“It’s a Match Made in Heaven”
By Faith Green Timmons
Originally Published in Michigan Conference Communications for The United Methodist Church
A timely Christmas card, open hearts, and creative minds worked a miracle for Wyoming Park United Methodist Church in West Michigan.
The situation was not dire, but decisions needed to be made. Finance chair Wendy Brookhouse explains that the congregation was genuinely trying to be proactive and “rethink church” to do things differently and keep their worship community intact. But an aging boiler, a mortgage, and a pandemic expedited the need to find a workable solution so they could remain viable.
Donating to Family Promise in his clients’ name, trustee chair Steve Meredith left a note on then-CEO Cheryl Schuch’s desk that if Family Promise was looking to buy a building, theirs was for sale.
A week later, the CEO of Family Promise of West Michigan in Grand Rapids followed up on that hint in Meredith’s holiday greeting. Wyoming Park UMC had partnered with the Interfaith Hospitality Network for several years as a support church and, more recently, a host church for the unhoused. Meredith’s message opened the door for talks of new ways the two ministries could help one another. Eventually, Wyoming Park and Family Promise came up with a plan for transforming the church into transitional housing.
They settled on an arrangement that allowed Wyoming Park to continue worshiping in the space where they had been for over 100 years while also meeting a significant community need. Wyoming Park UMC and Family Promise are coupled together in cooperative ministry. They repurposed the building to provide hard-to-find emergency shelter for entire family units, with the added benefit of being a more long-term domicile.
When Family Promise purchased the church facility with plans for Wyoming Park UMC to remain, they also invited a second congregation that worships in the building — Casa de Mi Padre — to continue holding services on-site.
“It is a match made in heaven,” said Pastor Kim DeLong, “but the planning and negotiations took over three years.” The payoff is a “house of worship that houses the homeless” and a blessing for the community. The mutual compact brought relief to Wyoming Park UMC and offered financial stability. For Family Promise, it fulfilled a dream. It provided the opportunity to custom design facilities for families journeying toward the eventual ownership of permanent homes.
The mission of Family Promise is to “end homelessness, one family at a time.” Usually, that begins with linking churches to provide food, sleeping areas, and activities and transporting families in need from one church to another on a rotational basis. The renovation of the Wyoming Park campus will create accommodations for 10 to 12 private rooms for individual families, who will share a kitchen, bathrooms, and living space.
It is a true win-win for Wyoming Park UMC. They say this is a genuine relationship, not a rental arrangement. The plan provides for each ministry to honor God, serve others, and meet urgent needs together.
“It was three years of figuring out how it could work for Family Promise and our churches. And zoning,” added Pastor DeLong. “I think it would be fair to say that we all have learned more about zoning than we ever wanted to know. We have jumped through more hoops than we thought it was possible to create. Our heads were often saying, ‘I’m not sure about this. It looks good on paper, but . . . .’ We learned to trust our hearts, to trust the stirrings of the Spirit. This church did not give up. They did not give up on the vision of the kingdom of God that they saw could become a reality on the corner of Porter Street and Wyoming Avenue! We paid off and celebrated the burning of our mortgage. Then, we gathered to celebrate our shared ministry with Casa de Mi Padre, Family Promise staff, District Superintendent Jodie Flessner, and Bishop David Bard. What a joy celebrating World Communion Sunday with a Table of Joy!”
Family Promise is a national network that began in 1986. The idea inspired founder Karen Olson after an encounter on the streets of New York City. While rushing to a business meeting, she stopped and bought a sandwich for a woman living on the streets, but the woman asked for one more thing. She wanted a chance to be heard. The shared moments opened Olson’s eyes to the profound disconnect from society the unhoused often feel.
Olson’s desire to help grew from personally passing out sandwiches daily to garnering the support of religious organizations, like local churches and the YMCA, to offer shelter, showers, meals, and volunteers. Today, Family Promise, once called the Interfaith Hospitality Network, operates in 23 states across the United States, with the help of over 130,000 committed volunteers. To learn more, visit www.familypromisewm.org.