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Putting feet to faith


Arizona’s Pinnacle Presbyterian Church connects community to Christ through mission service

By Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Nearly 30 years ago, 25 residents of North Scottsdale, Ariz., attended a worship service at what would grow to become Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, a congregation of more than 1,400 in the Presbytery of Grand Canyon.

Members of Pinnacle Presbyterian say they find Christ standing the soup kitchen line, while worshiping with friends in Haiti, or sitting alongside a family in Texas soon after a devastating hurricane destroyed their home. “More often than not, we are ministered to by those we seek to serve,” said the Rev. Dr. Wesley D. Avram, the church’s senior pastor.

Pinnacle Presbyterian’s compassionate outreach begins in the heart of the Sonoran Desert and extends around the world, particularly through efforts to share life and ministry with those in need. An initiative called “Pinnacle Promise” goes beyond the normal mission budget of the church through congregation-wide initiatives to meet the needs of people in Haiti, as well as those experiencing homelessness at home and abroad.

“In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that streams of living water will flow from a faithful heart,” Avram said. “At Pinnacle, we know how refreshing these streams of living water can be. We express our faithfulness through excellence in worship, the arts, serving meals, building homes, crossing borders and nurturing children and youth.”

In 2014, Pinnacle produced a creative mission video, “Small Steps That Make A Big Difference,” to literally put feet to faith in describing a few of the congregation’s many opportunities to serve in mission and ministry.

Pinnacle Presbyterian Church member Stephanie Webster helps prepare the evening meal at André House, an inner-city soup kitchen in Phoenix that feeds an average of 600 homeless and low-income individuals six nights a week. (Photo by Kelsy Brown)

Three times each month, volunteers from Pinnacle Presbyterian prepare and serve meals through the soup kitchen at André House, a ministry of hospitality in the Capital Mall District of Phoenix. Founded in 1984, André House assists people who are currently experiencing homelessness and poverty — people who are hungry and thirsty, like Jesus described in the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 25:35-36). Over the years, André House has grown to provide modest housing, free clothing, laundry service and showers.

Members of the congregation tutor young students at Create Academy, a public, tuition-free charter school led by a former Pinnacle staff member in an underserved neighborhood of Phoenix. Create Academy teachers incorporate creative arts into learning to make education interesting and meaningful for more than 130 students in kindergarten through grade five. The church also provides educational and financial support, such as hosting a drive to collect new backpacks and school supplies.

Staff at Vista del Camino community center in Scottsdale received a supply of new backpacks and school supplies for children and teens in need, many collected during Pinnacle’s annual Vacation Bible School. (Photo by Judy Krieger)

In addition, Pinnacle members support Vista del Camino, a community center offering a variety of services such as a food bank, a career center, utility assistance, counseling and youth programs to assist Scottsdale residents in meeting basic needs, relieving economic and emotional stress, maintaining self-sufficiency and preventing homelessness. Members donate nonperishable food monthly, participate in a backpack drive for Scottsdale students in need and participate in the center’s Christmas angel tree program.

Since January 2011, approximately 85 members of Pinnacle Presbyterian have worked to assist families returning to self-sufficiency through Open Table, a nonprofit licensed model that uses a team approach and regular meetings to provide guidance and support for homeless families such as returning veterans, survivors of human trafficking, individuals re-entering the community from incarceration and young adults and children aging out of foster care. A “Table” or community of 8 to 12 volunteers works with one family for 12 months. A family plan includes steps required to gain employment, housing and furnishings, medical and dental care, education, transportation and other basic needs. Pinnacle is currently organizing its 10th Open Table team in collaboration with United Methodist Outreach Ministries (UMOM), the largest homeless shelter for families in Arizona.

When Arizona experienced a weeklong teachers’ strike in its public schools last year, Pinnacle opened its doors to host 50 children whose parents were scrambling for daycare during the strike.

Pinnacle Presbyterian Church youth help rebuild a home after Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston. (Photo by Lynne Avram)

Last year, two teams from Pinnacle donated around 1,300 hours of service through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance to help families in Houston adjust to a new normal after Hurricane Harvey. Pinnacle leads a youth mission trip each summer and an adult mission trip each winter. This year, 37 students served in Nassau, Bahamas, installing a tile floor in a church, repairing a playground and hosting Vacation Bible School. In November, an adult mission team will travel to Wilmington, North Carolina to help rebuild homes after Hurricanes Florence and Michael.

Pinnacle’s mission with older homebound individuals, DUET, provides one-on-one support to promote health and well-being through connection to a broad range of services.

Mission of Mercy Arizona provides free medical care from seven clinics in the metro Phoenix area to uninsured and underinsured individuals who fall through the cracks in the health insurance system.

David Bowen and Mark Leinweber, participants in Pinnacle’s 2019 mission trip to Haiti, lead a science class for Haitian youngsters. (Photo by Kelsy Brown)

Rev. Kelsy Brown, associate pastor for Membership and Mission, leads an annual short-term mission trip to Haiti. This year, she arranged for the group to meet Cindy Corell, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker serving as the Presbyterian Hunger Program/Joining Hands companionship facilitator in Haiti since 2013.

“There aren’t many U.S. partners from the West visiting here,” Corell said. “Quite a commitment.”

Last Christmas, Pinnacle hosted its first Alternative Gift Market, inviting the congregation to give meaningful gifts to friends and family who also support ministry partners locally and globally. The catalog of gifts ranged from hot meals or blankets for people experiencing homelessness to a grocery store gift certificate for a homebound senior to a Bible in the heart language of Creole to bless a Haitian family.

“We invite all ages in our community to make these life-changing small steps that change all of our lives. Not only the lives of those we serve, but our lives as well,” Brown said. “We see God in the faces of those we serve at André House, the Haitian children smiling when they see their photo for the first time, and the families who are living into their new normal after a natural disaster. These small steps make a difference, and we thank God for the opportunity to participate in ministry with each person we meet.”

In response to a pilgrimage and study tour to the Holy Land last year, Pinnacle endowed a scholarship for a student at the Lutheran-supported Dar al Kalima University in Bethlehem —and hopes to do more. “We’re also excited to be seeing our first young adult join the PC(USA)’s Young Adult Volunteer program for a year of service in Peru in 2019–20,” Avram said. “We see our relatively young congregation growing into a sense that mission is part of our identity and not just a responsibility.”

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