By Christa Meland
Every summer, block parties take place in neighborhoods across America. But people who lack permanent housing don’t always get to take part in these opportunities.
Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis set out to change that and to get to know its own neighbors through a block party it hosted in its parking lot last month.
On the evening of July 31, two days before the official “National Night Out,” close to 300 people gathered in Hennepin’s parking lot for hamburgers on the grill, baked beans, chips, watermelon, and fellowship. There was a bounce house for kids, a band playing live music, and a fire truck even came by.
“Churches can simply be buildings,” said Kristy Barnes, who helped organize the event. “Until church members spill out of their buildings and become visible and meet the people around us, we’re missing a great opportunity to spread as much love as we can.”
The block party was an extension of Hennepin’s community meals program, which Barnes coordinates. For nearly 30 years, Hennepin and three other downtown Minneapolis churches have taken turns providing a hot meal every Sunday evening. Hennepin hosts the meal on the first and fifth Sunday of every month, and the church averaged 330 guests per meal last year. Many of those who come are living with family or friends and lack permanent housing; others are looking for a way to extend their budgets before the next paycheck. The churches want visitors to feel welcome, so volunteers provide tableside service and wait on them the same way a restaurant would do.
At each of Hennepin’s community meals, visitors are invited to leave with shelf-stable food from an on-site food shelf and basic clothing items and toiletries from an on-site “giveaway shelf.” On the first Sunday of each month, visitors can also bring their pets to a free vet clinic staffed by University of Minnesota veterinary students and overseen by a doctor and technician.
A community meal was scheduled for the night of the block party, but leaders saw a great opportunity to get out of the church and get to know their neighbors in addition to their usual guests.
Although many of the regular community meals guests came to the block party, there were also new faces from the neighborhood, said Barnes.
“We are in the world to extend love and kindness and be as generous as we possibly can to all of our neighbors,” she said. “This was a great event because it showed our neighborhood that this is a busy and active church and everyone truly is welcome. There is no barrier to being at this church at all. Please come, please come.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church