This is the story of a Denver ministry, its connection to two Mennonite Brethren churches and the unexpected way in which God secured the future of Community Ministry of Southwest Denver.
Community Ministry was born 51 years ago when a group of women from Brentwood United Methodist church attended a conference on poverty and affluence in Denver. They discovered that the community surrounding their church was one of the highest poverty pockets in Denver. They decided to take action and in 1968 formed College View Ministry with the help of eight other local churches.
In 1971 the name changed to Community Ministry of Southwest Denver to better reflect the broader service area and partnerships that were taking place between the churches in southwest Denver and the community. Community Ministry focused on a broad spectrum of services including food and clothing banks, tutoring, holiday assistance and a thrift store.
During the first years, the ministry moved several times, to houses and storefronts in the area. In 1990, Community Ministry came to a turning point. Finances were at breaking point, and Community Ministry needed help. St. Andrew Presbyterian Church stepped in, offering temporary space for the food pantry. That became a 10-year partnership and rebuilding time for Community Ministry.
Churches in southwest Denver continued to join the partnership and soon 20 churches where supporting the organization. The biggest frustration was that the services were offered in three different locations. The executive director’s office was at Christ Congregational Church, the food pantry at St. Andrew Presbyterian and a job assistance center was at Westside Christian Church.
All under one roof
In 2000, the board began looking for a space where all the services could be consolidated under one roof and that is when Garden Park MB Church stepped in. Back in 1966 when Garden Park was growing, the church built a gymnasium and classroom building on land adjacent to the church. Garden Park attendance peaked in the mid 1970s and then began to decline. During this time, Garden Park used the building as a community center hosting Head Start, basketball leagues and other events. But by 2000 it was sitting empty.
Joyce Neufeld, Garden Park church administrator, heard about Community Ministry’s need and offered the use of the building. After negotiations and remodeling to accommodate the needs of the food pantry, including the addition of offices and a walk-in cooler on the outside of the building, an 18-year partnership began. In 2011, additional remodeling was done to expand the kitchen and new flooring and lighting was put into the building.
Community Ministry offers a self-choice food pantry, children’s clothing bank, school supplies, holiday food and gifts and assistance with utilities. It also partners with other non-profits to provide wrap-around services such as cooking and nutrition classes through Cooking Matters, pet food with the Colorado Pet Pantry, insurance and senior service with Food Bank of the Rockies, United Health Care and Innovage, and health screenings and referrals with Denver Health and the Inner City Clinic.
In 2009, Garden Park’s Neufeld became Community Ministry’s executive director. After 50 years of ministry to the southwest Denver area, Community Ministry was looking forward to another 50 years of uninterrupted service. Then, Neufeld say, came the unexpected.
First came the decision to close Garden Park MB Church at the end of 2018 after 63 years of ministry due to a declining congregation. Garden Park deeded its properties to Lighthouse Church with the understanding that there would be a long-term lease for Community Ministry as Lighthouse replanted the church in the Garden Park location. The final property transfer took place at the end of December 2018.
Then in early January 2019 Lighthouse received an eviction notice from the church they had been renting from. They needed to make some difficult choices about where to house their growing congregation and found a building within several miles of the Garden Park location. Necessity dictated that they sell the Garden Park properties to fund their new property.
Community Ministry was notified that it would have one year to find a new location and the work began. Community Ministry looked for property in the southwest Denver area that could accommodate the growing programming and still be affordable. At one point the ministry thought it had found a new location, but negotiations broke down and the CM board of directors was left looking again.
In May, Community Ministry asked if it could purchase the property it had come to call home for the past 18 years. A price was set and on July 2019 “Our Home, Our Future” capital campaign was launched to raise $800,000 to purchase the gym, parking lot and do much needed repairs.
Community Ministry reached out to local news stations to make them aware of the need to raise $800,000 by January 31, 2020. The ministry also reached out to past donors and with the assistance of Jared Ewy, director of engagement at name.com, Community Ministry began to reach a new generation of donors.
Six-months, many public appeals, crazy videos, letters, personal asks and grant requests later the $800,000 was been raised.
“There are so many people to thank for their donations large and small … that there is not enough room to thank them all,” Neufeld says, giving special thanks to Denver Office of Economic Development, The Anschutz and Gates Foundations, The Betty Watchous Trust and Christ Congregational Foundation.
“Our greatest thanks go to God for his unfailing love and faithfulness to Community Ministry over the past 51 years,” she says. “Our prayer is that we continue to be faithful stewards of what has been so graciously and generously given to us.”
CL staff with files from Joyce Neufeld
Read a “5 Minutes With…” interview with Joyce Neufeld: https://christianleadermag.com/five-minutes-with-joyce-neufeld/
Read more about Garden Park: https://christianleadermag.com/garden-park-mb-church-dissolves/
Read Pastor Josh Shaw’s essay on Lighthouse Church’s recent journey: https://christianleadermag.com/change-of-plans/