Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of stories about congregations engaged in significant outreach and evangelism ministries, reflecting the General Assembly’s commitment to “Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide.” — Jerry L. Van Marter
Organizing 400 Presbyterians scattered throughout eight small churches within a four-mile radius can be a challenge. But with more than 700 combined years of Presbyterian witness, a bit of imagination and a lot of prayerful planning, churches here have designed PUN — Presbyterian Urban Network.
“The Presbyterian Urban Network is a consortium of eight small urban congregations, which began with the pastors gathering in the fall of 2005. All the congregations have memberships under 100,” wrote the Rev. Jack Hodges, recently retired general presbyter at the Presbytery of the Cascades and part-time pastor at Kenilworth Presbyterian Church in Portland. “These congregations covenanted together as an alliance for program renewal, pastor peer support, and developing fresh ministry within their particular communities.”
“At its core, our Presbyterian system is connectional,” Hodges wrote. “Through PUN, we hope to become a resource of renewal for our small congregations, a network for transformation, mutual strengthening, program and service development.”
For PUN to minister in the city, the planners needed to have members of each church get to know each other.
Therefore, they began organizing summer PUN in the Park picnics set in a neighborhood close to one of the churches. On several occasions, homeless people were part of the experience.
The churches also host periodic PUN Feast and Fun programs, which include a meal, a program with leadership and community development and a brief time of worship. One program included the commissioning of PUN’s parish nurse, Judy Hubbard, who visits the congregations on a regular basis.
In addition to getting to know each other, the congregations also focus on innovations. In its covenant, PUN members agreed to serve as an alliance for program renewal, pastor peer support and fresh ministry within their particular communities. As a result, several have set up play parks for preschoolers, and others have begun a neighborhood health care clinic, study centers and after-school programs.
Below are brief descriptions of some of the congregations’ participation in PUN:
- Eastminster is pastored by the Rev. Brian Heron. Several years ago, another small congregation melded into Eastminster, and there has been a need to discern the direction of the congregation. Part of Eastminster’s involvement in PUN is having parish nurse Judy Hubbard on a regular basis each month.
- Northminster’s pastor, the Rev. Bill Van Nostran, uses his prior experience from working outside the church to serve the community. The church offers a daycare program for children and a free chair yoga class for seniors. Very early in PUN’s organization, Northminster was involved in Hubbard’s work as parish nurse.
- Kenilworth has seen many changes in both the physical plant and its outreach to the community. This fall, the church started an early education preschool under the guidance of a professionally trained teacher. Vespers at Five is a gift to the neighborhood in which a variety of musical groups offer a free concert. The church also has a community garden next to its parking lot, and community groups are using it to reach out in the neighborhood.
- Colonial Heights is under the leadership of the Rev. Linda Stewart-Kalen, who has a background in social service work. One PUN event was FROG (Fred Rogers Outreach Grants) efforts in which each of the churches did something to better connect with their neighbors. Outreach to immediate needs in the Colonial Height area was among this congregation’s efforts.
- The Presbyterian Church of Laurelhurst has the leadership team of Pastor Greg Ikehara-Martin and Elder Beth Keyes working in Christian Education. Each summer, the youth combine with a Lutheran youth group for a major mission trip. The church also has been open to groups for clothing or toy swap meets. The articles left over are given to local charity groups.
- Piedmont is led by the Rev. Sarah Lewis. Outreach to youth and children in the neighborhood through after-school programs is key for the congregation, which also offers a play park for preschoolers.
- Grace has just changed pastoral leadership, with the Rev Matt Hilgaertner settling in to the leadership role. The church also is the host for the meeting of Hispanic Rose of Sharon Foursquare Church several nights a week.
The other member of PUN is Calvary Presbyterian Church.
PUN is no joke, but instead is some 400 Presbyterians working together to share the good news through this form of urban strategy. As Hodges said, “Paul writes to the Corinthian Church: ‘the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.’(1 Cor 12:22)
“The seemingly insignificant is crucial in God’s Kingdom,” Hodges said.
Bud Frimoth is a retired Presbyterian minister and clown and is author of the award-winning book “Bring in the Clowns: A Metaphor for Ministry.”