Category

Being an Urban Church

September 17, 2019

Last fall, local counselor and Charlotte Observer contributor Justin Perry came to our church to speak on educational equality in Charlotte as part of our Color and Character book study.  After his presentation, I asked him what he thought was the most important thing we could do to support Westerly Hills Academy. He said, “Watch Resilience.”

We can do what Justin Perry suggested on Sunday, September 22, beginning at 5 p.m. in Wood Fellowship Hall, when we’ll have a free viewing of Resilience. This documentary is about how trauma impacts both our mental and physical health, and how we gain the resilience needed to recover from the trauma.

What, exactly, is trauma? In a brochure from Presbyterian Psychological Services, various experiences that qualify as “trauma” include:

  • Abuse/neglect
  • Incarceration
  • Mental illness or substance abuse in the family
  • Divorce
  • Witnessing domestic violence or a violent crime

My heart sank when I read this list. Here is what those experiences look like in the lives of people I’ve encountered recently through my work here at First Presbyterian:

  • A church member told me that dad was being released from prison soon, and asked for prayers, as they were nervous about the transition.
  • A BELL scholar whispered to me that her family was moving because there were “too many bullets” in their neighborhood.
  • Another BELL scholar was late because a man showed up at their house the night before with a gun.
  • A nine-year-old I’ve tutored was dropped off at his dad’s house by his mother, who said, “I’m done with him” and never returned.
  • Many young scholars and students I’ve tutored that have brothers and sisters who have died.

There are experiences on this list that many of us will never have to deal with. But there are plenty that we do experience, despite our “privileged” status:  substance abuse, mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, divorce. When it comes to traumatic experiences, Father Gregory Boyle’s words come to mind: “There is no us and them.  There is only us.”

Marc Dickmann, who is currently the Director of Education for Freedom Communities and has been a longtime west Charlotte advocate, told me recently that  he thought the biggest need in west Charlotte was “trauma support.”

Watching Resilience together on Sunday evening is a great place to begin understanding this piece of the equation called trauma and how we can care for one another, for our community and ourselves.

– Heather Herring, Child & Family Partnership Coordinator

Details: Sign up here for the free documentary, accompanied by a light meal, on Sunday, September 22, 5 p.m. The movie is suitable for middle school youth through adults. An elementary program, Identifying Emotions, will be offered concurrently. Preschool care will be provided at no cost but registration is required. We will also have the opportunity following the film to be part of small group conversations led by experts in outreach and advocacy, understanding stress, mindfulness and meditation and movement as a stress buster.

 

August 7, 2019

Once a month, member Sue Loeser spends an afternoon volunteering in First Presbyterian Church’s Loaves and Fishes pantry. Here is one of her experiences from last spring.

Empathy was on my mind in April when I helped Jane (not her real name) as she shopped for her family of six. Jane was my dream client because she liked to cook and was searching for healthy options. We were offering several fresh vegetables that day, and Jane used her points to “buy” everything fresh.

Jane was especially excited about an extra-large bag of salad greens she chose, exclaiming, “My daughters love salad…they will be thrilled!”

Just then, another client entered the vegetable aisle, engaged in a discussion with a volunteer about what that client might like. He spied Jane’s bag of salad greens, pointed to it and said, “I’d like one of those!”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I told this second client. “We had just two bags of salad greens and that’s the last one.”

That would have been the end of it, except beside me Jane smiled and said to the young man, “If you give me a bag, I’ll give you half!”

Wow.

If you give me a bag, I’ll give you half.  You have no idea how often I’ve wondered if I would share my family’s desperately-needed food—food I couldn’t replace—with another person in need.   I can’t say for sure I would.

The people who come to a pantry are screened by the Loaves and Fishes organization. Their need is documented, their visits to a pantry are limited, and they have a referral for our FPC pantry that specific day. No walk-ins are allowed.  The system is well-organized. As a volunteer, I help clients select items from different food groups, using their family size to determine how many points (i.e. currency) they have in each food group.

As we shop together, I talk to my clients about food, and sometimes they move on to stories about their life and family.  What I hear is often heartbreaking.  While we bag their selections, it’s not uncommon for a client to weep with relief and gratitude on seeing all they have to take home to their family.

Yet, in spite of their need, a client like Jane is not rare. I often hear clients say, “I have enough (vegetables, fruit, etc.) so I won’t take any more.”  It would be easy to assume they refuse the items because they can’t carry more cans on the bus, or they don’t have storage at home.  But almost always the client adds, “Leave it for the next person.”

I started volunteering at Loaves and Fishes because I wanted another service opportunity, and I thought the distribution team’s camaraderie would be fun. (And it is!) What I didn’t expect was an education in sacrificial generosity.

—Sue Loeser

April 26, 2019

At 8:15 a.m. on a recent rainy Saturday, the guys at the Furniture Bank were preparing to make deliveries to two different households, a middle-aged man and an elderly woman. When I say rain, I mean serious rain! FPC’s Moving Ministry was on the scene, loading furniture, talking with the Furniture Bank team, who have become friends–real friends, with a genuine appreciation for one another. As we made our way to the two locations, the rain never let up. When we arrived, the look on the faces of the residents who were waiting for their furniture to arrive was nothing less than thankful surprise.

Think of this: not long ago, the two people now living in these two homes would have been outside in the rain, trying to find warmth and shelter under building structures, bridges, cardboard boxes, or just laid out wet and freezing on a city park bench.

To be able to follow through and make those deliveries in the rain was a reminder that God shows up even in one of his downpours!

The feeling of total thankfulness exhibited by the people who we helped that day was beyond words. We all felt it. To say “God bless you” as we left was as much a blessing to them as it was to us–we sure had been blessed.

The Moving Ministry invites you to be part of this awesome outreach ministry on the second Saturday of every month–our next delivery will be on May 11. It’s easy to sign up online, or just show up at 9 a.m. at the Crisis Assistance Ministry Furniture Bank, 333 Dalton Avenue.

I personally would love to see 20-somethings, 30-somethings, youth and anyone else bring their energy to this ministry that has operated for more than five years now. We grow each time we connect with our neighbors and with each other, and this program is definitely a place for great conversations.

If you’d like to read more about how deeply this experience touches the people involved, here’s an article that really demonstrates what I see every month. In my experience, the Moving Ministry is the best 90 minutes you will ever spend on a Saturday morning.

– Michael White

March 29, 2019

This year’s Easter Sunrise service at Romare Bearden Park will be at 7 a.m. on April 21. About a dozen churches and a community choir are expected to participate. Gail Henderson-Belsito, Director of Worship at Caldwell Presbyterian Church and a member at First Presbyterian Church, will preach. Breakfast pastries and coffee will be available at the park during fellowship after the service.

Participating churches are Caldwell Presbyterian, Center City Church, Core Church, First Presbyterian, First United Presbyterian, Grier Heights Presbyterian, M2M Charlotte Worshiping Community, Myers Park Presbyterian, St. John’s Baptist, St. Luke Missionary Baptist, Statesville Avenue Presbyterian, The Avenue and Trinity Presbyterian.

Visit the event page on Facebook and post any questions that you might have, and let us know you’re coming!

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.