In the spring of 2011 the leadership of Fletcher’s Chapel UMC in Durham was told that if nothing changed, they probably had ten or fifteen years of viability. This church, founded in 1825 to be a chapel and community center, had experienced decline over recent years and no longer held a prominent place in the community.
The historic congregation was trying to survive, while the neighborhood around the church continued to grow and increase in diversity. The church was filled with generous people who regularly engaged in acts of charity such as collecting items and money for those in need. They just could not figure out how, and were a little bit scared, to connect with their new neighbors.
That fall the people of Fletcher’s Chapel UMC began an intentional process of discovering their unique gifts and identifying needs in their community. Fletcher’s Chapel sought and received coaching through Connectional Ministries to ease their transition between pastors and to consider strategies to revitalize their church. The missional focus on the community came out of the coaching conversations.
After six months of work, it was determined that God was calling the congregation to partner with its neighborhood public school. While the older members’ children had attended the local public schools, all of the current children attended private schools. The school was incredibly over-crowded and under-resourced, and did not have any community support or sponsors. The church leadership met with the school’s principal and guidance counselor to determine the greatest needs and how the church could best support the students and staff.
Beginning in the spring semester, with all of the congregation’s missional efforts directed at the school, Fletcher’s Chapel UMC became the school’s PTA, tutors, and supplier of needed resources. While the church membership and attendance did not immediately increase, Fletcher’s Chapel UMC once again was known in the community as a church that loves and cares for others. Even as a small membership church, it is possible to make a big difference and bring love and hope to the community.
Note: The “Give Five – Read Five” campaign is an initiative of the NC Department of Public Instruction, and is designed to encourage low-income children to continue reading during summer break. Research shows that reading just four or five books over summer helps to prevent loss of valuable literacy skills. By donating new or gently-used books to your local elementary school, you can encourage continuing literacy development among our most at-risk students.
Main article by Heather Heinzman Lear, a member of the NC Conference who is now Director of Evangelism Ministries at GBOD. Heather was the new pastor appointed to Fletcher’s Chapel during the transition mentioned above, and she led the congregation to their elementary school partnership. The article first appeared in Romans 12 Newsletter, Issue #179 (2013), published by the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church. Heather can be reached at email@example.com.