When a person’s life is full of affection, comfort, and happiness, people often say that such a person is “living the dream.” Did you know that God has a dream, too? According to author Verna Dozier, “The dream of God is that all creation will live together in peace and harmony and fulfillment.” The mission of Christ’s church is to live God’s dream on earth as in heaven. All of humanity is invited to share in Christ’s “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18) between God, ourselves, our neighbors, and creation.
North Church, a mission community of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan, has a special call to live God’s dream in relationship with people who have mental illnesses. We practice ministries of advocacy and accompaniment with clients in the social service sector. We demonstrate the healing power of relationships at the Togetherness Group, our weekly social activities outing. We fight the power of stigma by educating the broader public about the realities of mental illness. We empower all people to live more deeply into their calling as disciples of Jesus Christ by reorienting the ministry, worship, and governance of our church to listen for the voices of marginalized people at the heart of congregational life.
There are so many stories to tell about lives that have been touched and changed by our ministry this year, but one stands out in particular. One of our many ministries is a weekly Bible study at the Rickman House, a single-room occupancy (SRO) residence for low-income adults with special needs. Residents join in contemplative worship through singing, silence, prayer, and an open discussion of Scripture. They come from many different religious backgrounds, or even none at all. One man made a special point of proclaiming early on that he is Jewish and has no interest in converting to Christianity, but he enjoys the conversations and would like to keep coming. I tell him that everyone is welcome here. Over the course of the next several months, he continues to attend faithfully, becomes an active contributor to discussions, shares his prayer concerns, and tells the group he is even beginning to admire Jesus “as a wise man.”
One day, members of the Rickman House staff approach me and say, “We don’t know what you’re doing, but please keep doing it!” When I ask them what they mean, they tell me that this particular resident has hardly left his room in fourteen years. Isolated and agoraphobic, he has no family to visit him and shies away from forming friendships in the building. Those who live right down the hall from him hardly know who he is. Yet, every week, he makes the long journey downstairs to engage in relationship and learn about Jesus.
Stories like this make ministry at North Church worthwhile. But we need your support in order to keep it going. Please pray for us as we continue to discern how God is calling us to pursue our special mission in Kalamazoo. Big changes are coming for North Church this next year as we prepare to move out of our building and relocate to a new space in town. Please pray that God will continue to help us be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us and that the Holy Spirit will continue to keep our hearts and minds open to new ministry opportunities in Kalamazoo.
We also ask that you consider supporting our mission financially. We hope to pass an operating budget of $90,000 in 2016. This figure includes three to six months of building expenses that we expect to incur until we are able to move into our new space. Tithes and offerings will cover the majority of our expenses (about $55,000). However, most of our congregation members live on disability assistance or some other kind of fixed income. There is no way for us to continue this ministry without substantial support from the outside. The Presbytery of Lake Michigan helps us with a generous grant of $20,000 annually. This year, the Upjohn Foundation has granted the Togetherness Group $5,000 for programs and activities. We are looking for congregations and individuals to help us raise the remaining $10,000. Please pray about how God might be calling you and your church to partner with us in living God’s dream.
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 1:7)
Rev. J. Barrett Lee