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Seeing abundance in the neighborhood

Michigan mission conference focuses on outreach, engagement

by Alana M. Glass | Special to Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Fernando Rodríguez, pastor for missional engagement and stewardship at Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church, leads a small group discussion at the church. (Photo by Katherine Kenum)

LOUISVILLE — Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church sits on a sprawling 41-acre lakeside campus in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., northwest of Detroit. Passersby often slow down to take in breathtaking views of the church’s majestic gothic-style architecture. Visitors from near and far come in to appreciate its beautiful sanctuary.

However, the Kirk — as it is affectionately called — is more than its landscaped grounds and intricate stained-glass windows. Rather, it is a warm congregation of people who are intentional about community engagement both locally and internationally. Its unwavering commitment to service is what drew Rev. Fernando Rodríguez to the Kirk in 2017.

Rodríguez leads the Kirk’s programs and initiatives surrounding missional engagement and outreach. For years the church has been involved in outreach efforts throughout Southeast Michigan and beyond. Under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Nate Phillips, Kirk in the Hills has been moving to become a more outward-facing church wanting to deepen its relationship in the community. That has been Rodríguez’ primary task since his arrival. In light of the rapid changes in society, and specifically in Christianity, he is constantly asking himself: “What is the role of the church in the greater community? How do we engage with communities surrounding our churches?”

For Rodríguez, finding answers to these tough questions means trusting that God is actively working in the world, with the role of faithful servants being to meet God in the neighborhood. He often reflects on Jesus’ words: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b).

In its journey to discern what it would look like for all communities to experience the abundance Jesus talks about, the Kirk is hosting its spring mission conference with the theme “Seeing Abundance in the Neighborhood.” The conference will be held from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 4, and is open to anyone interested in learning more about community engagement.

“The theme ‘Seeing Abundance in the Neighborhoodis pushing us to see that there is abundance, not scarcity in [low-income] neighborhoods. [We’ll be] looking at how a community can be developed around the assets and talents that the neighborhood already has,” Rodríguez said.

“So, it is a change in paradigm and a challenge for churches and other nonprofit organizations that already go in wanting to be the ones to fix it,” he said.

The goal of the conference is to help members of the community gain a better perspective on how to engage with neighborhoods where they live and work, especially low-income neighborhoods.

Keynote speakers are the Rev. Michael Mather and De’Amon Harges from Broadway United Methodist Church in the Mapleton Fall Creek neighborhood of Indianapolis, Indiana. Breakout sessions will address building community around its existing gifts.

Mather, pastor of Broadway UMC and author of “Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places,” has worked in urban ministry for more than 15 years, daring to see abundance where others see scarcity. Harges, Broadway UMC’s “Roving Listener,” finds and celebrates the gifts and talents of people in the community by meeting and listening to them. Harges is founder of The Learning Tree, an association of neighbors specializing in asset-based community development, learning and education that improves the quality of lives of people, communities, schools and businesses.

Other presenters include Debra Ehrmann, vice president of Centro Multicultural La Familia, a holistic family services support center in Pontiac, Mich., who will be discussing pressing immigration issues, and Coleman Yoakum, executive director of Micah 6 Community, a nonprofit in Pontiac, Mich., focused on building community through urban gardening. Representatives from more than 20 nonprofit organizations, including Southwest Detroit Immigration and Refugee Center, Hope Against Trafficking and Habitat for Humanity of Michigan, will also be on hand to provide resources and share volunteer opportunities.

“All are invited,” Rodríguez said. “Regardless of our faith background or whether we have any faith or not, we are all trying to answer the same questions. We are all trying to look at ways to engage our surrounding communities. The conference gives a new lens. It affects all of us. We are all a part of the same neighborhoods.”

Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., is the host site of the mission conference “Seeing Abundance in the Neighborhood” on Saturday. (Photo by Katherine Kenum)

There is no cost to attend the conference, but registration is required. Kirk in the Hills is at 1340 W. Long Lake Road in Bloomfield, Hills, Mich. Learn more and register here.

Alana M. Glass is a member of Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation Into A Powerhouse for Mission, written by Presbyterian leaders Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller, has been selected by the co-moderators of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 223rd General Assembly (2018) for a churchwide book study. It’s a resource to inspire churches to become vibrant and engaging community partners with the families and neighborhoods around them. The book has a study guide, as well as resources in Spanish and Korean.

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