Missions Monday: Community Church Without Walls' Story

7/22/2019

Community Church Without Walls (CCWW) is a United Methodist mission congregation located in the West End Neighborhood of Birmingham (South Central District). The CCWW website describes the congregation's ministry context, "At one time, West End was one of the more affluent neighborhoods in Birmingham. Prominent city and business leaders made their home in West End. It was also notorious as a place of white supremacy as Bull Conner, the infamous public safety commissioner who unleashed fire hoses and police dogs on peaceful demonstrators during the Civil Rights Movement, was a Sunday School teacher at a church in this community. Today West End is a poverty-stricken neighborhood with 33% of the neighborhood residents living below the poverty level; 66% of all children live with single mothers. Kids face the constant temptation to join gangs or to use drugs. And yet, many neighborhood residents take great pride in West End; they work hard to make it better. We simply seek to be a church in the community for the community, a church that works with the neighborhood to change lives and better the area around us."

Each day the members of CCWW and their pastors Rev. Caitlin Harper and Rev. Garrett Harper uphold the 200-year tradition of Methodist mission work by partnering with their neighbors. As a mission congregation, CCWW receives support from other United Methodist individuals and congregations.

Read the stories below about the ministry of CCWW to see how the United Methodist connection and commitment to missions continues to changes lives and communities right here in North Alabama.

 

After Teen Pregnancies, A Young Leader Shines

Community Church Without Walls Member Alexus Hunter overcomes struggle to give back to West End

Alexus holds two of her three boys close for a selfie. Thanks to donor gifts, she has the support she needs to be an incredible mother!

Alexus doesn’t always say much, but she pays attention. She joined CCWW when she was a teenager, and she has soaked up every minute.

Witty and well-loved by her peers, Alexus takes the time to connect with people of every generation. When you ask her about the things she’s learned at her time at CCWW, she talks about MawMaw, or Ernestine Washington, the community powerhouse of a woman who passed away in 2016. Ms. Ernestine was not kin to Alexus in any biological way, but Alexus refers to her exclusively as MawMaw.

“MawMaw always said that everybody was family, and I felt like that was important,” Alexus says, “because regardless of your background or where you come from, you’re still family.”

She smiles remembering a time when Ms. Ernestine took a group of teenagers to a nursing home to volunteer.

“MawMaw would have us pass out bags,” she says, “and we got to sit down and talk to some of the elderly ladies. And there was one lady... she grew up in a youth group too, because her parents were never there, and some of us just really clicked with her.”

Alexus is the kind of person who can connect with people of any age. Following in Ms. Ernestine’s footsteps, Alexus pours love and care into children every day. Between her work at Urban Ministry’s after school program and her volunteer work with CCWW’s youth group, Alexus builds relationships with dozens of children and youth from West End.

Life hasn’t always been easy for Alexus. When she got pregnant in high school, she faced judgment and exclusion from friends and adults. When she realized she was pregnant again, she began to sink into depression. The third time, she almost gave up on herself.

Today, thanks to you, Alexus is a healthy mother of three and a leader in the church and her community. With support from her CCWW community, she is employed, connected, loved, and growing as a leader.

“I grew up in the same youth group,” she says, “and I know what it’s done for me, so it’s like watching what I went through in another kid – it’s just magical.”

Alexus is an example of what every ministry hopes to produce – leaders who come back to help grow more leaders. For CCWW, this is our answer to poverty and disenfranchisement in our community: The people themselves. Jesus is already moving in the lives of young people in West End. Thanks to you, CCWW can join the work of Jesus, deploying community members to renew it from the inside out!

 

A Safe Haven for Kids on Halloween Night

Your support gives youth and children in West End a chance at spooky fun without fear

Kordell and Jordan color before supper and a night of Halloween games and crafts. Your support keeps the door open for them and gives them a safe place to be a kid!

On Halloween night, a boisterous crowd of families with young children shuffled to their tables holding bowls of hot chili. After supper, the fun began – relay races, crafts, face-painting, and games.

Earlier that day, the CCWW team wondered if they’d made a mistake by going ahead with Wednesday church. What children would come to church on Halloween night? Still, they gathered supplies, put together activities, and bought candy – a lot of candy – in hopes that a night at church could be as exciting as a night of trick or treating.

When the first few kids arrived, the team was pleased. A dozen kids is worth it! They’ll have a great time and go home happy. Then a few more arrived. Then another dozen or so. And then another dozen. And another. And whole families the team had never met started coming in the door until the building was full of children, youth, and parents all talking, laughing, eating, painting faces, playing games, and making crafts.

Toward the end of the night, one mother pulled Pastor Caitlin aside.

“Thank you for this,” she said. “I don’t feel safe taking my kids trick or treating on my block, so it’s nice to be able to give them a special Halloween night in a place that’s safe.”

This is what church should always be – a place of safety when the world isn’t, like Noah’s ark in the rising flood.

Your support provides stability and hope for our young people. Because of you, kids in West End had a safe place to celebrate and play. Because of you, parents had a weight lifted – they could give their kids the night they looked forward to without fear!

 

Young Adults Take to the Wilderness

Community Church Without Walls retreat gives breathing space to young men from West End

Pastor Garrett Harper and a group of young men rest at a lookout point in the mountains of North Alabama.

How many nights each week do you hear gunshots? How comfortable would you feel to walk down your street after dark? For the young people of West End, the answers depend on which block you live on. Too few of our young adults have had opportunities to get out of the city. Too few have experienced an evening falling asleep to the sound of cicadas instead of sirens.

This spring, young adults from West End had a chance to explore the beauty of nature. Thanks to donor support, Pastor Garrett was able to take these young men into the mountains of North Alabama for a weekend of hiking, wilderness skills, and reflection. Apart from building fires, learning to cook over coals, and taking a plunge in a cold mountain spring, these young men reflected on their identity and their life goals. With just a little time away from the city, these young men found breathing space, peace, and clarity.

 

Leaving Walls Behind

CCWW celebrates Easter in West End Community Garden

Rev. Caitlin Harper preaches at CCWW’s 2019 Easter worship service in West End Community Gardens.

A dozen years ago, a group of friends from Community Church Without Walls and its sister organization Urban Ministry looked at a neighborhood block and saw a new possibility. Most of them had little gardening experience, and folks still laugh about the pitiful harvest of the first year’s planting. Still, it wasn’t long before the dream became a reality.

Today, thanks to donor support, that abandoned block is a beautiful green space that produces fresh vegetables and employs young people from the neighborhood.

What better place could there be to celebrate the resurrection? In what has become a CCWW tradition, each Easter Sunday worshipers abandon the air conditioning and electricity for some old-fashioned, Wesleyan field preaching! This is not just an excuse to get out in the sunshine. Every year, neighbors and passersby join in for worship.

Worshiping outside reflects CCWW’s identity. It is a Community Church – a church of the neighborhood. And it is a Church Without Walls – open to everyone! Easter in the garden provides a chance to meet new neighbors, reconnect with old ones, and introduce passersby to this amazing community of grace.

 


Bicentennial Celebration of Missions

For more than 200 years, Methodists from all continents have engaged in mission work that has transformed the world through the “work of justice, alleviate suffering; build peace; heal the sick; empower women; train leaders; and witness to the kingdom of God.” This year’s bicentennial celebration recognizes the mission work that has been done over the years.

The North Alabama Conference is celebrating the mission work of our congregations and organizations. You are invited to share your mission stories through an article or a short video. Send your congregation's stories to akufarimai@umcna.org.


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