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Support for urban collective restores role of black churches in their communities

The struggle to keep doors open at small membership churches can be daunting. Time and money spent on administration and infrastructure eat into the church’s true purpose: to be the heart and soul of a community, a place where people come for renewal and hope.

Collectives bring small membership churches in rural communities together to share Bible studies, fellowship and other activities. An urban collective isn’t quite so common. Light the Way has invested in The Global Village Urban Collective in Dayton, a program that brings four historically African-American churches together to share resources and programs.

According to Rev. Dr. Peter Matthews, lead pastor at Trinity UMC and co-founder of the collective, Light the Way makes it possible for Trinity, McKinley, Covenant and, most recently, High Street United Methodist churches to be places of refuge and hope for people whose backs are against the wall.

The church, Matthews said, is the presence of Christ during times of crisis and becomes a “place for hope and possibilities for persons from all walks of life.” The collective offers leaders the tools needed to regain their position as the heart and soul of the community.

“One of the wonderful things about the Light the Way Campaign is they have provided us with the opportunity to have tools in running the day-to-day operations of these churches,” Matthews said. “We have a greater capacity to be involved in pastoral care. It allows us to find common ground and common spaces where diversity can be celebrated and where people can focus on their commonalities as opposed to glare at their differences.”

That pastoral role was greatly needed this summer. Tornados tore through Dayton in late May. Less than three months later, on August 4, the churches of the collective were forced to deal with a 32-second shooting spree and its aftermath. The shooting followed hard on the heels of a deadly racially motivated shooting in El Paso, Texas, earlier that same day.

A life changed forever

When Rev. Heather Husted started at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, she expected to finish up her degree and return to Elida, New Mexico, to live out her ministry in her home state.
Instead, she felt called to do something different, she said, something urban and cross-racial. Matthews became her mentor and revolutionized her life as she began working with the people of the Global Village Urban Collective.

The Global Village Urban Collective was part of a community very different from the one she’d grown up knowing, she said. Surprisingly, though, it “felt like coming home,” she said. “I had never heard an African-American United Methodist voice. There was a deep cultural connection I wasn’t understanding until I stepped into [this] world. The more I embraced the community, the more I realized there was a huge part missing from the greater United Methodist conversation."

Now the Associate Pastor at High Street United Methodist Church, Husted believes building one-on-one relationships and listening to other’s stories helps people overcome their fears of “other.”

“The only way to get past racism is to stop seeing people as a race and start seeing them as a person,” Husted said. That takes time, humility and a willingness to enter someone else’s space.

“Hearing the story of the laity, the women and men who have dedicated their life to a church that doesn’t fully hear them, changed me on a spiritual and soulful level,” she said. “It’s not just about African-American voices. It’s any voice that’s culturally and historically been pushed to the side.

The Light the Way Campaign gave churches in the Global Village Urban Collective opportunities to create innovative and inspired spaces where relationships can be built and voices can be heard, she said.

Matthews agrees: “Inspiration exists, but you must find it working. The church must find and work to offer real inspiration so it can do the tangible work that’s needed. The church must provide the proper fuel and the proper inspiration that allows persons to walk out and make a difference.”

Support from Light the Way, he said, allows “us to hunker down into the lives of everyday people. You find out success is not about the size of the people you see on Sunday, but the sizable commitment that people have decided to make on Monday.”