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Praying in park leads to community collaboration

Praying in park leads to community collaboration

Missions and Outreach
A picnic area in West Melbourne Community Park, where Wesley UMC offers prayers on the fourth Saturday of the month.

When Pastor Doug McClain attended a local National Day of Prayer meeting in West Melbourne a couple of years ago, it gave him an idea.

He gathered about 20 members from the Wesley United Methodist Church and headed to a nearby park on the fourth Saturday of the month. The idea was to pray for the community, its doctors, teachers, children and firefighters.

It seemed like a simple concept—one he wanted to share with other churches in the community. There was no agenda and no politics.

He invited every church in West Melbourne to join. There are nine including Wesley, the second-largest in the area.
Promise Cafe & Bakery in the park provides employment and vocational training to young adults with special needs.
No one took up his offer. Not one church. Not one person.

“I’ve called, sent letters, sent flyers. I wondered if I should stop by the churches and ask to speak to their pastors,” McClain said. “It was really odd to me. I even sent letters saying there is no agenda, we are just praying for elected officials, the fire department, families, children, our schools.”

He just wanted like-minded Christians to gather and pray and get to know one another. The lack of response was disheartening.

The group from Wesley didn’t stop, though. It continued to meet and pray, and things begin to morph.

West Melbourne has just created a new park with an amphitheater, skateboard park and a little water park on one side.

On the other side is the Field of Dreams, a park that caters to people of all ages with special needs. It even has a baseball field and basketball court constructed just for them.

In the middle of this vast park, Promise in Brevard, another nonprofit organization, built a living community for adults with special needs. The apartment-style rooms are like upscale college dorms, most with three bedrooms and common areas.

The master plan called for making West Melbourne a destination for families with special needs, a place that can house them and provide fun activities in which they can participate with special accommodations.

“Through the process, I’ve built a really good relationship with the city and its Parks and Recreation Department,” McClain said.

In the center of the park, the plan was to build a bakery and a café staffed by special needs adults. But the nonprofit ran out of money halfway through construction.

McClain said his church members knew it was a special place, and they did not want to see it fail.
Field of Dreams park, on  the same site as the West Melborne park, provides recreational facilities for people of all ages with special needs.

The city decided to make Field of Dreams part of West Melbourne Community Park, but money was still needed.

The nonprofit needed someone to match funds, but that wasn’t happening.

“We had a lady in the church, who died a few years ago and left us a chunk of money,” McClain said. “She had no family but loved the kids at our church. We took $150,000 of that money and gave it to the group so it could finish the bakery and cafe.”

In return, the church can use the bakery for tutoring and after-school programs. And that’s not where the cooperation stops.

“The city is allowing us to use their amphitheater any time. We will do our Easter Sunrise service and can invite Christian music groups to perform, and our church can sponsor them,” McClain said.

The monthly prayer meetings in the park continue, with McClain and his band of 20 faithful, along with the occasional park visitor and other church members who join.

Everyone will say who they want to pray for and McClain writes it down. Participants draw a topic and pray out loud. Sometimes they pray for 30 minutes, sometimes for more than an hour.
After each prayer, the group says, “God, hear our prayer.”

There are people in the group ranging from 4 years old to 90.

“It’s non-threatening and a way of getting the church some visibility,” he said. “The vision was that all churches would participate and that we could eventually have several services in the park each year.”

McClain is still praying for that outcome.

—Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico