New worshiping community lauded for its work at Charlotte center
July 5, 2019
Traci Canterbury has found a spiritual home and a willing and able partner in The Fellowship Place in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Fellowship Place is one of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 1001 New Worshiping Communities and recently accepted the Matthew 25 invitation.
Congregations accepting the invitation agree to embrace one or more of three areas of focus in their communities: building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. For 15 years, Canterbury has managed the Southern Comfort Inn, an extended-stay residence for about 300 people, including 80 children. Residents are low-income or are on a fixed income. To Canterbury and the residents of the Southern Comfort Inn, The Fellowship Place’s involvement has been a blessing.
“They have been doing a lot of work here for the past few years, but this year they have stepped it up. They’re such a blessing to the residents here,” Canterbury said of The Fellowship Place, which has about 70 members. “They are the most generous church I have seen. They are so loving that you feel right at home.”
The Fellowship Place is in fact so welcoming, she said, that she started worshiping there in April.
“There’s a reason we have that name,” said Patricia Franks, clerk of session at The Fellowship Place. The ministry’s logo features a lower-case “t” and “p” but a capital “f.”
“That’s intentional,” she said. “It’s the fellowship and the hospitality. That’s what people always say about us.”
The Fellowship Place was a ministry placed in Charlotte’s West Corridor. But it had to move when the building it was renting was no longer available, Franks said. Now The Fellowship Place nests in another church, in what Franks called “a more affluent section” of the community. But “we come back to the west side again and again for mission work,” she added.
The partnership began four years ago when members of The Fellowship Place delivered Thanksgiving meals to Southern Comfort Inn residents. That’s grown to include drives to collect food and personal care items and help navigating the school system as well as guidance with resume preparation and help styling the hair of Southern Comfort Inn’s younger residents. That final outreach is one of the most popular services offered.
“It’s things we don’t even think about,” Franks said, adding that church members partner with stylists to offer residents hair care services. “A hairdo is way down on people’s list.”
Soon church members plan to offer a Bible study at the Southern Comfort Inn.
“We are big on not imposing what we think people need,” Franks said. “We’ve learned we have to ask people what their needs are.” Services that came out of that ask-first approach include resume writing and help navigating the local school system for people experiencing homelessness. The Fellowship Place is also scouting out a van to purchase to transport residents who want to attend worship services at the church.
The Bible study will be on “a subject of interest” to residents, Franks predicted.
“Where they take you, you have to go,” she said. “I imagine they will say, ‘You know, Lord, I worked hard. I had a little bad luck and look where it has landed me. Why me, God?”
Outreach efforts made to residents of the Southern Comfort Inn come about “because we are built that way,” says the Rev. Dr. Michael Robinson, pastor of The Fellowship Place.
“It’s mandated by Jesus Christ, and doing mission beyond the walls of the church excites people,” he said. “It brings together the church and the community, and it introduces people to something they couldn’t do without Jesus Christ.”
“We go out of our way to welcome strangers,” he added. “People come here and tell us they can’t believe the hospitality, from the parking lot to the pew. We sow the love of Christ no matter who you are or what you’ve done. We have found the sweet spot [at the Southern Comfort Inn] because we are all the Lord’s children. We embrace that.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: The Fellowship Place in Charlotte, NC
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Gracious and loving God, help us to open our hearts and minds, to be grateful for our many blessings, and to continue to strive to be effective advocates of your teachings. Any may we always be mindful of the needs of others. Amen.