Vitality Through Creativity: Collaboration Creates “Community Hub”

Date Posted: 8/28/2014

KIPP Houston’s new campus for underserved students sits next to the Gethsemane campus of St. Luke’s UMC, Houston, on a combined 15 acres. The church is one of the collaborative partners in a unique group focused on shared assets designed to create long lasting impact for residents of the diverse neighborhood.
The 6800 Partnership model for community revitalization is being called the “new normal.” KIPP Charter School, the church, and a half dozen other groups have formed the 6800 Partnership which will develop a community center to house a new YMCA, a Legacy Health community clinic, a youth center, the Houston Center for Literacy and other services. Rachael Goydan, the Lay Leader at SLUMC who sits on the 6800 Partnership Board along with Sr. Pastor Dr. Tom Pace, says, “We are so excited to help create a ministry community bigger than we could do on our own! This is destined for exponential impact!” Rev. David Horton, new pastor at St. Luke’s Gethsemane Campus in southwest Houston adds, “Our entire city block is becoming a ministry complex as we partner with other nonprofit organizations to help families in the immediate area succeed. Our longtime church members have seen the neighborhood change and are getting very excited about thinking differently, and more creatively, about ministry.”
The group has been following a revitalization model called “Purpose Built Communities,” developed in the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta. This organization has provided ongoing consultation to the 6800 Partnership throughout its early development. Additionally, start-up funding and leadership for the project has come from the Grant Me the Wisdom Foundation, a private family foundation.
As a first step, the dreams of this collaborative group are being captured in architectural drawings of what this community hub might offer area residents. Organizers are even imagining a complex that would include a restaurant, bank and mixed-income housing.
The Potential for the Gethsemane Campus
This “hub” will leverage existing church ministries such as the community garden, Christian Community Service Center Food Bank and anti-gang outreach and mentoring. This summer Gethsemane hosted space for The Houston Center for Literacy to offer adult English, GED and computer literacy classes. Enrollment is expected to expand this fall “We are also excited about the prospect of offering parenting classes on the church campus, another program that will bring hope and help to people who might not otherwise set foot near a church,” adds David.
“Our church is providing the spiritual component to this community revitalization effort,” notes Geovanna Huffman, pastor of multi-site ministry for St. Luke’s. “All of the partnership groups are meeting now to determine how to best develop a shared list of activities and services specifically for the residents in a defined target zone around our church.” Rachael sees how this initiative is creating a sense of partnership and a bigger-picture-view of ministry that also revitalizes the church. “There is a buzz within both church campuses about creating a web of caring around the students, teachers and families in this area because it gives us a clear sense of focus and new ways to use our church building to help others.”
Dr. Pace says the leaders of this project are clear about the goals.  “It isn’t simply to get more people to participate in our various projects, but really to increase the vitality of the neighborhood so that it is a community people want to be a part of.  Over a ten year time line, we want to improve graduation rates, dramatically improve community health and wellness, strengthen economic investment, grow family income, and increase active participation in the spiritual communities that hold a neighborhood together.  We talk about ending generational poverty in this neighborhood together, and by that we don’t mean just poverty of money, but poverty of spirit as well.”   
He adds, “At St. Luke’s, we talk a lot about apostleship instead of simply discipleship, being sent by God into our city to both proclaim the good news and be the good news.  We want to turn the church inside out.  That is what this is about.  We just want to be a small part of living into Isaiah’s prophecy that God will repair the ruined cities…”