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Weekly discipline of walking and praying opens eyes to neighborhood

As they walk and pray through West Central Spokane from 9 to 10 a.m. Mondays, members of Salem Lutheran Church, other neighborhood churches and neighbors open their hearts, minds and souls to what is happening around them.

Connie Malone
Connie Malone inside the Book Parlor

Through the discipline of weekly prayer, “we find God in ordinary activities,” said Connie Copeland Malone, outreach minister at Salem.  “We encourage members to walk and pray in the neighborhoods where they live. 

“That promotes an attitude of opening our eyes, ears and hearts to where God is leading.  It helps our 120-year-old congregation find new ways to reach out.  We once had a membership of 800.  Now we number about 120.”

Church membership and attendance numbers, she believes, are no longer the measure of a church.  The measure is the spiritual life and everyday outreach.

At an early age, attending grade school in Spokane and high school in Clarkston, Connie sensed a greater purpose for her life than her own goals.  Her family was minimally involved in different Protestant churches.

After graduating from Whitworth in 1981 in recreation and physical education, she thought she would do overseas mission work.  Over the years, she shifted to a commitment to do urban ministry in the neighborhood where she lives.

“I realize we can serve God wherever we are,” she said, “with many different people and groups.”
For three years, she has worked out of The Book Parlor in a house at 1414 W. Broadway next to Salem Lutheran.  It functions as a neighborhood gathering place.

“We are a local resource disguised as a book store with fair trade items, reading and reflection groups, wireless connection, meeting space and some basic food supplies,” she said. 
Work in college with Young Life in Spokane extended into several years of work until 1989, when she moved to Eugene with Young Life.

After marrying Pat Malone, who shared her commitment to serve, she went with him to Chicago in 1990 with Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Connie as the volunteer coordinator at the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Pat with the Coalition for the Homeless.

“It was a wake-up call to what was happening in our country,” Connie said.  “I shifted from my commitment to go elsewhere to look at the urban setting.”

When they returned to Spokane in 1994, Connie began volunteering at Christ Clinic while rearing their two sons.  She served there 11 years.

In my desire to connect with the place where I live, West Central Spokane, I joined in many efforts, believing God was there long before I was,” she said.

They attended Westminster, Knox and First Presbyterian churches, Shalom United Church of Christ and now Salem Lutheran.  Connie said her experience with God can be through any church.

After serving Christ Clinic, she decided to broaden her ministry to do more than health care.
“No issue is isolated,” she said.

The opportunity to be outreach minister at Salem gives her a way “to be invested where we are, to live, work and do things locally,” Connie said.

Connie Malone
Connie Malone with day-old bread outside Book Parlor

Salem’s mission is to seek and celebrate God’s presence, starting by relating with neighbors.
“It’s about being together on a journey that honors everyone and recognizes that everyone has gifts to offer,” Connie said.

Project HOPE is one volunteer grassroots effort she and Pat helped facilitate as it emerged from school district conversations on intervention to prevent gangs in elementary schools.
Spokane Urban Ministries, a partnership of four local churches including Salem, is close to finishing its first project of affordable housing for singles and families in buildings across from and behind the church.

“Salem does not do outreach just to start programs or bring people in the doors, but to be partner with grassroots efforts like Project HOPE,” she said.  “Salem offers its experience, resources and facilities, such as its gym, to encourage and support efforts like Project HOPE. We are committed to offer the gift of our building to our neighbors,” she said.

The Book Parlor is open daily to provide hospitality “as a tangible expression of the church’s caring,” Connie said.

Salem also connects members to volunteer at Our Place Community Ministries two blocks away as one way to share their gifts with the neighborhood.

In that style, Walking and Praying makes sense as a way to put church members on the streets to meet neighbors, understand who they are and how they experience God in their lives, and to learn from them, she explained.

“Walking and Praying does not fix anything for anyone, but opens eyes, ears and hearts of the three to eight who participate.  When more come, the group splits into twos and threes.
“Walking and Praying encourages people to begin to look for God’s presence in neighbors, taking different routes each week and revisiting some places that seem to need special attention.
“Neighbors expect us.  They know we are on the streets,” Connie said. “Recently after we prayed outside a drug house for the people inside caught up in addiction and selling, the house was closed,” she said.

When neighbors complained about smell and safety concerns from trash outside one of three neighborhood convenience stores, they went there, prayed and talked with the owner, who is now expected to put up a fence.

“If we offer a little voice, it may be the tipping point to bring some change,” she said. “It’s calling neighbors to accountability through caring.”

If they see a concern, such as trash outside a home, they may contact the resident to ask if the person needs some assistance.

“Life is complicated and messy.  Being together, we can look for solutions to improve the lives of everyone,” she said.  “Amazing things can happen through relationships to help heal humanity.

“Experiences of injustice will not be over in my lifetime,” she said.  “It takes courage to challenge urban blight, to see that each neighbor has a gift to offer, to uncover the layers, to rub shoulders with different people.

“We do not have the answers.  People in the neighborhood have answers.  God gives mercies every day if we look at every person as an asset rather than at their limitations,” she said.  “It’s about being connected to act, looking for what someone has to offer.  It’s about creatively helping people move from isolation into community.

“We walk to be faithful in the ordinary and mundane.  In the winter, we walked in the gym, visited members’ homes and visited nursing homes to say, ‘We are here with you.’  We are laying the groundwork for new experiences and adventures.”

As part of being in community, those walking and praying often go at 10 a.m. to Our Place Community Ministries to share in a greater circle of prayer in partnership with those serving there.
“We cannot walk with our eyes closed in prayer,” she said.  “Our prayer is in our conversation and in seeing through God’s eyes, seeking God’s answer and comfort.  It’s about the Creator of all of us,” she said.  “When we walk, we see more than we do driving or riding in a car.”

“Each time we go out we meet people,” she said.  “In West Central Spokane, people are outside and often walking somewhere,” she said. 

In addition to walking the streets, Connie said people gather at The Book Parlor to share stories, through which they realize everyone is a resource.  Given the location, sometimes people released from jail come there as the first point of contact with a phone, warm place, some food items for sale and a rest room.

“We may direct them to Our Place for food, clothing and other resources in the neighborhood and beyond,” said Connie.

That’s one of many ways her neighborhood urban ministry brings a little light to people as the church and neighborhood are “faithful to the mundane.”

For information, call 328-6527 or visit lutheranbookparlor.com.

 

Copyright © March 2009 - The Fig Tree