By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Ministries, whether parish, community or individual, are based on intentional relationships. People reaching out to help other people, especially those whose lives could be bettered.
And often, folks participating in a parish-based ministry, particularly social service or emergency assistance ministries, get to know and build relationships with those they serve, even if they don’t live within the boundaries of their parish.
St. Peter’s and its adjoining parish, St. Therese Little Flower, are closely connected, with overlapping neighborhoods and one pastor, Father Steve Cook, shared by both parishes. As a result, St. Peter’s social service ministries extend beyond its parish boundaries. Ministry staff and volunteers work together with St. Therese staff and volunteers to assist area families with housing needs, senior and youth programs and build community.
A couple of years ago, St. Peter’s began a project called Urban Village, which works to strengthen social and economic opportunities throughout its entire parish boundaries through innovative partnerships with individuals, families and organizations. Urban Village serves St. Therese parish also.
St. Peter’s Urban Village, in partnership with Nazarene Theological Seminary and several other organizations, recently reached out to residents of the Blue Hills neighborhood with Refresh, a house-painting program, and also to get to know them. The Blue Hills neighborhood is in St. Therese parish, just northeast of St. Peter’s, between Paseo and Prospect.
The volunteers included students and faculty from Nazarene Theological Seminary, St. Peter’s parishioners and staff, Americorps (National Civilian Community Corps), residents of the Blue Hills neighborhood, several Kansas City police officers, and others in the Kansas City community. Overall, 126 people volunteered during the week of May 16 – 20.
Refresh is part of the mission of Ephraim’s Place Community Center in Toronto, founded in 2007 in memory of 11-year old Ephraim Brown who was caught in the crossfire of a gangland shootout just steps from his home. The center was founded by Bill Sunberg, pastor of the neighborhood Church of the Nazarene, across the street from where Ephraim died. The community joined in working to ensure such a tragedy would never happen again in their neighborhood. A year later, they decided to reach out to neighbors in need and help spruce up their homes to restore their dignity and pride. Refresh was born.
As time passed, more and more neighborhoods in Toronto were refreshed and more neighbors became friends. In fact, this summer they would reach 1,000 homes painted in seven Toronto neighborhoods. Perhaps the project would have the same effect in U.S. neighborhoods? Hey, there’s a Nazarene Seminary in Kansas City, maybe that would be a good place to begin. Bill Sunberg, the Church of the Nazarene minister who began Ephraim’s Place Community Center in Toronto, just happens to be the brother-in-law of Carla Sunberg, president of K.C.’s Nazarene Theological Seminary.
St. Peter’s was interested in getting better acquainted with the seminary, their neighbor for more than 65 years. And interested in getting to know folks in St. Therese parish, bringing neighbors together to build community. Many St. Therese parishioners living in the Blue Hills neighborhood north of the Nazarene Theological Seminary, were interested in getting their homes spruced up. And so it began.
Initial meetings were held in March at the Blue Hills Community Services Center. House painting through Refresh-Kansas City was without charge, but there were a few requirements. They had to complete an application, live in the Blue Hills neighborhood and own their home. Homeowners were invited to participate in the painting of their home as a way of building intentional relationships, and expected to provide lunch for the volunteers.
Some of the volunteers knew how to paint walls, trim and ceilings, but there were instructions for those who didn’t.
By the end of the week, interiors of 30 homes had been painted, and many of the volunteers said they had had an awesome experience, getting to know new people and learning about their lives.
One homeowner spoke candidly to the volunteers at work on his home. He had fixed grilled bratwursts, hotdogs and cheeseburgers, potato salad, baked beans and chocolate chip cookies, a real picnic feast. The lunch break was held on his front porch, overlooking Paseo.
Ivory had had a rough year. He and his wife are living apart. His father had died the previous June and then in September, his only child was caught in the crossfire of a rolling gang battle on Paseo. His son was a high school graduate, taking college classes and working and Ivory was very proud of him. Framed pictures of the young man decorate his living room.
Although saddened and missing both his father and his son, Ivory thanks God for the strength to carry on, and begin a new catering business. The lunch he fixed for the volunteers was mighty good! He was very appreciative of the work they were doing and happy to get to know them.
Bill Sunberg told The Catholic Key that Refresh exemplifies the importance of service in ministry. “It’s people caring about and helping other people,” he said. “Intentionally building relationships with those we serve. And like Ivory, the people we help appreciate it and also feel better about themselves.”
St. Peter’s parishioners are already talking about doing it again next summer, and the word will surely get around.