Imagine a new mission center in a farmhouse, housing a new congregation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A). As project co-pastor Shane Whisler puts it, “We asked ourselves: what if you started a church by putting the mission committee in charge?”
Whisler and his wife Pat Felter are leading a new ministry called East Broad Outreach Center in Mansfield, Texas. Their vision for this new church development, supported by Grace Presbytery, Synod of the Sun and the General Assembly Mission Council, is to create a mission center that houses a Presbyterian congregation.
Already they are growing — literally. They’ve planted an organic community garden next to the small farmhouse to add fresh flavor to their food pantry. This summer, the garden helped feed up to six large families a week. “You can’t always tell by looking, but there is great cultural and economic diversity here,” says Whisler. “In some of the newer homes, families are struggling to pay their mortgages. We also know there is large population of veterans around us, some homeless. We’re working with a local VFW post trying to locate them and make sure they feel welcome here.”
Whisler has heard stories of combat veterans who take great comfort in holding a guitar in their hands instead of a rifle. “We could do something like that here. It’s just a matter of us finding the people God wants to reach and being flexible enough to listen to God’s spirit.”
Whisler is quick to credit the vision for this mission center outreach to leadership within Grace Presbytery and a dedicated steering committee that opened the door to him and his wife in October 2010. “The Holy Spirit and mission work, big and small, across our denomination are our inspiration for this approach to church planting,” he says. “The vision for this mission center lined up exactly with what we’d been praying about for seven years,” adds Felter.
In addition to the organic community garden, the mission center offers a “back-to-work clothes closet” for people seeking employment for the first or fourth time in this difficult economy. Word is spreading; folks are making deposits of food and clothing in the plastic bin under the carport. “One woman was so grateful for the food and moral support,” says Whisler, “she told her boss at her part-time silk screening job about us. Two weeks later she delivered 25 custom printed East Broad Outreach Center t-shirts and hats for only one dollar each.”
As Whisler and Felter develop this new faith based community, they are deeply committed to showing peace, justice and love. Their first monthly worship service is on Saturday, October 8. They already host meditation and discussion sessions called Friday Night Candle Lights. They are building relationships with the growing number of folks who aren’t members, who come to the farmhouse to do hands-on mission work. They also host a monthly faith and music exploration event at a local restaurant in this growing city of 60,000. “I was an interior designer in my first life,” says Felter. “I went back to Austin Seminary where I met Shane. When I volunteered for mission work up in Alaska, I thought I’d be a missionary. Turns out I am one in Mansfield.”
Felter has a “bucket list” of things she’d like the mission center to work on, including stopping human trafficking. “I have a hard time keeping up with Pat’s ideas,” Whisler says, to laughter from both of them. “Shane will go out and find community,” she says, “and I’ll organize.”
East Broad Outreach Community is home to three Girl Scout troops who bring additional life to the property. “They held a day camp here that brought 130 girls and volunteers together,” says Whisler. Whisler met a father from one of the Girl Scout Troops when he offered his help. “The father installed an automatic drip irrigation system in our garden and taught me how to add to it.”
Whisler has also developed “a great partnership” with Trinity Presbyterian Church in Mansfield. Using Facebook, he hopes to get additional partners from all over the country to pray for the mission center that houses a worshiping community. “We would also love to host mission teams that could travel here to help develop the property so we can use it to teach core values of environmental stewardship, peacemaking and faith building.” Felter adds. “Come see us at eboc.org.”