congregational Development held in Indianapolis in August 2015. Dr. Metheny explained that her first exposure to the church was as a seminary intern in 1990, working with youth and outreach ministries. Situated in a poor section of town, the church hosted a Christmas store for 80 families, a tutoring program for 50 kids, and a food pantry, violin program, summer program, and daycare. Metheny and the Rev. Mike Mather, the senior pastor, had to admit that they were doing a lot for the community.
Then, in a nine-month span, 23 African-American men under age 24 were murdered within a 4-block radius of the church. Some had come up through the youth programs of Broadway UMC. Although both pastors moved on—Metheny to her first full-time appointment and Mather to another congregation—neither could shake the thought that, for all their programming, they hadn’t gotten it right. The church really hadn’t done much of anything to help the residents in the community.
In 2003, Mather got a second chance at Broadway UMC. He needed to find an entirely different way to reach people in the neighborhood. While at South Bend United Methodist Church, Mather had begun to explore Asset-Based Community Development and the work of John McKnight, a professor at Northwestern University. Feeling that he didn’t really know the people in the surrounding area, pastor Mike decided to walk the streets and talk to people, day in and day out.
One-by one, Broadway UMC closed its charity-based ministries developed during the last century. Instead, the church hired De’Amon Harges as a “roving listener.” Harges was a layperson, artist, and stay-at-home dad who liked to walk the streets with Mather. The two met people, hung out with them, and listened to whatever they had to say. Block to block, house to house, they soon discovered that an association with the church didn’t carry much weight. The first neighbors Harges visited shut the door in his face. But as the two men heard about what people lacked, they also asked about the gifts people had so that they could match those gifts with places and projects in the community that could use them. They discovered that being a neighbor was more powerful than being an institution.
In 2013, Rachel Metheny also returned to Broadway UMC as the associate pastor. By that time, the church was changing its entire committee structure. The congregation pared down committees and added more time for sharing and fellowship in the worship service. The pastors introduced Lessons from the Contemporary Church (LCC), an engagement series that includes readings from the gospel and shared testimonies of the congregation. Today, the congregation explores its members’ shared faith, considering ways the gospel is revealed in people’s contemporary lives and how it shapes what they do in the workplace.
The congregation hired more young people to be roving listeners. The youth went out into the community, talked to neighbors, discovered new gifts, and concluded their visits with a blessing—a laying on of hands. Then the youth reported their findings to the congregation, which sought connections with people of like mind or ones who needed the particular gifts that had been revealed.
Harges created a scenario about how this strategy works. The church, at one time, had a food pantry and soup kitchen. People came to get food—stretching their paychecks to the end of the month. But the same people who came for food were also struggling with obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. The canned and packaged food the church was giving out was not providing better nutrition. It was making community members sicker.
Yet as Harges visited neighbors, he discovered that a number of community members were growing fresh food in their backyards. Across the community, he found 45 gardeners. He invited them together to share a meal and talk—with no agenda. Individually, no one had thought about how their backyard gardens could make a difference or what they could do with their gardening beyond their own backyards. But together, they realized that they were a force to be reckoned with. So they planned their own farmer’s market—thus meeting the need for bringing more fresh and nutritious foods into their urban community.
Interest groups, like the community gardeners, are forming and meeting over dinner all the time, thanks to the listening and connecting conduits of Broadway UMC. Through these gatherings, many needs are being met among friends. People have found jobs and hungry people have been welcomed with a meal and some good conversation.
Harges and Metheny finished up their presentation with some wise words from John McKnight: “Five Rules to Keep From Being the Agent of the Devil in the Middle of the Church”:
- Never do for others what they can do for themselves.
- Find another’s gifts, contributions, and capacities. Use them. Give them a place in the community.
- Whenever a service is proposed, fight to get it converted into income. Don’t support services. Insist that what poor people need is income.
- If those in power are hell-bent on giving poor people services rather than income, then fight for those services to come in the form of vouchers.
- Develop hospitality.
Christie R. House is the editor of New World Outlook magazine. This article was originally published in the November-December 2015 issue. Used by permission.
De’Amon Harges and the Rev. Dr. Rachel Metheny of Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo: Mary Ann Carter
People place hands on Terri Coleman, an administrative assistant, to bless her during a worship service at Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, IN. Ms. Coleman is leaving her volunteer position at the church to take a job. Photo: Mary Ann Carter