Michigan Congregation Embraces Being the 'Hub of HOPE'
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg
Washington Heights United Methodist Church receives One Matters Award recognition from Discipleship Ministries
Taking Jesus’ Great Commission seriously is the focus of five United Methodist congregations that received the One Matters Award from Discipleship Ministries in 2021. The award recognizes churches that increase the numbers of baptisms and professions of faith, with a renewed focus on discipleship.
One recipient was Washington Heights United Methodist Church in Battle Creek, Michigan. Appointed to the church in July 2020, the Rev. Monique French hit the ground running, casting vision and creating HOPE for the future. The tiny, predominantly African American congregation immediately went to work. With help from the Battle Creek Community Foundation, they planted flowers, hung banners, and spruced up the children’s outdoor area.
With the pandemic in full swing, volunteers were assembled to canvass the neighborhood and offer personal protective equipment, along with accurate information about the COVID-19 vaccine “to dispel myths, so that people could make informed decisions about getting vaccinated,” the pastor explained. In cooperation with the Calhoun County health department, the church hosted a micro-vaccination clinic, where 198 older adults were vaccinated.
But they didn’t stop there. They distributed assertive technology—tablets, smart speakers, and innovative pets—to seniors, vulnerable populations, and people with disabilities.
“We provided hot, healthy meals to anyone who stopped by to build community,” French continued. “We worked with middle-school girls in the Beautiful U project to boost self-esteem, opened the Education Café and created a computer lab.
“We embrace being the ‘Hub of HOPE,’” the pastor said. We offer programs and services that develop, empower, and help others to discover their purpose and enrich God’s kingdom.
"We embrace being the ‘Hub of HOPE.'"
Next on their agenda is the “Recover the Neighborhood” project to expand home ownership among Black people in the community. This program will also reduce blight and feature minor renovations and beautification projects “that will enhance the neighborhood’s appearance and improve residents’ health,” French explained.
The spiritual life at Washington Heights UMC is thriving as well. Before French arrived, the congregation had had no professions of faith in more than ten years. During the height of COVID-19, however, the church had four professions of faith.
“Our ministries define the essence of who we are,” the pastor said. “We believe that we exist, not just for ourselves, but also as an extension of hope, rooted in love for the people in the community, the city of Battle Creek and the world.”
Barbara Dunlap-Berg is a freelance writer and editor based in Carbondale, Illinois.