Joining Hands to feed body and spirit

Editor's note: When a discontinued congregation vacates its campus because of declining membership, it may seem like a death knell. But some hear a clarion call to keep God's work in the house. This is the third in a series of stories about church campuses retooled to continue ministry in the afterlife of a departed congregation. Look for more examples in the weeks to come.


HOLIDAY -- More than five years ago, church leadership at Community UMC made a transformative decision to close the church and create a nonprofit social service agency with a mission to aid the homeless population.

Facade of Joining Hands Community Mission in former church building
Joining Hands Community Mission feeds body and spirit as a Metropolitan Ministries site that also has worship services on Sundays. Photos from Joining Hands.

Rev. Dan Campbell, who became pastor in 2005, says the church had a long, successful history with nearly 1,000 worshipers in the 1970s. But the demographics changed over the years as low-income families with children settled in the area. There were increasing numbers of homeless individuals and families.

Campbell says, "It became a question of how do you change in an area of poverty and make it self-sustaining?"

The answer was to replace Community UMC with the Joining Hands Community Mission, which has evolved into the Pasco County outreach center for the nonprofit Metropolitan Ministries. The center provides a range of services, including clothing, emergency assistance, a health clinic and job search assistance. The former church sanctuary is home to a new congregation adopted as a mission project by the Florida Conference’s Gulf Central District.

Together, Joining Hands and Metropolitan Ministries share one campus at 3214 U.S. 19, Holiday. Campbell now is director of development for Metropolitan Ministries in Pasco.

The entities operate separately but work together to coordinate events and activities to reach out to the community.

"We work well together," says Rev. Mary Ashcraft, the part-time local pastor for Joining Hands. "We've been able to help each other. It's been a good relationship."

Volunteers working in kitchen preparing food
Volunteers in the kitchen at Joining Hands Community Mission prepare to serve breakfast to 200 or more people on a Sunday morning.

Every Sunday, Joining Hands church serves free breakfasts for as many as 240 people. Afterward, a worship service and Bible study are held with about 120 to 140 attending, Ashcraft says.

No one who comes for breakfast is required to stay for the service, but Ashcraft says all are welcome.

"It's been a slow but steady process," she says.

Many who come for breakfast and worship live in the woods surrounding the campus or in nearby motels.

Metropolitan Ministries provided a full kitchen in the former church building for preparing the meals. In addition to Joining Hands' Sunday breakfast, Metropolitan Ministries serves hot meals on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings and often delivers meals off site to locations in Pasco. And there are plans to start a culinary school on site.

Metropolitan Ministries also has plans to build two buildings with a total of 24 apartments to serve as traditional housing for the homeless.

"It's quite a remarkable story," Campbell says of the partnership. "It is a model, and there aren't many models out there that are successful like this one is."

-- Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa.

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