A challenge was given to Christ United Methodist Church in Davenport, Iowa, that they gladly accepted.
“We were challenged by the superintendent to pick one school (in our school district) and really focus our resources in partnering with just that school,” said April Buske, Director of Discipleship.
In the past, the school district had been reluctant to partner with churches but was willing to give it a try with Christ UMC. Buchanan Elementary School was chosen as a partner school since the church was nearby.
“If the church was a house and had kids, we would be sending them to Buchanan Elementary School,” April said. “It is also a title one school so it's one of the lowest income schools and in our area.”
April added that they didn’t just decide to partner with the school without some thought.
“We really surveyed our congregation,” she said. “We asked everybody two questions on two separate weeks. The first question we asked was ‘Outside of Christ Church, what organizations do you support financially?’ The second week the question we asked was ‘Outside of Christ Church, where do you spend your time, talents and gifts?’”
The church staff found that, overwhelmingly, the organizations that people gave to and spent their time and talents were focused on alleviating poverty and children.
“It was really something that our church had already been organically doing and we just decided we're going to say no to other things so that we can focus on this,” April said. “It wasn't just something that our pastor decided we were going to do, or our Church Council decided we were going to do, it was really what the congregation was already doing. We just put a spotlight on it.”
That spotlight started with very practical things like building picnic tables and sending volunteers for events. It's grown rapidly from there. Over the past five years, the church has added a food pantry that distributes thousands of meals per month.
“We have fully transitioned our food pantry from being church staff lead to a team of people that run it,” April said. “They're totally lit up and on-fire and passionate about working with the parents to make sure that they have food to take home to their kids.”
“One of the big values that we kind of discovered out of this from our church is that you serve without expectation of return,” April said. “Going to Buchanan is an opportunity for us to serve, and it's planting seeds that we may never see the fruit of, but it's selfless service to others.”
“It's just really grown and our church organically,” April said. “Our church is very passionate about children and education and helping kids out of poverty situations.”
The church hosts Wednesday night activities and has added a meal, extra small groups and children’s programming.
Pastor Helen Parks is also now a Family Involvement Liaison (FIL) as part of the partnership.
“It's really cool because some of the neighborhood families started to come and they see the people at our church and they say, ‘I’ve seen you at Buchanan’ or ‘You help with the Fall Fest’, or ‘You read to me in my classroom,’” said Parks. “They recognize us, and it makes them much more comfortable when they do choose to come to the church.”
“It just really makes them much more comfortable if they choose to walk in the church door,” she said. “We've kind of always been proud to be a church that isn't hoity-toity. When people walk in, they don't feel like they have to be dressed up for Jesus, they can come in, they can be in jeans or their sweatpants or their leggings. They just know that they're going to be welcome here because they see our church people at the beginning as real people wearing jeans and leggings and T-shirts.”
When volunteers from the church are working with the students, they sometimes get asked where they are from. The volunteers simply state that “We are from Christ UMC Church, but we’re here to care for you.” Parks said that making sure the children know that someone is always there to care for them is of utmost importance.
The church has discovered that there are many ways to be involved with Buchanan Elementary.
“We find ways for people that aren't ‘kids-people’ to serve,” April said. “They'll work with the teachers, serve food or check in with parents. We will find ways to be creative so that they can have that exposure to the needs right here in our backyard. The commitment from the people that serve at Buchanan is amazing!”