News and Views

New mission redefines a church

Posted by Erik Alsgaard on

By Erik Alsgaard
UMConnection Staff

Lisa Middleton, Food Ministry Coordinator at Silver Spring UMC,
looks over some of the selections at the choice food pantry.

This is a story of how community outreach is helping to re-birth a church. This is a story of how partnerships between churches and other organizations are helping to re-build a sacred space. This is the story of the Four Corners Mission Center.

The Center, located in what was Marvin Memorial UMC at the busy intersection of Colesville Road and University Boulevard, is the second campus of Silver Spring UMC. According to the church’s lead pastor, the Rev. Rachel Cornwell, the Center is where the church does mission and outreach, while the downtown location, on Georgia Ave., is where they do worship and discipleship.

On the second and fourth Saturday of every month since last November, the Center runs a choice food pantry where people come in and choose the food items they want, Cornwell said. The model of a choice food pantry, she said, gives people more dignity and helps eliminate food waste since people choose the foods they want, rather than what is simply given to them.

It’s also a more hands-on form of ministry, Cornwell said, because volunteers are needed to walk through the pantry with every guest, talking and building relationships along the way.

On Feb. 25, during an Open House at the Center, Cornwell helped lead tours of the pantry, explaining its purpose and how it works. The food pantry is done in partnership with Manna Food Center, which supplies most of the food items. Manna’s mission is to eliminate hunger in Montgomery County.

“This food pantry requires a lot more volunteers,” Cornwell said. “People have really stepped up. We have students from Blair High School and folks from Hughes-El Buen Samaritano come to help, so we’re developing a community of volunteers, starting to develop friendships. It’s becoming church for people.”

Silver Spring UMC has long been active in outreach and mission, Cornwell said, and when they saw that they were doing so many feeding ministries, “and it was something people were really committed to, we made it our mission statement. Our mission is to feed all of God’s children — body, mind, and spirit — so that no one goes hungry.”

One of the key volunteers is Lisa Middleton, the Food Ministry Coordinator at the church. It was her vision that helped birth the choice pantry.

“A choice food pantry is where folks can come in and have more of a shopping experience,” Middleton said. Since they’ve opened, they’ve more than doubled their clientele, she said, to where on this day, 42 families were expected.

The process of creating the choice food pantry took about a year, Middleton said. What got her through it was her faith.

“At times, it was overwhelming, at the beginning,” she said. “It was, ‘Wow, we need this many volunteers, and we need this much space,’ but we’re here because we believed in the vision. When God is calling you to do something, there’s not going to be anything that stands in the way.”

The Rev. Rachel Cornwell, lead pastor at Silver Spring UMC, standing with her daughter, Evie; Pastor Evelyn Rivera, associate pastor for Hughes-El Buen Samaritano, and the Community Outreach worker for Silver Spring UMC; and Lisa Middleton, Food Ministry Coordinator at Silver Spring UMC

Pastor Evelyn Rivera is associate pastor for Hughes-El Buen Samaritano, and, since January 2016, also the Community Outreach worker for Silver Spring UMC, which allows for both congregations to enter into a partner relationship, she said. The open house was an opportunity, she said, to celebrate the partnership between the two congregations but also to celebrate the service to the community.

“What’s unique about this program,” Rivera said, “is the mission of the church. Our mission is to share the love of Christ and we do that by looking at the person as a whole. Not only are we feeding them spiritually, we’re taking into account their physical needs as well. The fact that we’re able to partner together allows for more people to be invested in this mission.”

Rivera, who is fluent in Spanish and English, also serves as a language bridge for many of the guests of the food pantry.

“I’m excited that we, as United Methodists, can partake in an experience such as this,” Rivera said, “and I look forward to seeing what else God has in mind for us to do in this community.”