Elizabeth Connelly, the Connections Coordinator for the Synod of the Trinity who specializes in granting, took a trip during the summer of 2023 to get a closer look at some of the outreaches that have received Synod funding. What follows is her first-person account after visiting one of the organizations that received a grant from the Synod recently.
Pastor Dave Edmunds of Elmwood Avenue Presbyterian Church in Erie and church member Art Amann are no strangers to the membership challenges facing churches in our region. In addition, they are equally acutely aware of the many people in our communities that are struggling with hunger, clothing and other basic needs. But how do hunger and membership intersect? This is a question that they are tackling every week at Elmwood.
Through their newly implemented and carefully planned programming called RESET, supported by a Synod grant, they are seeing living proof that an old church can learn new tricks. Each week, Pastor Dave, Arthur and other members of their church crew come together to provide a meal, fellowship and friendship to the residents of Erie. A perfect blend of outreach and worship, RESET’s programming is aimed and reaching the unchurched and the unfed.
In early August I had the privilege of experiencing a RESET evening at Elmwood in person. The front lawn of the church appeared as though a small wedding reception was being set up. Tables adorned in brightly hued table linens and a buffet feast of homemade salads, desserts and pizza from a local shop was prepared and waiting for RESET’s guests of honor, namely the hungry and unchurched.
Slowly folks trickled in, and I watched as they were warmly welcomed. Children were handed sidewalk chalk and invited to brighten the walkways around the church. Adults were informed of a food pantry and clothing closet inside the church if they needed anything, and all were welcomed to God’s table.
Art Amann and his volunteer crew are true masters of hospitality, warmth and humor. A former prison warden, Art has the uncanny knack of making everyone feel seen and heard. I watched as folks were quickly folded into the event, shedding their status of “guest” quickly and seamlessly. Art and his crew joked with the children and welcomed the adults, expressing true interest in each visitor. “All Are Welcome” was lived out repeatedly before my eyes.
After an hour or so of fellowship and warmth, Pastor Dave and a keyboardist and violinist went up front and led their guests through some beautiful contemporary worship songs and then moved into a 10-minute message of God’s love, closing with prayer. Afterwards, a few more worship songs were introduced, and children were given handmade shakers and invited to join Pastor Dave and the musicians in the front. Folks lingered after worship, breathing in acceptance and love and being handed wrapped meal leftovers.
So how did folks in Erie find out about RESET? In addition to the traditional signage many churches put up outside, Elmwood harnessed the power of local media to reach the unfed and unchurched. Running both radio and television ads, they hope to continue bolstering attendance and plan to move RESET indoors during the winter months.
Elmwood’s model for RESET is vibrant, different and making a difference. Interested in learning more about RESET or implementing similar programming? Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Pastor Dave Edmunds (814-864-4809) or Art Amann (email@example.com) directly.