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'Hub of Hope' church fights for change

Children attending the Family, Friends, and Fun Day Carnival at Washington Heights UMC in Battle Creek made homemade puppets. Led by volunteer Clovis Bordeaux, this activity “teaches them that anything can be a puppet, and they can use their imagination to create whatever they want.” ~ photo courtesy Battle Creek Community Foundation
Children attending the Family, Friends, and Fun Day Carnival at Washington Heights UMC in Battle Creek made homemade puppets. Led by volunteer Clovis Bordeaux, this activity “teaches them that anything can be a puppet, and they can use their imagination to create whatever they want.” ~ photo courtesy Battle Creek Community Foundation

There’s a United Methodist church in the northside neighborhood of Washington Heights that is dubbed the Hub of HOPE. God has been using this congregation to do powerful things in a neighborhood that has been marred by violence and economic hardship for some time.

Rev. Monique French has been at Washington Heights UMC only a short time, about two years. Since coming there, however, she has had the opportunity to see the potential that this church has to bring hope and healing to this neighborhood.

The carnival had a variety of free rides and games for children and youth. Photo courtesy Washington Heights UMC. 
The carnival had a variety of free rides and games for children and youth.Photo courtesy Washington Heights UMC.

Washington Height United Methodist Church is a part of the Michigan Annual Conference.

“People that know about Washington Heights UMC know we are heavily involved in our community,” she says. “We care about the people in the community. And we just want to uplift and encourage people to find their purpose and to use it for the building of God’s kingdom.”

So, when Pastor French was invited to join six other congregations in hosting a carnival as a way to unify faith communities and strengthen neighborhood bonds, she had to say yes.

In July Washington Heights UMC was the host site for the Family, Friends, and Fun Day Carnival, and it was a day filled with summer fun, fellowship, and community building. Several hundred adults, youth, and children came together in a positive boost to this neighborhood.

The day’s activities included a carnival with free rides and games for children and youth, a car show, giveaways, health and wellness resources, and food and craft vendors. Several local businesses and community organizations, such as the Battle Creek Community Foundation, were additional sponsors.

The carnival kicked off at 9am with a March for Peace, Love, and Justice leading community members from Second Missionary Baptist Church on Washington Street several blocks south to Washington Heights UMC. The carnival lasted until 3 p.m.

The other supporting churches included First Salem Missionary Baptist Church, Love in Action Community Ministries, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, Maranatha Original Church of God, and Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.

When these seven churches were crafting this event, they wanted to ensure it would be safe and life affirming. And they hoped to strengthen the community and celebrate the possibility of how good those neighborly bonds can be.

“Washington Heights has been somewhat fragmented for a while,” confessed Clovis Bordeaux. “And these seven churches brought all seven different parts of that community together as one for this day. It was a full-day event, and it was very peaceful, and everybody was super happy, and the kids had a fantastic time.”

Law enforcement members were invited to support the carnival at Washington Heights UMC, ensuring the event was peaceful and everyone was safe to enjoy the day. Photo courtesy Washington Heights UMC. 
Law enforcement members were invited to support the carnival at Washington Heights UMC, ensuring the event was peaceful and everyone was safe to enjoy the day.Photo courtesy Washington Heights UMC.

Puppet making was just one of many things children had fun doing. All carnival rides and games were free. Hot dogs and drinking water were available for free. Six bicycles were given away.

The event was a positive experience for adults as well. Pastor French noted that it was a gift for families to be able to bring everyone without the financial burden hanging over them. It can be expensive to pay for food, games, and rides, especially for a large family. “And so this gave them the opportunity to have a sense of pride as an adult to be able to take your child to a carnival and just enjoy it as a family.”

Families were blessed in other life-affirming ways during the July 23 event. Free health screenings and COVID-19 vaccinations were available from trusted providers. A truckload of over 200 items, from simple beauty products to furniture, were given away thanks to a partnership with CityServe, a nonprofit organization out of Grand Rapids. There was also an opportunity to register to vote to ensure one’s voice is heard and counted in the next election.

Community bonds in the Washington Heights neighborhood were strengthened on Saturday as the seven churches that organized the event transcended denominational differences and worked together to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the community.

There’s a desire for the event to continue in the future.

Pastor French has also been contacted by Kellogg Community College, and they’ve already committed to be a sponsor next year.

Washington Heights UMC is living into its mission to bring back hope to the neighborhood, and the July 23 carnival was just one more step in that direction.

excerpt from a story by James Deaton, Content Editor, Michigan Annual Conference

This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.