Inside the church, the pounding rhythms to a "Fame: the Musical" song resounds as a group of students associated with stageGR rehearse for their June 30-July 1 performances at the Ladies Literary Club.
Hubbub of activity
On other days, the aroma of freshly-baked cookies waft in the air as bakers gather at the Southeast Grand Rapids church to bake a weekly average of 800-plus Pauls' Moms' Cookies that will be sold to benefit Degage Ministries' Open Door Women's Center.
The hubbub of activity continues. Basketball and ping-pong leagues bounce their way to competitive happiness. On other days, the Down Syndrome Association, a La Leche League group, Boy Scouts, youth groups, an after-school program for Congress Elementary School students, apost-partum depression support group through Mom's Bloom, Arts in Motion, an autism support group, and the Grand Rapids Symphonette have found a place to practice and hold their meetings and seminars at TUMC, 1100 Lake Dr. SE.
And there is likely more to come, said Matt Witkowski, community ministries director.
Community partnerships is key
Establishing community partnerships is a recent and key driving force of TUMC, said Witkowski as it continues to establish community partnerships within the neighborhood as a way of letting residents know of resources that are available to them.
The key difference, said Witkowski, is that the church is not trying to be the source of all the answers to the city's needs. That is already being done by the organizations that are already accomplishing such tasks.
"We want people in the community to know the church is active in bringing resources and wants to be part of the community," said Witkowski, who's been on the church's staff since June 2015.
"Churches rush into to solve things instead of listening and finding out how to a partner," continued Witkowski. "We're not rushing in. We're trying some different stuff. It's worth the journey to see what works. It's exciting."
Part of discerning which community partnerships work is interacting with various neighborhood groups, said Witkowski. That includes going-door-to-door and talking with the church's neighbors and chatting with school administrators.
One example of listening is the conversations Witkowski with neighbors who told him they have sold their cars in favor of making it a more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Many of the residents own dogs, which is why bowls of fresh water are available.
It's fluid in the way other community partnerships are established.
"We don't want to create church programming and try to be experts at this stuff," said Witkowski. "We're collaborating with other groups. It's way better for them to come in to talk and we provide the food or the space at a minimal charge. It's a win-win for us and them to be an asset to the community.
"We're still trying to figure out how to market ourselves, how to do those thing, but it's an opportunity to see what is really important," added Witkowski. "What are people picking up on and how to we make this church not necessarily just a place on Sunday?
"Some things are going to fail and some things are going to be fantastic. Let's build on those fantastic things and keep listening. The biggest thing is the church is recognizing the need and wants to be a participant in exploring how to serve families and individuals.