Home Church Making the best use of church space

Making the best use of church space

by PRIDE Newsdesk
Clergy members gather in prayer during a vigil at McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville to grieve and remember people lost to acts of racism. (photo by Mike DuBose, UM News)

by Jim Patterson

Jacques Brown was waiting at McKendree United Methodist Church in downtown Nashville, but not for a church service.

“I’m here to get help with some clothes and stuff,” Brown said. “I’m homeless right now, so I’m trying to get all the help I can get. Somebody told me about this program with this church right here, so that’s why I came over.”

Like many folks waiting to take their turn in McKendree’s Clothes Closet on Sept. 29, Brown had an air of weary resignation about him—but also a faint, defiant hope about his future.

Up until a couple of years ago, Brown, who grew up in a Nashville housing project, had worked his way up to managing a White Castle burger joint and had a wife and a home.

“I had everything, but me and my wife…you know how it goes…going through a divorce and stuff,” he said. “I go to other churches, too. They do showers, let you wash your clothes, help you with housing, identification and all that type of stuff.”

Although ministries like the Clothes Closet have been going on forever in churches, loss of members in recent times is leading church leaders to use thousands of square feet of otherwise wasted space to expand their reach further into the community. At the same time, McKendree is working to grow its membership by experimenting with smaller ministries that meet outside the church building in coffee shops and the like.

“When I got here in 2009, the third and fourth floors [of the church] were vacant,” said Rev. Stephen Handy, pastor of McKendree. “Those were historically Sunday school classes. But as the congregation aged over time, those Sunday school classes went away.”

Handy and other church leaders decided that the space should be repurposed to serve the community. Some of that is being done by the church itself, while McKendree partners with other entities better prepared to offer other services.

“The prerequisite was it had to be nonprofit and it had to align with our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world,” Handy said.

Today, McKendree uses church space to provide free haircuts, house and help 18- to 24-year-olds who have aged out of foster care, offer a temporary place to live for missionaries who serve in the city, feed people, provide medical and dental checks in collaboration with United Methodist-related Meharry Medical College and operate the Clothes Closet.

Monday through Friday, 90% of the McKendree church building’s 46,425 square feet is being utilized with some sort of ministry, Handy said.

“We’re just reclaiming our roots,” Handy said. “It’s part of our history that we had abandoned through wanting to be this upper middle-class church, when God has called us to be examples of Jesus to connect with the marginalized.

“If you’ve got to be in a downtown urban center, you have to connect with the marginalized, and probably 20% of our congregation are marginalized people.”

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