(Amy Jahn de Torres is the author of this post and was very instrumental in making this summer program work! This story is a wonderful example of being aware of what is happening beyond the church doors – identifying the needs and places where God is already present and partnering with others to strengthen the ministry in the community.)
It’s a Friday afternoon and the church is messy. There are footprints on the bathroom floor and drips of water on the mirror. Stacks of paper with the names of 140 children are scattered on tables throughout the Fellowship hall and counting room. Boxes of copies of Eric Carle books, donated by Kohls, are resting in the corner where eager students picked their very own copy to take home earlier in the day. Garbage cans are full of the remains of breakfast and lunch that this group of students consumed during the day. The once-orderly Fellowship Hall is seriously disordered, with tables and chairs askew as a reminder of the end-of-day sign out process that just took place. Empty boxes sit next to the milk cooler, bearing the fingerprints of the adults from McKinley who helped themselves to bags full of bread donated by the local Panera Café. Five adults sit, exhausted, eating popsicles to beat the heat, and reflect on the events of the day.
This is the basement of Christ Lutheran Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania. For seven weeks out of this summer, the building is crawling with students from a summer tutoring-and-arts program, run through College Nannies and Tutors and McKinley Elementary School. The program, which was relocated from the tiny school building due to a roof construction project, has 140 students enrolled, and more than 110 students in attendance each day. They are from McKinley and the surrounding neighborhood, and come for any number of reasons: to continue learning and improving academic skills for the next academic year, to socialize with friends, to interact with the small groups of students and dynamic tutors, to have a complete breakfast and lunch to eat, to be doing something other than sit at home all day.
Christ Lutheran Church and McKinley Elementary School have a partnership that has evolved over seven years. The beautiful—and spacious—church building opens its doors to welcome students and families from McKinley for family involvement events, basketball practice, reading with 1st and 2nd grade students, dance performances and 5th grade graduations. These events could not take place in the tiny school cafeteria, which doubles as their gymnasium. In turn, students from the school help Christ Church whenever they need to set up the gym with tables and chairs for a church function. On occasion, families from the school even make their way into the sanctuary to attend a worship service.
The smudge marks, empty boxes, and garbage remains tell a story of selfless hospitality that needs to be shared. If only every member of the congregation could see the smiles on the faces of these students as they play in the gym each day and scurry around the two floors of classrooms, they would understand. This gift of space is providing these students with a summer where their minds, bellies, imagination and hearts are filled with delight. In the end, maybe the roof project was a blessing in disguise, as the program expands into the beautiful spaces of this old building, and the children and tutors absorb the good news through the very walls, the echoes, the great cloud of witnesses that have similarly scurried through these halls.
Christ Church, we thank you for this gift of space. The impact is immeasurable, the gift hard to quantify, the gesture one of sincere grace-filled love.