Category

Being an Urban Church

October 10, 2018

September 7, 2018

The final program for this fall’s Opportunity Forum is Wednesday, October 24, when we will hear from a panel from Communities in Schools. The focus for this series is on raising awareness and empowering action for change through first-hand stories of how inequity and racial discrimination affect students in our school system.

Dinner is available for $8 cash or check beginning at 5:15 p.m. The program is in Wood Fellowship Hall, 6-7:30 p.m.

Register for childcare for Wednesday, October 24.

 

 

February 7, 2018

 

You wouldn’t believe what happened at First Presbyterian Church in the wee hours of the morning on February 1.

At 4:30 a.m. on that date, almost 100 volunteers arrived at FPC for the Mecklenburg County annual Point in Time count—an annual snapshot of people experiencing homelessness in our county. This was our fourth year to host the event and it was amazing to see how it has grown.

Point in Time counts happen all over the country in large cities, usually in the middle of winter.  It is a one-night, unduplicated estimate of sheltered and unsheltered homeless populations. Sheltered means that a person was in an emergency shelter or transitional housing at the time of the count. Unsheltered means, sadly, what it sounds like—that a person was on the street or in some other place unfit for human habitation.

Volunteers, bundled up in their warmest gear, gathered in our fellowship hall for a hot breakfast and to pick up the amazing amount of donations collected from individuals and agencies across the city. While out seeking individuals to count, they also handed out sleeping bags, blankets, socks, hand warmers, water and hygiene products.

It makes sense that FPC hosts such an important event, as we are located in the heart of Charlotte and serve the heart of Charlotte. Most volunteers head out our doors and walk to where people sleep on the streets or in outdoor camps. Their work is done by 8 a.m. You would never know they had been here. In that way, their work is not unlike the existence of too many of our neighbors who walk, eat and sleep unnoticed and unaccounted for on our city’s streets.

I am grateful that we are able to use our space and our location in way that embodies Christ’s call to see and to love the most marginalized of our society.

~ The Reverend Erika Funk

Take a look at photos taken in Wood Fellowship Hall during the Point in Time count last week.

You can read the 2017 Point in Time Report while waiting for the 2018 report to be published, usually in early April.

You can learn more about the Point in Time count.

 

You can now visit the landing page for our blog, where you can search previous blog posts by date, category or key word.

January 8, 2018

During an Opportunity Forum last October, Munro Richardson of Read Charlotte challenged our congregation to support literacy at Westerly Hills Academy in one of three ways:  1) help students gain regular access to books by building home libraries, 2) ensure students experience active reading three times per week, and 3) ensure every kindergartener knows his/her letters and phonics by May 2018.

We are putting our energy behind not one, but all three of these challenges—the next one comes up on January 16.

For the next challenge—encouraging active reading—we will sponsor parent dinners and training sessions at Westerly Hills. The first of these is scheduled for Tuesday, January 16, at 5:30 p.m. If you can help with these events, please contact Heather Herring.

Thanks to your generous response to our Christmas Book Drive, we presented each Westerly Hills student with two books to take home on December 18. We plan to add to these home libraries throughout the remainder of the school year. Look for additional collections of gently used books before Spring and Summer breaks.

For the third challenge, FPC members have been working with Read Charlotte and the Westerly Hills administration for two months to develop the curriculum and process around letters and phonics tutoring. We look forward to offering this opportunity to the congregation soon.

 

December 1, 2017

Our friends with the Urban Ministry Center sent us this update from Room in the Inn:

Friends,

Thanks to all hosts and volunteers that stepped up to the challenge of frigid weather over a holiday weekend. RITI usually experiences a downturn of beds available over holidays, but not this weekend. Congregations added hosting nights, added beds to their already-pledged totals…even in one case taking more neighbors at the end of the evening so that no one had to be turned away. And there were still others who could not host yet emailed me to let me know their hearts were with us.

And thanks to the evening teams and to the RITI “saints” (our on-call volunteers), who showed up in force and worked cheerfully with the neighbors under difficult circumstances. And thanks to Officer Mike Warren, who arrived at the Center at 7 a.m. over the weekend to let neighbors in out of the cold, and who worked with staff and neighbors to make the RITI check-in process run smoothly.

Here are the bed totals for the holiday weekend nights:

  • 12/29 – 129
  • 12/30 – 123
  • 12/31 – 143
  • 01/01 – 195!

The cold weather continues through the week, and here are our bed counts as of this morning:

  • Tuesday – 122
  • Wednesday – 158
  • Thursday – 173
  • Friday – 225
  • Saturday – 143
  • Sunday – 104

Half a century or more ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.” Several millennia ago, another man said, “Inasmuch as you have done it to some of the least of these, you have done it to me.” When we offer hospitality to the most vulnerable among us, we are in essence serving the whole of creation…we are honoring the deeper dimension in which we all are united.

Thanks.

Blessings,

Paul Hanneman

 

First Presbyterian will continue its Room in the Inn hospitality on Monday and Tuesday nights through March, 2018. This includes warm beds, warm food and warm hearts. Sign up today to welcome our neighbors.

August 30, 2017

Make a difference in the life of a child this school year by helping out at Westerly Hills Academy.

Heart Math Tutoring: Heart volunteers provide one-on-one tutoring for 30 minutes or an hour each week from late September to early May. Sign up for slots Tuesdays through Fridays, 8:30-9:30 a.m. or 9:30-10:30 a.m. at  www.hearttutoring.org.

Augustine Project Literacy Tutoring: Tutor a struggling reader and become one of more than 130 Augustine tutors in our community who are changing students’ lives, one lesson at a time. Augustine Literacy Project provides free, one-on-one instruction in reading, writing and spelling to struggling low-income students. Training is offered this fall and winter. Sign up online for training.

Success Coaching: Communities In Schools (CIS) volunteers help Westerly Hills Academy students develop skills in goal setting and navigate making decisions. CIS Success Coaches meet with a student weekly (minimum of twice a month) at an established time during the school day. Interested?  Sign up for training online.

Work with one teacher all year: Spend one hour a week getting to know a Westerly Hills teacher and assisting specific students in his or her classroom. You can select the time and day that fits with your schedule.

If you can’t get to Westerly Hills during the school day, there are plenty of other ways to get involved.

Project Backpack: FPC believes no child should worry about where their next meal is coming from over the weekend. Provide a weekly food bag (individually or with a group) for a child at Westerly Hills Academy each week from October May. Four-five bags should be brought at the first of the month and placed in the grocery cart in the hallway behind the sanctuary. Sign up online.

Support a Teacher through the Apple Tree: Contribute to a classroom by purchasing items selected from the PW (Presbyterian Women) apple tree located in the historic lobby. Items are due by September 24.

Community Cleanup Day: Work with staff and parents to make Westerly Hills beautiful from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, October 7. The to-do list includes painting, gardening and a staff lounge makeover. If you can’t make the cleanup day, you can contribute garden soil, Keurig coffee makers (used is okay), K-cups (tea & coffee), curtains, rugs, chairs and paint for bathrooms (bright colors are great and used paint is fine). Items may be dropped off behind the sanctuary through Thursday, October 5. Sign up online.

Serve on a Ministry Team: If you have a passion for our programs but can’t get to Westerly Hills or church during the day, you can contribute by participating on a ministry team! Teams help organize and plan ministries like BELL summer camp, Camp Grier, holiday outreach and Project Backpack.  Contact Heather Herring for additional information.

Contact Heather Herring if you want to know more about any of these ways to support Westerly Hills Academy.

August 7, 2017

Sixty precious scholars left our church campus a few weeks ago, and we are missing them! They brought such joy, energy and light into our church this summer.

I have volunteered with BELL in the past with my children. I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the program and how it benefits the families with whom we partner at Westerly Hills. I know now that I didn’t have a clue. What I learned this summer blew my mind and made me so very proud to be a part of this program and our church.

First Presbyterian Church began hosting BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) six years ago. BELL is a national program, headquartered in Boston and started in 1992 by students at Harvard Law School. The program seeks to serve children in under-resourced communities by providing summer instruction and enrichment.

Each class of 20 scholars (rising K-3rd, so 60 total) begins the day with a hot breakfast, then participates in community time, where they learn about the BELL core values (learning, collaboration, respect and excellence.) Each class receives literacy and math instruction from certified teachers for the first half of the day, reinforced by First Presbyterian member tutors and speech therapists from Charlotte Speech and Hearing. After lunch and playground time, the scholars participate in enrichment activities, such as dance, Legos and science, coding, yola (language-based yoga practice), Reading with Rover, music, cooking, recreation, character education, art and swim lessons. Every Friday is reserved for education-based field trips. This year the scholars went to Dan Nicholas park, Carolinas Aviation Museum, the Charlotte Raptor Center, the play James and the Giant Peach, the Nature Museum and a performance by a magician.

Distracted by all the fun, the children seem to forget they are attending a little bit of school when they are at BELL.

Parent involvement in BELL is also a huge part of the program. Attendance is critical for success, so each family pays a $20 goodwill deposit that is refunded if the scholar misses no more than 3 days. Parents are also responsible for attending an open house and participating in a scholar showcase, where they visit the classrooms, attend an active reading workshop and eat lunch with their scholar. This year 37 families attended the scholar showcase. The scholars were SO excited to read with their parents, and the parents were hilarious pretending to be kids during the active reading workshop. We all know how important parent involvement and commitment are for a child’s success at school, and programs such as BELL help build that vital commitment.

Did you know the lack of learning during the summer causes up to 2/3 of the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers? According to statistics published by Read Charlotte (learn more at www.readcharlotte.org) 96% of third graders reading at grade level go on to graduate high school on time; third graders reading below grade level are four times more likely to drop out of school. At the end of 2016, 72.5% of Westerly Hills’s third graders were reading below grade level, the worst reading scores in all of CMS. 

Last year, our BELL scholars gained reading proficiency rather than backsliding during the summer. This year, our scholars gained again. Clearly, literacy is critical to the success of our city’s children, and this program is a way our church is having a direct, positive impact on the children of Westerly Hills.

Periodically, our BELL program receives a visit from the national Quality Assurance team to be observed and evaluated. Our program remains one of the best in the country, if not the best.  The QA team raved about the standards we set for our program and the amazing enrichment and field trips we offer. The wonderful BELL staff sets the same expectations for the scholars, and they rise to the occasion again and again.

This program requires significant time, money and commitment from our church, but it is so absolutely worth it.  If you have contributed to this amazing program, thank you! I hope you know how valuable that contribution is.  If you haven’t yet contributed, please consider doing so. It costs $1,500 per child to run this program, and we still need to raise money to cover the cost for this summer’s program. Any and every contribution helps to change the life of a child.

I saw just how much every little contribution matters this summer.

– Heather Herring, Child & Family Partnership Coordinator

July 21, 2017

Are you part of one of the many FPC Ministry Teams that are involved in outreach to our neighbors?

If not, let member Michael White give you a quick look at just one of these teams, the FPC Moving Ministry, which helps with the Crisis Assistance Ministry’s Furniture Bank and Relocation program. As Michael says, just a couple of hours on a Saturday morning once a moth means we help “put their stuff in their place and put smiles on their faces” for people who are transitioning from having no place to live to having their own place to live.

 

 

March 24, 2017

For many months now, our Balcony Group has listened for the Holy Spirit in developing a strategic plan for the next three to five years. This group has listened through conversations with our officers; for the wisdom of our past efforts in strategic and long-range planning; during visits to other vital, center-city churches around the country; and during lots and lots of meetings.

The strategic plan they are drafting will be built on our existing shared vision—taking what we do well and enhancing/expanding it so that it moves us into the future.

The draft the Balcony Group is working on now will recommend specific, aspirational, yet attainable initiatives that flow from four objectives, or planks: Welcome, Serving our City, Life Together and Stewardship. As they aim for finishing that draft in April, here’s how the Balcony Group is defining those planks.

Welcome: In a time when there is a trend for people to choose spirituality over religion, our efforts in Christian hospitality matter more than ever. That welcome extends from our worship, to our physical campus, to our use of media and tools for communication.

Serving our City: We will always continue to reach beyond Charlotte—with mission to the world and cities other than our own. But now seems to be a time to pay special attention to being agents of transformation in the center of the city where we were established as a church for this community. To be effective agents of God’s transformation, we have to grapple with and seek to understand what Charlotte’s issues are. One providential piece of timing is that the Economic Opportunity Task Force is set to release its report, which will highlight particular areas of focus in our city that are in need of transformation. We imagine some of our initiatives under this objective will align with part of what the Task Force recommends.

Life Together: Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book called Life Together, which describes what the family of faith looks like when we recognize the gift of Christian community. It is a stark difference from the frenetic, polarized, shallow existence that so often exists without the grounding of Christ’s presence. Initiatives under this objective will help encourage and affirm our life together as a community of every age and stage.

Stewardship: Stewardship is a spiritual practice that must be taught and valued. It does not happen by accident. Stewardship asks us to invest in a future that we do not get to see.  Initiatives in this area will develop strategies to deepen our commitments and diversify our approach.

This plan and this impact begin soon—this year. And our implementation of this plan will set a trajectory that will lead us into our third century of ministry, which begins in 2021. The Balcony Group’s work on the strategic plan will certainly be what the congregation and our neighborhood feel first.  It will energize, focus, and deepen our mission to be for Christ in the Heart of Charlotte.

Watch for a recap of my comments about God’s call to us from the March 12 Town Hall in the April issue of FirstNEWS, which will be available beginning March 26 in the historic lobby and on the website beginning Monday, March 27.

– Pen Peery

March 17, 2017

O Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (Psalm 90:1-2)

We’ve watched so much change from our corner of center city. And we are all so aware that change will continue. Yet, from generation to generation and through every way Charlotte has changed, we have offered a faithful witness to Christ. As we’ve embarked on strategic planning for the next 3-5 years and an exploration of what God is calling us to do with the asset and responsibility that is our Poplar Street parking lot, the big question both the Balcony Group and the West Campus Visioning Committee keep coming back to is this:

How will God use our church as an instrument for proclaiming Good News in our city?

The next step is for the Balcony Group to complete its draft of a strategic plan. That work is in progress. We might expect to have a look at that draft in April. One thing I can say with certainty is that welcome and hospitality will be part of that plan.

Regarding the Poplar Street parking lot, we are still in the process of asking that question, and your feedback continues to inform that process of seeking clarity. In other words, we are several steps away from having concrete initiatives in mind. And timing for any implementation of a plan with implications for the parking lot property may be years away and will be thoroughly evaluated by Session before any action occurs.

Watch for a recap of the four planks of the strategic plan being written by the Balcony Group in next week’s blog, which you can also access from the Now@FPC page on the website. A third follow-up from the Town Hall meeting will be in the April FirstNEWS, available in the historic lobby on March 26.

As these conversations about our future continue, I ask for you to pray for God’s wisdom and for our continued faithfulness in following God’s call to be a witness to Christ in the center of Charlotte.

– Pen Peery