Downtown 'mission field' is right outside church's door
by Kaye Hult
First Presbyterian Church in Coeur d'Alene is following their pastor's lead to see the downtown that's right outside their door as their mission field.
When Craig Sumey answered the call to pastor that church in 2011, he was excited that it was downtown. He could walk out the door and begin interacting with all sorts of people—from people in business to people struggling to make it. He wanted engagement with the Coeur d'Alene community to be a focal point of his ministry.
"What I'm doing is done by me along with this church," he said.
"Where we are located, everything is happening in our front yard," he said. "We have to take advantage of it."
First Presbyterian Church had gone through four decades of slow, steady decline. Many members were ready for a change.
"The people in the congregation were open to innovation, to a different kind of leadership," he said.
"They were receptive to the leading of the Holy Spirit."
The church had a robust outreach program. They hosted a Thursday ecumenical lunch for those in need. A rotation of churches provided the food.
They had a clothes closet. Their clothing give-away, a back-to-school event, had grown. This past fall, they served about 400 families, he said.
The church partnered with St. Vincent de Paul in outreach to the poor and participated in the ministry of Family Promise.
Craig identified a problem: downtown was changing.
"When I came, I saw there was a different demographic," he said.
Initially, he joined the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association, allowing him to learn about relationships, context and mission.
"Our task as a church is to learn the lament of the place," he said, meaning the long-term passion, grief or prayer.
Joining a group forming CdA 2030, a visioning endeavor, he learned more about the economic and social needs of Coeur d'Alene.
"Participating in the Chamber's Leadership Program 2013 gave me great insight into what makes the community tick," he said.
Joining the United Way board, he learned about an emerging group, ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed."
ALICE people comprise about two-thirds of the middle class. They have homes and jobs and are an active part of the tax-paying community, but they have to make hard choices about how to spend their money.
"Most people looking in from the outside don't see the challenges," Craig said. "A little less than half of the city's population lives month to month."
He began chairing the chamber's ALICE Task Force, which includes nonprofits, education, private and public sectors, health care and child care. It meets to learn the needs and advocate for the ALICE population. They have asked for the CityLink bus routes to provide stops closer to work places.
They set up a program called Bank On to provide personal finance classes—taught by professionals from financial institutions—to help people become "bankable" again.
They created an Early Care and Education Task Force to work on affordable, accessible child care from employers, as well as to provide support and resources for home-based child care.
First Presbyterian Church ran a child-care program, called "Glory Be," but ended it because costs were prohibitive.
"It takes a whole community to figure this out," he said.
After three years of chairing task forces, he is ready for a change.
He is joining a community advisory committee called Envision CdA. They will seek community input on zoning, economic development and city planning to create an updated plan.
"I look forward to bringing what I learned about the ALICE population into the mix," he said.
The focus question for the Envision CdA is: What will the community need for the next 10 to 20 years? They seek to discern how an area can be renewed.
"What do we do about what's happening in already developed areas as they recycle themselves?" he asked. "What about commercial development? What about businesses and industry?
"These issues affect everybody," he said. "If you force the ALICE population to move from a city, it affects business costs in higher wages. It affects their commuting costs. We want those who work here to live here.
"The opportunity is now to set up a good balance in the future," Craig said.
"The ALICE population doesn't have time. They work a couple of jobs, need to deal with family issues and the stress they experience leads to social problems. They don't have much influence, much 'band width' to involve themselves. It's up to the ALICE Task Force and others to advocate for them," he said.
When Craig began working with the church to determine his role, he asked people around the area for their input. They said, "We want you to be involved, to be a neighbor."
"My community involvement is not extra. It's an essential part of my call," Craig said.
"Within the congregation, we're called to raise up disciples of Jesus, to worship and to care for each other," he said. "However, God is working in the world, and we need to join God there."
People within the church engage in the community in their own ways as they support Craig's engagements.
His passion for the local church began as he was growing up in Kansas City, Kan., in a white middle-class suburban community. He attended Village Presbyterian Church, a congregation of about 7,000. He grew up in its children's and youth ministries.
At Baker University in Baldwin City, Kans., he became involved with youth ministry. In that work, his call came. After he graduated in 1989, he went on to earn a master of divinity degree in 1992 from Princeton Theological Seminary. He was ordained as associate pastor for youth in the Presbyterian church in Atchison, Kan.
From there, he helped start a new Presbyterian church in Lincoln, Neb., and then was associate pastor of a church in Lakeland, Fla., for 12 years. He came to Coeur d'Alene in 2011.
Craig has been married to his wife Lynn for 26 years. They have two young-adult children, who are active at First Presbyterian Church. Lynn is coordinator for Ready! for Kindergarten, run by United Way. It provides classes to help parents prepare their children for school.
"In Idaho, we are struggling to find resources to create tomorrow's work force," Craig said.
The state does not offer pre-kindergarten or kindergarten. Many children come to first grade without resources to do well.
Such observations help churches find their niche.
"I realize local churches must remake themselves, or they will fade away," he said.
"Churches have been locked into habits that aren't working," he said. "In local, medium-size churches, there's connection. There's great DNA that has grown up over the years. What can we do about this, so the churches continue?"
Craig believes existing churches have much to offer. They need to find ways to evolve so they can continue and be vital parts of the neighborhoods and communities right outside their doors.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree,January, 2020