By: Christa Meland
When Christ UMC in Rochester went through the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (a revitalization process available through the Minnesota Conference), one of its prescriptions was to find a downtown ministry focus in which it could collaborate to meet the needs of its community. Three years later, the congregation is poised to significantly extend its reach and welcome those within and beyond its community through two new initiatives—a childcare center that will give scholarships to low-income families and a hospitality house that offers a place to stay for out-of-town visitors receiving care at the Mayo Clinic.
Investing in the future, creating community
Through a feasibility study, one of the key things church leaders learned is that there is a huge need within Rochester for affordable infant care. In fact, more than 1,600 of the city’s children are on a waiting list for subsidized childcare. And because of Rochester’s Destination Medical Center, the city is expected to grow by 30,000 residents within 10 years—which will make the problem even more acute. The congregation, which had been renting out space for decades, desired to use its whole building for ministry and decided it could do something to meet the needs of young families.
“One our leaders said it best: ‘We don’t want to just create a child care center, we don’t want to just create a small business, we want to break the cycle of poverty,’” said Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay, Christ UMC’s lead pastor.
So in September, the church—which worships about 340—will open Thrive Child Care and Family Resource Center in its space. Thrive will provide childcare for 81 kids ranging in age from infant to preschooler, and the church hopes to be able to eventually provide a scholarship to half of them. An on-site thrift store that the church recently opened—Thrift on Fifth—sells donated items for $1 (adult items) and 50 cents (children’s items); all proceeds go to the Thrive scholarship fund.
“We strongly believe that we’re meant to be a resource for the community,” said Macaulay. “Rochester is our parish. We see this as a way to live out what we’re called to offer—a nurturing place. What’s more powerful than touching the lives of children? We’re investing in the future by walking alongside families.”
Christ UMC is currently renovating its building to the tune of $2 million in order to prepare to house Thrive. It raised money for the renovation through a capital campaign; the goal was $800,000, but church members were so excited by the vision that they gave more than $1.4 million.
Thrive isn’t just a childcare center. Family support is a critical part of its mission, and it will also house an on-site resource center and offer classes on topics like parenting tips, budgeting, and diets. The model will be similar to Early Childhood and Family Education (ECFE).
In making plans for Thrive, leaders from Christ UMC visited and were mentored by leaders from Messiah UMC in Plymouth. Messiah houses Bloom Early Learning & Child Care—which dedicates half its capacity to low-income students, just as Christ UMC wants to do. Messiah shared its funding model, which helped Christ UMC put together a solid business plan. The hope is that Thrive will eventually be self-sustaining.
Macaulay said the MCCI process played a pivotal role in helping the congregation to dream big and try something new.
“It was clear that the church needed to gain momentum and a sense of who we are and why we’re here,” she said. “The MCCI process served as a powerful catalyst. Clarifying our gifts and our strengths and naming how we can bring those gifts into ministry really moved us and gave us courage.”
Christ UMC’s efforts are also helping it become more visible in its community and drawing new people to the church.
“People join the church now because they’ve heard about Thrive,” said Macaulay. “It becomes a communal witness that transcends the walls of the church.”
Offering peace and grace to those far from home
In addition to meeting the needs of families within its community, Christ UMC also recently found a new way to bless visitors to its community in the form of a hospitality house for out-of-town visitors receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
The church has a two-unit duplex on its property, and it has historically rented out both units. Right around Easter, Macaulay got a call from a pastor in Flint, Michigan; the pastor said her bishop, David Bard, suggested she contact the church when she learned she needed to go to the Mayo Clinic for treatment. When the pastor asked Macaulay if she could sleep at the church, Macaulay told her the church could do even better.
A team from the church swept through the duplex and individuals in the congregation donated items to furnish it, and the pastor and her kids stayed there during her treatment.
“We were blessed to have a sister in Christ residing under one of our roofs during a time of healing,” said Macaulay.
Shortly after that family left, Macaulay got another call from a retired Minnesota pastor, whose daughter and granddaughter needed a place to stay while at the Mayo Clinic. Once again, Christ UMC invited them to stay in the duplex.
It quickly became clear that there was a need for housing for Mayo Clinic visitors, and beginning this month, Christ UMC will make its “Hospitality House” available to United Methodists in Minnesota. There is no cost, but a free will offering will be accepted to defray the cleaning and upkeep costs. Those who would benefit by staying in the space just need a recommendation from their pastor. Inquiries can be directed to the church office at (507) 289-4019.
“Our desire is to offer the peace and grace of a home while people are far from home,” said Macaulay.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church