Healing, serving and breaking bread were central to the ministry of Jesus; and that same strategy has been broadening the ministry of First Wesleyan Church (FWC) in Painesville, Ohio. As the pandemic continues to emphasize the importance of contextually engaged ministry, FWC’s leadership team has listened well to their community; and in their listening, have found a consistent overlap between economic, physical, educational and spiritual methods for serving the church.

Rather than creating additional resources that already exist in the community, FWC has worked to bring the strengths of various community service organizations together to seek the wholeness of their city. When they noticed an increase in food and clothing insecurity in their area, FWC partnered with other service organizations to collect and distribute frequently requested supplies. The effort quickly gained traction, with FWC serving over 700 per month with food, personal protective equipment and other supplies (their total number served currently stands at over 7,000 people). In addition to distribution efforts, FWC’s Wesleyan Connection no-cost thrift store has partnered with grocery stores, discount chains, other churches and the general public to give away other commonly needed items, from coffeemakers to bicycles, clothes and other basic household necessities.

The program started as a way to minister to people’s physical needs but the relationships built have multiplied FWC’s discipleship opportunities, too. Part of what people are hungry for, according to Rev. Rodgers, is a sense that people of faith are load bearing in their communities and curious about the longings and losses of their neighbors.

“When you have people in the community who accept who you are, and who feed you with the spiritual food of the Word, as well as physically feed you and help to resource you, there’s something special about that,” reflected Rev. Rodgers. “Jesus was definitely preaching the word but also healing people, feeding people and listening to people’s problems and helping them know their faith will help heal them. The people in this church are not rich people or anything else; but seeing them serve and offer what they have to others definitely helps the community and helps people be curious about the Word.”

Youth have found connections within FWC to be especially beneficial. Since resuming in-person youth programs in February, FWC has seen an overflow of youth attendance, as students are trained in spiritual formation and life skills from a Christ-centered perspective.

“So many of our youths live with single grandparents, so we are getting them CPR certified; we’re hoping to partner with banks in our community for money management and investment training that underprivileged youths do not typically get exposed to; and after each study, we provide PPE and sanitizers and send them home with snacks,” said Rev. Rodgers.

As difficult as the past year has been for local churches and nonprofits, FWC has seen the pandemic as a catalyst for Unleashing a Kingdom Force through the partnership of laity and clergy. Through the ministry of serving, neighboring and listening to their community, countless people have been brought to Christ or rededicated their lives. FWC recently baptized two new believers from the youth group and is figuring out the logistics of planning a child dedication for the 46 children whose families have recently committed their homes to serving Christ.

As they look toward the future, Rev. Rodgers asks readers to pray for “continued ways to bring people to Christ and provision for the day,” and for vision as they eye a possible new campus around Cleveland, Ohio.

For more information about how the Spirit is Unleashing a Kingdom Force through The Wesleyan Church, click here.

Rev. Ethan Linder is the hospitality, college and young adult pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana.