Transforming the World (or your little piece of it) Really Can Happen
June 8, 2021
By Rev. Alexis Coleman
First, a question: what is the transformation you want your church missions to make in your community?
I was appointed to First UMC Landis in July 2013. Most United Methodist pastors I know do a drive-by of their new church and parsonage and a drive through their new community as soon as they learn their new appointment. I drove through Landis with its four traffic lights and found myself in China Grove before I blinked twice. In China Grove I drove past a big old Victorian house with a sign out front that read “Main Street Mission.” I made a mental note to learn more about that place when I moved to town. I could never have dreamed how that big old house would change my life, or how one little step of faith could be so transformational for a community.
Once I got settled in at First UMC Landis I paid a visit to the Main Street Mission (MSM). I had already learned that it was a food pantry and clothing closet. On the day that I was driving to MSM for my meeting with the Executive Director, part of me wanted to turn around and drive back to Landis. Did I really have anything to offer? Somehow I got the courage to walk into the MSM. I introduced myself to the Executive Director, Anne Corriher, and volunteered to help at the pantry. I also told her that I was a certified trainer for Bridges Out of Poverty and that I’d like to do some Bridges training in the community. Anne was interested in learning more. Bridges Out of Poverty is based on the work of Dr. Ruby Payne, whose research on the differences between economic classes was groundbreaking. While Bridges is sometimes thought of as stereotyping the poor or trying to convert the poor into the middle class, I never saw it or used it in that way. For me, Bridges provides a framework for building a stronger community where everyone can thrive. It wasn’t long before I was facilitating a class at Anne’s church. She invited her friend Hope Oliphant. Hope had already been on a ZOE trip to Africa and was following Bob Lupton’s work in community empowerment practices in Atlanta.
Not long afterwards, Anne and Hope headed to Denver for a week of Bridges trainer certification. Together the three of us began to dream about MSM becoming a place of real transformation for the community. We did more Bridges training sessions. We also began teaching Getting Ahead in a Just-Gettin’-By World, 15-week classes that help families begin to break the cycle of poverty for themselves. Hope organized the community’s first Christmas “store” where parents could choose their children’s gifts and pay a small amount for them. It’s a model for Christmas giving with dignity for all. I used the same model at my next appointment.
I was appointed to a different church in 2015. By then the seeds of transformation at MSM had been planted and have now grown into a bountiful harvest (particularly in their hydroponic garden). I’ve continued to be amazed by what has happened, even though I only read about it in the monthly newsletter these days. In the almost six years since I left, Main Street Mission has become Main Street Marketplace and Main Street Meeting Place (see their 2019 Impact Report here: Impact Report 2019 | MarketandMeeting). Anne retired and Hope is now the Executive Director. Everything at Main Street focuses on restoring human dignity for everyone. Marketplace is not your everyday food pantry. They use a personal choice model for food distribution. No one comes and picks up a box of food. Instead, in this year of post-COVID, Marketplace has transitioned to tiered pricing, where those who need to pay less can pay less, and those who can pay a little more are asked to do so. Getting Ahead graduates helped make this change. That’s what can happen when everyone has a seat and a voice at the table. In this post-COVID season, as the world returns to “normal”, I encourage you to rethink what your new normal will look like. If you’d like to see more transformational ministry happen in your community, please take some time to visit Main Street Marketplace. Tell Hope that Alexis sent you.