Places of worship tend to center use on their holy day. We as a United Methodist Church have space designed for our heaviest use on Sundays. The church was designed with a sanctuary for worship, rooms for Sunday school classes as well as a dining area and fellowship area. During the week, most places of worship will find that their space is generally not being used. Sure there will be programs running throughout the week, but the vast majority of space will not be used. When I arrived at Forrest Hill United Methodist Church, there were days in which the secretary and I would have been the only two people in the building. If one’s faith says that one should be aiding people in the community, unused space is not good stewardship in fulfilling that belief when so much need exists.
Over eight years ago, Forrest Hill UMC began to expand to become a space for the community. We went from having one Boy Scout troop meeting in the church to adding Webelos and Cub Scouts. We added Girl Scouts and a few other community based groups needing a place to meet. FamilyCore needed a new location for its outreach office and is now housed at Forrest Hill UMC. The church building has become a place for hosting community events and organizations. All of this helps us in our mission of living out our faith and provides better stewardship for space use in the facility.
Forrest Hill UMC is a great location for many activities as it is along a bus route and not far from War Memorial between Knoxville Avenue and Wisconsin. DCFS has found this to be a convenient location for foster care training classes. Good Earth Food Alliance has found it to be a convenient location for its food share distribution. Our focus is trying to match building use up with our overall mission. Almost all places of worship could team up with not for profit agencies that do good in the community and must operate on a tight budget. Most facilities can see what they can share during the week and take advantage of their unique geographic locations.
Sure, it requires more custodial work and at times creates some struggles in space use. However, it also adds many benefits. There is a sense of life in the building everyday because there is always activity in the building. Some expenses can be shared, so that there is no real added financial burden to the church. The facility begins to be viewed more as a neighborhood or community center than just a worship place. And an odd thing is that there is less vandalism to the building than when it had less use. Being close to one of the public schools, children will cut through the parking lot on their way home from school. With all the vehicles and people going in and out of the church, we have not had stones thrown at windows for years, nor have we had children climbing into places where they should not be. The facility becomes a place that is not perceived as empty during the week and just alive on the weekend, rather alive throughout the week.
The central question is whether it is good stewardship of space to allow most of it to go unused during the week when there is so much need in Peoria. Does our faith say that we should keep the space for our use only, or does our faith say that we are to serve as we are able?
The Rev. Dr. Curt Keller is minister at Forrest Hill United Methodist Church in Peoria.