St. John’s was established 1909, the year Powell was founded, in a little white country church located on the west side of Bent Street, between 3rd and 4th streets. We moved from Bent Street to our present location in 1967, when it was on the very edge of town; an open irrigation ditch flowed along the street in front, with only a concrete slab to serve as a foot bridge to the long steps up to our front door.
Much has changed in the neighborhood since then – the ditch has been covered, the long steps are gone and housing development has spread to the south and to the west. We are no longer the church on the edge of town.
Even more has changed within the life of church itself. We are well into our 13th year as a shared ministry community, organizing ourselves around our gifts and abilities, working from our areas of power to work with God’s power as a transformational force in the world. As we are beginning a three-phase building revitalization, we hope to maintain the integrity of the building, but to also reflect the deep values we hold now as a shared ministry community.
In the last 106 we have also watched as our oldest, and often most charming neighborhoods devolve into the poorest areas, while the outer edges of town host the biggest and most expensive homes. Many problems of our growing town concentrate themselves into the hole of this doughnut, as our poorest citizens struggle to keep their properties safe and their neighborhoods places of civility free from crime.
The Outreach Committee has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to have a direct, meaningful impact on these houses and homes, and a positive effect on our community as whole. In this work, we will serve as a kind of footbridge for the wider community of Powell to serve those who are struggling with their housing needs.
Housing isn’t just about a roof over your head. Clean, affordable housing creates stability for families and children, a sense of dignity and pride, better health, safety and security and it increases the prospect of educational and job opportunities.
Clean, safe neighborhoods also improve the larger community. How city blocks look can directly affect the behavior of those people who live there and those who pass through there. This is often referred to as “The Broken Window” theory. This theory says that maintaining neighborhoods to prevent small crimes such as vandalism and public drinking or drug use helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening.
In March, St. John’s entered into partnership with our local Habitat for Humanity Affiliate to improve owner-occupied homes as part of Habitat’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI). The NRI preserves existing homes, including repairs and other services which helps families that are already living in their homes, but can no longer afford to maintain them. The NRI starts at the grassroots level — with people in the community determining the goals for their neighborhood. It is a house by house, street by street and neighborhood by neighborhood program to preserve and improve existing homes and build stronger communities.
This is a three-year commitment from St. John’s to Habitat, to the City of Powell and all of our neighbors who live here.
Briefly, the project works like this: using the Habitat for Humanity model, volunteers from St. John’s will survey Powell neighborhoods to identify at street level which ones may benefit the most from the NRI. This data will be scored and ranked for immediate attention. Realtors will assess each street to identify owner-occupied homes (rental properties do not qualify). Homeowners are then contacted to determine their interest and need – a house that needs attention on the outside often needs it on the inside as well. A homeowner informational meeting will be held at St. John’s to present the program, and to offer help with applications. Approved homeowners will participate in the repairs (sweat equity), working side-by-side with volunteers.
We will all be called to train our gifts into new settings – bringing welcome and acceptance to people who cannot afford to maintain their homes, mentoring these homeowners through the life skill of completing applications and paperwork, creating hospitality for volunteers from around the community, and of course, offering their skills on workdays. Others will bring their experience and leadership into new committee and community settings, as this will be St. John’s first foray into partnering with entities outside our worshiping community.
Other community volunteers will be welcome and we expect other churches to provide volunteer hours, in-kind donations as well as follow-up support for families. St. John’s will be the hub of the volunteer corps, and the leading voice in fundraising and other public relations matters.
We are all looking forward to engaging with Habitat for Humanity to have a direct, meaningful impact on these houses and homes, and a positive effect on our community as whole.
We believe these two projects, our own renovation and the NRI, one that looks in and one that looks out, will complement each other and keep us focused on those Baptismal vows which call us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.