By SHEILA SELMAN
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Look anywhere in Goshen and you’re bound to spot a church — from the tall, spiraling edifices downtown, to small pole barns on the outskirts of the city.
These churches are more than worship centers on Sundays and Wednesdays. They are daily mission centers, community gathering spots, places to grieve and celebrate and even food pantries for the hungry. Their members are extensions of those churches, reaching out into the community as they go about their daily lives, contributing where and when they can.
The impact of local churches on the Goshen community and its neighbors is significant.
Like a good neighbor
Jeremiah Olson, lead worship pastor at Grace Community Church describes congregations as valuable neighbors in a community.
“Who doesn’t want a great neighbor?” Olson asked. “As a church, we try to be a great neighbor in this community. Our motto is that we are ‘in the community and for the community.’ These aren’t just empty words. They stem from a belief that God has placed us here in this place for a reason, and that reason is that there are needs in our community that it’s up to us to help meet. The words of the Bible are meant to be lived and not just learned. If we teach about serving but don’t serve, what good is that?”
Grace’s congregants find many ways to serve through church ministries, random acts of kindness and even opening up the church to the community as a free gym. Olson said the church also has a “Grace in Jail” ministry that provides mentors, Bible studies and pen pals to men and women who are incarcerated.
Big or small, Olson believes the outreach from his church is important and necessary.
“Our most recent (random acts of kindness) was on Valentine’s Day,” Olson explained. “We went into area businesses to encourage folks and give them a Hershey’s chocolate bar and a note reminding them that Jesus loves them.”
For the disabled in the community, the church throws a “Totally Tropical Luau” party. The next one is coming up on March 9.
For those looking to get fit, Grace’s leaders encourage the community to stop in and work out for free. The main worship area, when not in use on Sunday is a gym, with basketball hoops. Just off the gym is a weights/cardio room. And upstairs is a walking/running track and a ladies fitness room. Those facilities are available for people to use Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 9 a.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.
Feeding the hungry and helping the poor are a natural mission for any Christian church and Grace is no exception. Every Thursday, Olson said, Grace members cook a hot breakfast and provide food vouchers to a local grocery store for people who have fallen on hard times.
For the younger set, Olson said there are once-a-month “Connection” events that offer home-cooked food and family connections for college students who are living here away from home. There are also free summer sports camps for kids.
“We’re training and encouraging our teens and kids,” Olson said. “to be doing projects at their schools that get them serving the school, praying for people at the school, and trying to make a difference with people they will spend nine months with every year.”
On the opposite side of the city from Grace is St. Mary’s Orthodox Church. It is a smaller congregation, but its approximately 100 parishioners are equally as dedicated to making an impact.
“St. Mary’s Orthodox Church helps to strengthen the community by partnering with organizations such as the Goshen Interfaith Hospitality Network and The Window,” said Rebekah Whirledge of St. Mary’s. “The work of these established ministries would not be possible without a network of various congregations and volunteers, so we feel using our resources to support them benefits the community more than we could on our own at this point.”
Interfaith Hospitality Networks aids homeless families and The Window helps feed and clothe the poor.
Benefiting the community
Ministries to benefit the community can take many other forms as well. Take Beulah Missionary Church for example as members there go to great lengths to support people affected by cancer.
“Many families have been affected by cancer,” Brent Poe of Beulah. “Here at Beulah we have a thriving Cancer Support Group that benefits our community. We offer support to survivors and caregivers through education, moral support, prayer and friendship.”
The group meets weekly on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and features an oncology nurse from Michiana Hematology Oncology and is led by Poe, a cancer survivor.
And Benton Mennonite Church, located southeast of Goshen, impacts the community in many ways.
Doug Kaufman, co-pastor, explained a few of his church’s ministries:
“River Stewards is part of the statewide Hoosier Riverwatch program and we monitor the health of the water of the Elkhart River three or four times a year. We do this at the place where we baptize people so it is part of making sure the water in our community is healthy.
“Red Cross blood drives are held here every two months. This is something that we have just started doing.
“Sharing Fund is a fund we use for both congregational members and people in the Clinton-Benton community who are struggling with paying bills or need help maintaining their home. We see ourselves as supplementing what the township trustees do. We also participate in donating food and referring people to the Fairfield community food pantry.
“Sonshine Daycare in Millersburg is a ministry that we support along with several other congregations. About once a year we host a haystack breakfast to raise money for the ministry.”