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Church engages community in farmers' market, schools, youth center

In its recent planning process, Millwood Community Presbyterian Church recognized that in its 80-year history, members felt most faithful and alive when the church engaged in and encouraged community life.

“Our discussion about transforming our church was translated into finding ways to transform our community. To be faithful in proclaiming the good news, we need to be a catalyst for new life in Millwood,” said the Rev. Craig Goodwin, pastor for three years.

The church’s outreach, he said, is based on Jeremiah 29. It’s about God’s call for people living in exile to “seek the welfare of the city where I sent you, to pray for it, and know that in it you will find your welfare.”

“Our mission is not just to build our congregation. The church is healthiest when it is out in the community,” he said.

Projects that began to emerge include
:
• helping start the Millwood Farmers’ Market in the church parking lot across the street;
• engaging the community with the schools, and
• renovating the run-down Millwood post office the church owns and turning it into The Crossing Youth Center.

“History shows God’s people facing and responding to one interruption after another. Ministry mushrooms as we respond to diversions,” Craig said. “The question for congregations is: ‘Are we divertable?’

“Our role is to be attentive to people’s interests and their hunger to connect faith to their everyday lives,” he said.

millwood

The Rev. Craig Goodwin with Panny Vu who has a farm in Otis Orchards.

Last winter, several members suggested having a farmers’ market.
Organizers conversed with potential vendors and recruited 35, who participated at various times through the summer. An average of 17 vendors and 500 customers were at the farmers’ market each time it was held from 3 to 7 p.m., Wednesdays, beginning May 23. It closes the first week of October.

Vendors come from the community and region. There are vendors selling honey, bread, fruits and vegetables, baked goods, wood carving, crafts and more. RiverCity Leadership Academy brought plants from its greenhouse early in the season.

The market makes the church visible. A woman asking about the church location to attend a class asked, “Are you the church by the farmers’ market?”

Craig, who served seven years as co-associate pastor of a Houston church with his wife, Nancy, said the market is a way to be outside the walls, engaging people in the community.

Each week, he has made it a commitment to meet neighbors there, calling it his “Wednesday congregation.” He meets people and learns about their lives.

The church’s outreach also has visibility, because the mission committee has had a table to sell products made by Christ’s Kitchen, a ministry it supports in West Central Spokane .

“While we do not do the farmers’ market to seek new members, several who have gone to it have started attending,” he commented.

Craig, who graduated from Fuller Seminary in 1995, said that the market is also a mission in that it supports local, small business people and farmers and provides the community with quality produce.

In contrast to produce from countries and communities thousands of miles away being sold in Spokane Valley supermarkets, most vendors at the farmers’ market live less than 100 miles away.

The market teaches what local people produce and how that is part of environmental stewardship.

This farmers’ market connects with those promoting a permanent downtown market, as well as with other farmers’ markets that are downtown, on South Perry, in Cheney and in North Spokane. Many of the same vendors are at those markets, too.

Millwood Community Presbyterian hopes to expand the market so it can support more vendors without increasing competition among vendors with similar products.

As another extension of outreach, organizers have negotiated and become qualified to accept WIC and older adult vouchers for low-income people next season. The vouchers can be used only at a farmers’ market.

“It’s a ministry edge,” summed up Craig, “providing healthful food for people who need it. We also want to start a community garden on land we own.”

To connect with the schools, businesses and community, Craig has also become involved in the Community Engagement Task Force with the West Valley School District. He seeks to provide leadership for engaging the faith community with the school district. For example, last spring, the task force hosted an event after the Virginia Tech shooting. School and Spokane Mental Health counselors spoke about the shooting at Orchard Elementary School.

That task force is also one of the vehicles for involving the school district in starting the Millwood Crossing Youth Community Center.

In fall 2006, the community—the school district, Hutton Settlement, Spokane Valley Young Life and Millwood Presbyterian—came together to renovate the old post office into a 1,500-square-foot multi-purpose room with a pool table, foosball, multi-media, a coffee bar and drop-in center.

The partners offer programs to help young people through after-school tutoring and mentoring, church programs, community movie nights, coffee house events, youth art displays and opportunities for youth to engage in community service.

The youth drop-in center is open from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays for junior and senior high age youth as a safe, positive place for fostering caring relationships and creative outlets.

Young Life provides staff. Hutton Settlement youth held a fund raising event for the center.

As part of his ministry connecting faith taught within the walls of the church with life outside, Craig is offering a fall class called “Ripped from the Headlines.” In it, he takes a headline from a newspaper or magazine each week and helps people see the issues “through the lens of faith.”

For his first class in mid-September, Craig led a discussion on an article about Mother Theresa struggling with faith and feeling cut off from God.

“We all feel that way at times,” he said.

For information, call 924-2350 or email craig@millwoodpc.org.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © October 2007