Servers bustle in between tables with trays of pancakes and bowls of sliced fruit as families and friends gather around tables. Music fills the air as a bluegrass band plays on the stage near the front of the room. However, this morning meal is easily missed by those looking at the building’s exterior. This is just another normal Sunday morning at Genesis Church.
Located in South Fayetteville near the University of Arkansas campus, Genesis Church seeks to serve the local community through building relationships. As a satellite church of Central United Methodist, the church is committed to “inviting and welcoming all people into the transforming grace of God, while working to remove the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual barriers to God’s design for life,” according to their website.
“We were put in this location, in this time, to try to make a difference,” Glenn Miller, local mission coordinator at Genesis, said. According to the United States Census, 23.9% percent of Fayetteville residents live in poverty. Genesis Church seeks to build community and empower individuals through a food and clothing pantry, Celebrate Recovery, community meals and Morning Manna, a breakfast served on Sunday mornings before service.
Katie Jackman, senior Christian ministry and formation major, visited Genesis with her Forming Christians in Community class at John Brown University. “Genesis Church is a community of believers that truly lives out principles I believe Jesus intended all believers in community to exhibit,” Jackman said. “They include people from all walks of life, specifically those living in economic poverty. They illustrate beautifully what it means to suffer together as the body of Christ, and believers everywhere can learn from their example.”
The church desires that individuals be seen and known beyond the circumstances of their lives. Miller described how working at Genesis impacted his vision of the world. “When I see people in crisis, I try to see them as ‘What would I want if I were in that situation?’ Jesus said whatever you do for the least of these, you’re doing it for me. I try to view people as God’s children, as Christ coming to me,” he said.
“Building relationships is how God works with us. The more time we spend with him, the more we trust, the closer we get. We do get newcomers. We get people who will just walk in off the street, but by and large we know the families,” Miller said. “We know their struggles, their hopes, what they would like, what they need. That’s different than a lot of places where you can just walk in and get a bag of groceries and walk away. Of course, we do a lot of groceries, but we’re trying to build a community.”
For many individuals, this community is a place to call home. Mary Redden, Fayetteville resident, attends Genesis Church with her husband and grandchildren. “I love this church. They help the community,” Redden said. “They go out of their way to help people … Glenn will do anything. If he can help, he’s willing to help.”
While providing assistance, the staff at Genesis also seeks to recognizing people’s dignity and worth. “We had a young woman come in, who was pregnant and 18 years old, and she asked us for prenatal vitamins. Just to hand her some vitamins would have been a good thing, but we prayed with her and got to know her,” Miller said. “We gave her the name of agency that works with young women … Hopefully we can be a part of her life. We can help with a crib and help her through building that relationship, making more of a longer-term deal of it.”
“Years from now, she could have a ministry helping young girls where she was. She could be used in amazing ways, but we’ve got to get her through this stage of her life,” Miller said. “Listening with love and compassion is what will help get her through.”
One of the greatest joys for Miller is the community’s heart for service. “We’ve got a lot of people on the breakfast team that a year ago they were homeless. A year ago, they were on meth. Now, they are giving back,” he said. “That’s always beautiful … to see somebody that has received help in their time of need and now they want to help other people … It’s not always just about getting, getting, getting. You’re a part of a community or a family. Everybody pitches in.” Last year, Genesis had around 70 volunteers serving in Morning Manna, working in the children’s programs, driving buses and other areas of service. “We’re just very blessed because people see this as a place where they can put their faith into action,” Miller said. “Especially more and more people want a faith that really works, not just repeating a creed, but actually living it. We offer that in a really unique way for people.”
Photo: Catherine Nolte, The Threefold Advocate