Sharing food and love with church neighbors

Date Posted: 2/24/2022

By Lindsay Peyton - En Español

Meeting the neighbors was a top priority for Roig Calzadilla after being appointed Associate Pastor at Revive! UMC in Pasadena a year ago. “Some of them thought our church was closed,” he recalled. “I said, ‘No, not at all.’” In fact, the name Revive! resulted from a transformation of the church formerly known as First UMC Pasadena. And in its new incarnation, the congregation was especially dedicated to bringing new life to its members and surrounding community.
If neighbors did not know even the church was open, how could they join or take advantage of the congregation’s services, Calzadilla wondered. He realized a new approach was needed.
For instance, the church had a food distribution program. “But that required the community to come to us,” Calzadilla said.
And for residents of a nearby apartment complex, that was simply not an option. “It was in the morning, and many people had to work at that time,” Calzadilla explained. “We decided to meet them in their homes instead.”
The pastor met with the manager of the apartment complex to ask permission to reach out to residents. “She opened the door for us,” Calzadilla said. “Then, we had the greenlight, we started to knock.”
Every Thursday, church members went from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. to serve the same apartment complex, starting in May 2021. The volunteers brought toys for children and bags of food for the families.
“After that, we told them, we want to pray for you,” Calzadilla said. “We asked, do you have a specific prayer request?”
Residents welcomed the church with open arms. “Many people were waiting for us every week,” he said.
Now, seven months later, 40 residents of the apartments have since joined the church.
“We didn’t just want to give away food; we wanted to build relationships,” Calzadilla said. “That takes time. We take time to talk to the people, to pray with the people. And we’ve had very good results.”
Pastor Arturo “Artie” Cadar explained that FUMC Pasadena had made several attempts to reach the community with robust programming, before transforming into Revive! 
“The community came and went but staying connected to them in a way that they could relate to us as family was still an area of opportunity for us,” he said. “So, when we showed up, food bag in hand, every Thursday afternoon, they knew we wanted a closer relationship with them.”
Now the church has truly become part of the neighborhood, Cadar said. “We came to their homes, and they are now part of ours,” he said. “Now, we're family and no longer just acquaintances!”
Thursday nights at the apartment complex have basically become a new home church, the pastor explained. A few of the residents have to work on Sundays, preventing them from attending sermons. Instead, they rely on the church’s visit.
Next month, Revive! plans to expand its outreach. The food distribution will move to another neighboring apartment complex. The church will offer meet-up, conversations and prayer at both locations.
Calzadilla coordinated a similar neighborhood program while pastoring in Cuba, an effort that resulted in the establishment of 70 home churches.
He wanted to launch a similar effort while ministering at Servants of Christ UMC. “Then COVID hit and closed everything,” he said. “When I was appointed here at Revive! I wanted to know the community and that’s how it all started.”
Serving neighbors is essential for the life of a church, Calzadilla explained. “I think that the church needs to speak less and do more,” he said. “The best way people can see Jesus’ love is in our works and our acts.”
For clergy who would be interested in starting a similar ministry, Calzadilla shared that getting it off the ground is simple. “You just need two or three people to come,” he added. “You need the will to do it – and that’s it.”
This experience is proof that the church must stretch beyond its walls, Calzadilla said. Now, neighbors are more aware of the congregation – and its dedication to serving the community. And that’s already paid off with a growth in membership.
“I believe that when you are the pastor of a church, you are the pastor of a community as well,” Calzadilla said. “This is a huge opportunity to open up our church to our neighbors. We are just starting – and we are so excited to see what the future holds.”