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Normandy Park UCC builds relationships with neighbors

Community dinner is
one of several ways
church is reaching out

Normandy Park United Church of Christ is building new relationships into its local communities of Des Moines and Normandy Park through its long-time ministries working with a Homeless Shelter in the Presbyterian Church and the Des Moines Food Bank.

Ron Weightman

Ron Weightman, chair of the outreach committee, prepares to cook a recent monthly dinner for people in the Des Moines and Normandy Park communities.           
Photo courtesy of Normandy Park UCC

“We discovered it through our church family, who are volunteers, teachers and parents involved in our local schools,” said Jane Lohry Armstrong, who was moderator when the effort began last January.  “We took note of the growing face of homelessness and struggle just outside our doors, next door.”

The church learned that children from at least 10 families were coming to the nearby school by taxi from a shelter, to keep them in their familiar school.

The church was already involved in the food bank and homeless shelter, which they helped start 13 years ago with 11 other churches. 

Members were preparing meals to serve homeless people and people in need through the church kitchen, but delivered and served those meals to the Family and Adult Service Center, originally started by the UCC and now run by the Lutherans for chronically homeless people downtown.

“We observed there is as much need in the suburban communities as downtown,” she said.  “It was becoming more difficult to go downtown, park and deliver the meals as downtown demographics and our demographics were changing.”

So they tweaked their approach.

“Now our approach is neighbor-to-neighbor,” Jane said. 

The women’s fellowship had over the years upgraded the kitchen to a commercial food service set-up, and a number of years ago the congregation had built a fellowship hall with a place to serve meals.

The church decided to serve an outreach dinner in its fellowship hall, and put a sandwich-board sign out on the fourth Tuesday to announce that a community dinner is served and all are welcome.

The food bank also coordinated with a United Methodist, Lutheran and another church to serve meals on the other Tuesdays.

The local food bank has a notice up when the dinners are scheduled.

Now people are coming. Families are coming. Seniors are coming from a retirement community.

“We share the food together, and the numbers grow,” she said.  “New branches are growing on our tree as Normandy Park UCC.”

Lon Rycraft, the pastor for the last six of the church’s more than 50 years, said that when they started, they were serving about 25 people and recently served 60.

“These are people in between who need help,” he said.  “This is what the church should be doing—offering services that connect us with what is happening on the street and in the larger community.  Some are homeless, and we help them find other help.”

About 25 of the church’s 130 members have been involved over the year.  They help prepare and serve the meals.  They greet people at the door.  They play the piano.  They also sit with people, sharing the meal with people and listening to their stories.

“We have no problem finding people to volunteer,” Lon said.

Jane, who is also chair of the Pacific Northwest Conference personnel committee, described some of the “new branches” that are coming from Normandy Park UCC’s new way of doing ministry.

People who attend the dinner have donated items to the rummage sale, which raised record funds this year. More people shopping the rummage sale rounded up their ticket, saying, “You are doing good things here.”

New people are joining in worship.  The summer Bible school program has grown from 36 children to more than 50.

“In December, we invite parents with VBS children to drop off their children for Advent and Christmas activities, and pizza, while they have a weeknight evening at home or out,” Jane added.

In the summer, the church worships in the courtyard, outside in the natural setting of its five-acre landscaped lot of Douglas firs.

“We hear the birds—as well as the planes.  Doing that has brought more people in our doors, as has our rainbow banner that says everyone is welcome,” she said.

“The energy of our church has changed.  It is positive and faith-filled,” she added.  “No longer do we keep the building and our community to ourselves.

“Sometimes change is a gentle breeze, a Spirit,” she said.  “It is happening for us as we open the doors and let it in.”

For information, call 206-439-9823 or visit

Copyright © December 2013 - Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News


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