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United Methodists rejuvenating outreach efforts with Hands Across the City event

 Paul R. Kopenkoskey | The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND
RAPIDS — The Rev. Julie Dix is well aware United Methodists have lost
too much of their verve for sparking social justice in the
neighborhoods where their churches reside.

Dix, executive director of United Methodist Metropolitan Ministry, is counting on Saturday’s Hands Across the City to change that.

Collaborating with the Grand Rapids Parks Department, Friends of
Grand Rapids Parks and the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association, the
one-day outreach has amassed nearly 300 volunteers from 19 local United
Methodist congregations. It’s designed to gather people from all walks
of life to work together to make an impact on the community.

They plan to converge at 8:30 a.m. at Garfield Park to build a new
KaBOOM! Playground. A ribbon-cutting ceremony, worship service and
concert free to the public is slated for 2 p.m. Other volunteers will
be assigned to remove graffiti, rake, haul mulch, paint and clean 11
other city parks.

KaBOOM! is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that helps build
playgrounds with community participation. Its ultimate goal is to
create play areas within walking distance of every child in America.

United Methodists have a long tradition of working for social justice causes, Dix said, an effort that has waned over the years.

The inaugural Hands Across the City that includes a citywide
“rethink church” billboard campaign is a stepping stone to regain that
heritage, Dix added.

“There’s a core within our denomination, our spiritual DNA, that
says Sunday is important but every other day of the week might be more
important,” said Dix. “We’re passionate about the church recovering our
identity as a movement.”

Hands Across the City departs from an annual combined worship
service that involved all the United Methodists churches in the metro
Grand Rapids area, said Valerie Mossman-Celestin, a member of the
denomination’s urban ministries task force.

As attendance for the combined service waned, brainstorming ideas arose to engage United Methodists and the community.

Initial plans to contain Saturday’s outreach solely to Garfield Park
were scrubbed in favor of widening its influence, said
Mossman-Celestin. That plan congealed when a member of the task force
said they knew Steve Faber, executive director of Friends of Grand
Rapids Parks. Faber has a cadre of park volunteers he can deploy, she
said.

“As a committee, we decided it would be better if we could have a
presence across the city and not only in one location, which opens up
to broader participation,” said Mossman-Celestin. “That’s how it moved
into the (other) parks. We wanted it to be a collaborative process
rather than just something from the United Methodist church.”

E-mail the author of this story: localnews@grpress.com

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