Urban ministry has taken on a new form for several Grand Rapids, Mich., churches as congregations acquire housing near their church buildings and offer it at reduced rent for people willing to focus on building relationships with their neighbors.
Grace Christian Reformed Church established Grace House in 2009. The house, adjacent to the church parking lot, was acquired and renovated by the church with assistance from the VanderWeide Family Foundation. The church provides housing at a reduced rate, and in exchange those residents focus on building relationships with one another, church members, and neighbors.
Grace House residents (l-r): Jason Carrigan, Oliver Carrigan, Erin Carrigan, Karl Westerhof, Emily Derks, Nicole Lenko, Mary Nasca.
None of the current residents had a previous connection to Grace CRC, but as part of their living arrangements, they have become members and contribute to the ministry of the church through Gems, Cadets, and leadership in worship. They also provide volunteer opportunities for long-time church members, such as pairing mentors with neighborhood youths.
Mary Nasca has been a resident since the beginning. She said, “We are a part of the church, and we are totally part of the neighborhood.”
Emily Derks, a Calvin College student who has lived at Grace House for four months, said she was pleased to discover that those living in the neighborhood “serve us as neighbors.”
First CRC, Eastern Avenue CRC, and Creston CRC all host similar houses in partnership with Calvin College’s Project Neighborhood program. In these houses, five to six Calvin students live with a mentor individual or couple.
The students take a course together focused on intentional Christian communities and urban development issues, while committing to community service through the church in their neighborhoods.
Sherman Street CRC is currently renovating a house adjacent to the church, which they purchased using a bequest to the church. The Servants’ House will offer reduced rent to residents who commit to participation in the church’s tutoring program or other service in the neighborhood.