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A Ministry of Abundant Hospitality: Extending a Hand to Open Hearts and Minds

First Presbyterian Church of Scottsburg, Indiana, has dedicated the last ten years to supporting the cause against HIV infection in their county. Recently, they were called upon to help a new cause. Read to learn more about First Presbyterian Church and their Community Ministry Grant project focused upon supporting drug addiction in Scott County.

First Presbyterian Church is a congregation of 40 members located in the small, rural town of Scottsburg, Indiana. For the last ten years, First Presbyterian Church has remained closely involved in their community, helping in the fight against HIV infection in Scott County.

“Several years ago, Scott County was declared as the county with the largest percentage of people with HIV infection in the whole country,” says Carol Dunn, Project Director at First Presbyterian Church. “Thankfully, our county received federal assistance, which helped to handle the problem. However, there was still so much work to be done.”

Inspired to make a change, First Presbyterian Church opened up their parsonage building for those effected by HIV to gather and connect with one another. The congregation also opened up their doors to drug addiction recovery groups. Any group who wished to use the church for meetings was asked to sign contracts and abide by congregation rules. During this time, First Presbyterian Church brought on a new pastor, Reverend Don Summerfield. While he was getting settled at the church, Rev. Don came across a brochure for the Center for Congregation’s Community Ministry Grant. Intrigued by a new opportunity to serve their community’s needs, Rev. Don and Carol attended a meeting with the Center for Congregations.

“After finding out about the process involved with the Community Ministry Grant, we learned that you didn’t have to have a concrete idea for your project getting started,” says Rev. Don. “Your congregation just needed to have a willingness to get out into the community and do some prospecting, so that’s what we did.”

First Presbyterian Church ventured out into their community, talking with the people of Scottsburg about the town’s most pressing issues. Every place they went, members of the congregation heard the same story: Scottsburg needed help addressing drug addiction within their community.

“While we knew our town had these issues, we learned there was not enough being done to address them,” says Rev. Don. “So, we began considering what gifts our church could provide to the cause.”

Ultimately, First Presbyterian Church decided they had two things to give; their facilities and their long-term relationships with the 12-step groups that had been using their parsonage building for weekly meetings. During worship services and session meetings, the congregation began talking about what a lifeline 12-step meetings were for those who struggled with drug addiction. The church reflected upon their tight control over the groups who used their space. In order to make a difference, they felt it was time to loosen the reins.

“We set out to become a ministry of abundant hospitality,” says Carol. “We let go of the mentality that we owned the church. It was God’s space, and we were meant to work in partnership with those recovery groups. Our space was their space, too.”

Sparked by a change in their mindset, First Presbyterian Church began its transformation. Gone were the days of strict rules and contracts. Now, recovery groups could use church spaces simply by signing up via a Google spreadsheet. However, First Presbyterian Church did not stop there. Using assistance from the Center for Congregations, the church converted its old, musty basement into a beautiful facility to support hospitable ministries. Recovery groups moved from the parsonage to the new basement.

“The groups who had previously used our parsonage for meetings described our remodeled basement as a dream come true,” says Rev. Don. “And fortunately, the parsonage did not go under-utilized. A local bookstore eventually moved into the building after losing their long-term lease. It’s beautiful in there!”

Carol describes abundant hospitality as a wonderful, yet challenging thing for all involved. Thus, in an effort to deepen relationships between their church members and recovery groups, First Presbyterian Church began hosting community book reads and quarterly pizza lunches.

“Most people in the community are aware of the issue, but so many of us still want to blame the victims of drug abuse,” says Carol. “Our goal with this project was really to touch people’s hearts and grow their understanding. It has been incredible watching people unite together over a common cause.”

Today, First Presbyterian Church’s facilities are utilized almost every day of the week, hosting recovery groups, ministry gatherings, and community building events. What once was a stagnant space, has now come alive with daily use.

“It’s a miracle how everyone gets along,” says Carol. “Everyone who uses the church is so respectful and courteous of one another. Of course, there is a lot of give and take, but it’s been such an organic experience.”

Despite their grant project ending in May of 2020, First Presbyterian Church continues to serve the recovery community. Their congregation advocates to the city council for programs such as the Scottsburg needle exchange, and church members attend recovery meetings to show their support.

“Our church is full of people with both capability and passion,” says Rev. Don. “All of our recovery groups know we have their back. It’s a real sign of God’s providence that things just clicked.”

Looking to the future, First Presbyterian Church hopes to implement neighborhood cookouts into their hospitable ministry events. Their congregation is exploring the possibility of providing their friends in recovery with shelter, while also offering a health-focused program.

“We can’t say enough about the Center for Congregations,” says Carol. “It’s hard to imagine where we’d be without them. This process changed our minds and hearts. We’ve seen a huge change in our connection to the community, and we are so grateful to have had this opportunity.”