With Third Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, providing the supper and Winchell Public School the dessert, the 17th annual Winchell Neighborhood Picnic served more than 500 people. It is one recent sign that Third CRC and Winchell have bridged the street between them.
Kenneth Baker, pastor of Third, said that there is such a level of trust between the church and the school that the school does not hesitate to ask for Third’s assistance with all sorts of needs. “[The relationship] has been a catalyst for developing a much deeper sense of commitment to our immediate neighborhood,” Baker said. The church’s perspective has shifted from that of a commuter church to “one of the stakeholders in the well-being of our neighborhood. We have become more missional in our thinking and strategy.”
According to Baker, the school, once wary of the church’s intentions, allowed Third to bring in Kids Hope mentors. Now celebrating the 10th year of Kids Hope at Winchell, principal Mike Hughes noted, “As mentors have also built relationships with the school staff, our partnership with the church has become our most valuable and has brought our entire community closer.”
Baker, himself a Kids Hope mentor, said, “Our experience with Winchell has opened up a significant avenue of influence.” Kids Hope director Cyndee Viel reported that the church often provides winter clothing, healthy snacks, plants for student gardens, cheerleaders for a school run, and more.
What began 20 years ago when Winchell’s then-principal came over to meet “new” pastor Baker and invited Baker to join the Winchell School Improvement Team, has opened the church to Winchell families.
Baker noted that these families bring an increased sensitivity toward Winchell as well as more opportunities and challenges for Third’s children and youth ministries. “The blessing this relationship has brought to Third is profound,” concluded Baker.