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Reach out. Cook out.

No-pressure events lead effort to share with the community
Pam Railsback of rural Solon draws a chalk outline around her son, Jordan, while attending a Solon United Methodist Church community cookout Sept. 28 in the church parking lot and the adjacent vacant city lot. The free meal was one of several outreach projects the church has undertaken this year. (photos by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– It’s a bridge to the community.
As part of a prescription for a healthy congregation, the Solon United Methodist Church (SUMC) has been reaching out this year.
In April, the church kicked off a series of events aimed at bringing residents together in a no-pressure atmosphere. The first was the environmentally themed Kick Off to Earth Day at the Timber DOME Lodge; the second, a family movie night in August.
Then came an Americana-style community cookout Sept. 28 held between the church and Solon City Hall, with Jay Proffitt manning the grill and the McAtee Trio providing a musical backdrop.
“We refer to it as a bridge event– an event that bridges the church to the community,” explained Pastor Scott Keele Kober.
At the beginning of the year, he said, the church council undertook a visioning exercise to develop some guiding principles for the church’s direction over the next few years.
In addition, the church utilized the Healthy Church Initiative, a process developed in the Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church to provide strategies for the revitalization of local churches.
Coaching consultants trained in the Healthy Church Initiative examined the state of the church and dispensed “prescriptions”– suggestions for a robust church family.
One of those recommendations was to consider community events.
During the process, Keele Kober said, council members latched on to a statement that had been part of the church’s efforts for decades: To live as a congregation in which the love of God abides.
“The notion of sharing God’s love in the community,” he said.
By spring, the council had a revised vision statement and some conceptual ideas about how to reach out with no strings attached. It was decided to host a series of events that were “P-free.”
“No prayer, no pressure, no pocketbook,” Keele Kober said. “That’s what we’re using as our premise for what we’re doing.”
Keele Kober also throws another “p” into the mix– no preaching.
It’s a philosophy, he said, where “you’re not expected to sit through the pastor’s sermon to get to the end result of a meal.”
On the wall in Keele Kober’s office is a small simple painting of a bridge.
“It’s been an image I’ve always metaphorically understood– the church should always be a bridge to the world, a connection,” he said.
It’s a connection that the church is trying to make with its neighbors in a variety of ways– the Earth Day event featured pine cone bird feeders and displays promoting composting; the family movie night showing Pixar Studios’ “Up” offered free popcorn and lemonade; the cookout featured hot dogs, hamburgers and brats coming off the grill.
Solon Methodist isn’t a large church that can offer every program, Keele Kober noted.
With a little over 600 members and attendance of about 170 each Sunday, the church can’t be all things to all people, but it’s in there trying.
“The programs that we do offer, we want to do them well,” he said.
Along with its welcoming outreach, the church also has a mission to impact the world, and as part of the new vision, SUMC is reaffirming its connection with the local services it helps support.
One of those is housed in the church basement– the Solon Food Pantry.
“There are families that are a paycheck away, if one of the members of the family loses their job, they’re going to be food-insecure,” he said. “So we’re wondering how do we end food insecurity? How do we impact that particular issue?”
The church already offers an open meal on Wednesday evenings during the school year with a suggested free will contribution of $3 to help cover the cost of the food, but it isn’t widely publicized outside the church community.
One thought, he said, is to make the community meal a larger, monthly part not only of the church but of the community of Solon, perhaps involving local businesses and other organizations, he said.
“What would that look like?” he asked.
The church also intends to continue making an impact through its relationship with the Old Gold Diner, the congregate meal program that operates out of the SUMC Fellowship Hall, he said.
Not only does Old Gold address food issues by serving nutritious, inexpensive meals, but Keele Kober said the program also offers something which is also important; socialization.
The church hopes to hold one more community event before the end of the year, but no decision has been made as to what it will be.
Whatever it is, it will be an attempt by the church to connect with its neighbors.
“We want to be authentic in our relationships with folks,” Keele Kober said.