The Rev. Sandra Jimenez is a pastor at Bethany United Methodist Church of the Mountain Sky Conference (formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Conference). Jimenez is not only a pastor to her congregation but also to the surrounding Barnum neighborhood in Denver. While Bethany is an English-speaking congregation, Mission Insite statistics show the population of ZIP code to be 79 percent Hispanic.
Finding it more difficult to bring people into the church building than to take the church to the people, Jimenez takes the Church Without Walls to the Barnum neighborhood. All she needs are two chairs and the small round table that a parishioner bought at a secondhand store for $3. The table serves as a valuable bridge for conversation between the church and the community as Jimenez connects with the neighborhood’s diverse population in both English and Spanish. She believes church belongs at the park, the corner store, outside a gas station, the bakery and on the front lawn of Bethany UMC.
The Church without Walls ministry started in August. Jimenez has been challenged by business owners unwilling to let her set the table outside of their businesses. She has also encountered the comment that "if you're going to talk to me about church, then I'm not interested.” While it is discouraging to feel rejected, the comments don’t stop her. On average, she talks to 10 people every two hours. Surprised that she is not a street vendor, people have been very kind and willing to talk with her about everything from changes in the neighborhood to their personal triumphs and defeats. Every person who approaches the Church without Walls is welcome to write their name or initials on the table. The measurement of success is with every person who is willing to approach the table and have a conversation.
“As church leaders, we often think that we need hundreds of dollars to create an opportunity to listen to our community – and that’s not the case,” Jimenez said. “I encourage every pastor or leader who takes time out of their week to listen to their communities. We may think we know what the community needs, but it is shocking to see that their needs are much different.”
This unique outreach ministry shows that creativity and ingenuity are essential in following God’s call to go beyond the church walls. The Rev. John Wesley set the example when he said, "The world is my parish.” Streets, parks and supermarkets – any other place with people – is a good place to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
— Aileen Jimenez is manager of Hispanic/Latino leader communications at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A. Do you know someone we should feature? Contact Aileen at (615)742-5479 or at [email protected].