Photo courtesy of Metro Baptist Church
Big impact in the Big Apple
Metro Baptist Church and its sister nonprofit, Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries, have made the most of resources to create a thriving ministry to the poor in Hell’s Kitchen with a small budget and staff.
April 24, 2012 | For many first-time visitors to Metro Baptist Church, it might take a few moments before they realize they are standing in the middle of a sanctuary.
While the painted ceilings and stained-glass windows of the previous resident are still intact, the bright, open space is more like a blank canvas than a house of worship. It adapts to any number of landscapes: classroom, study hall, playground, dance performance space, food pantry and, oh yes, Sunday church service.
“This is a sanctuary for people in a lot of ways. It’s all Metro and who we try to be,” said the Rev. Alan Sherouse, who has been Metro Baptist’s pastor since 2009. “There are all these different communities layered on top of each other. For me, reaching out to all these communities is not only what it means to be a church but what it means to be a pastor.”
Since Metro opened its doors here in 1984, it has endeavored to meet the needs of the poor and working-class communities of Hell’s Kitchen -- a New York neighborhood that earned its nickname through more than a century of poverty, violence and crime.
Today, this small church tucked between the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel and the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal provides a wealth of educational and direct services.
Operating with a small budget and a tiny staff, Metro and its sister nonprofit, Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries, serve 1,400 to 1,600 community members per year through an outreach program that involves Head Start preschool, after-school educational programs and homework help, a teen center, English-language evening classes for adults, and direct services to the community through a food pantry, a clothing closet, school supplies and toiletry kits, and holiday meals and family events.
The organizations make the most of their space and their location, as well as the efforts of hundreds of eager volunteers who sustain the work and engage in outreach on a scale that borders on the miraculous.
“Leveraging resources is a major theme in a church like ours,” Sherouse said.
Location and opportunities attract volunteers
On a recent afternoon at Metro Baptist, for example, third- and fourth-graders were making scones in the basement while learning about British culture. One floor up, in the sanctuary, another group of grade-schoolers was getting help with their homework and preparing for the dance and photography lessons to follow. Meanwhile, high school students on the second floor were debating the merits of the bright shade of yellow they had chosen to paint the walls of the teen center.
Questions to consider:
- Metro Baptist is "different communities layered on top of each other." What communities are part of your institution? How do you encourage them to overlap in generative ways rather than exist in isolation?
- What are unconventional ways to use your institution’s facilities to extend the scope of your mission?
- Metro Baptist leverages its free dorm rooms to attract and retain volunteers. What resources could you leverage to create a sustainable venture?
- How can you collaborate with other service-based agencies to be effective in your community-building initiatives?
One resource RMM has in abundance is volunteers. With a full-time staff of just three people, Metro Baptist and RMM have gotten creative about luring volunteers to perform the kind of work that is so integral to their commitment to the social gospel. According to Tiffany Triplett Henkel, RMM’s executive director, there are 600 volunteers who regularly contribute time.
One of them is Sarah Pope, a dancer who volunteers at RMM’s after-school Page Turners program every Thursday afternoon. After helping the kids with their homework, she teaches dance, getting the kids to swirl, glide, slither and sway across the sanctuary floor.
“This is kind of a home space for many of these kids, who have grown up being involved in the programming of RMM. I think the most important aspect for many of them is the sense of community and belonging that they get out of being at Metro,” Pope said. “During my involvement, I have seen the quantity and quality of volunteers and activities increase.”
Pope’s involvement with Metro Baptist dates back a decade. After graduating from Texas Christian University, she was eager to come to New York and pursue a dancing career; she contacted Metro Baptist at the suggestion of her college pastor. Soon thereafter, Pope was among the first wave of volunteers to trade time, talent and enthusiasm for free rent in New York City.