College Park United Methodist Church in Orlando has three important ingredients for a rebirth. A new and enthusiastic pastor with fresh ideas, a congregation willing to try new things and a Little Red House.
The new pastor, the Rev. Merrill Frailey, received her first appointment last July at College Park UMC after 16 years in other roles in ministry at First United Methodist Church of Winter Park. A year ago, the College Park church was facing possible closure. The church, located in urban College Park, not far from retail storefronts was seeking an identity.
|The Little Red House at College Park UMC had previously been used as a parsonage, choir director's home, a church youth gathering place and shelter following Hurricane Katrina. This image shows a work space in the home today.|
Frailey said when she began her tenure, she felt like the church “was closing in on itself because they were trying to survive. They had forgotten what the local church is called to do and that's to serve the community that we're in.”
The Little Red House, located on church property, has a vibrant history but had been vacant for years. It has been used as a parsonage, a choir director's home, a place for church youth to gather and a place to house victims of Hurricane Katrina, the devastating storm that struck Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005.
The home was aged. Rather than ignore it or use it for storage, Frailey and church members saw its potential and embraced the Little Red House. Inside, they created a community workspace where people can access WiFi, a lending library, a workroom where art and other classes are taught. There's also a kitchen and living room for viewing videos and conducting Bible studies.
Outside, they planted a community garden in the backyard. They brought in food trucks—a popular trend in Orlando—to feed the community. They installed a popular, free, bus stop water ministry.
At one of the “open table” food truck events in April, Frailey and others sat in a dunk tank to raise money for the Little Red House and the community garden.
All of this engagement with neighbors has assured the community that everyone has a place at the College Park UMC table, Frailey said.
“We're really just opening it up to the community,” Frailey said, adding that what they are doing is akin to Fresh Expressions, a movement that began in England in 2004, through a report of the Church of England about the state of the church in that nation, and the need for a new direction.
Coming into the new job about a year ago, Frailey reckoned that it was important that the church be a good steward of what it has, trying to figure out new ways to use the property. To do otherwise would risk the church being like others that failed their communities and closed.
“You have to look at it differently and figure out how to get people in,” she said.
Frailey and the members have big plans for the next chapter of the Little Red House. She hopes future residents of a condominium community under construction nearby will find the house, which already has become a welcome mat for the church.
Twelve years ago, College Park UMC opened its arms for the victims of Katrina. Soon it may do the same for people who feel rejected or hurt by the church at large.
One plan is to use the Little Red House as a venue for Reconciliation Ministries “to impart the hope and healing power of Jesus Christ to the sexually and relationally broken and those affected, so that they may be transformed and empowered to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ.”
“We're trying to open a safe space where they can come back and feel loved,” Frailey said. “That's very important to us.”
Meanwhile, College Park UMC may also bring in a professional to use the Little Red House to counsel people who were affected by the shooting June 12, 2016, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 dead and 53 injured.
It's just a matter of being good stewards of the property.
“It is different,” Frailey said.
--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice