‘Day in the Park’ – Another Way to Touch Lives

OAKLAND, CA (June 3, 2010) – A homeless man who has occasionally attended Convergence, a fairly new Evangelical Covenant Church, was the one who broached an idea that ultimately led to 500 people participating in the congregation’s “A Day in the Park” community outreach project.

The attendee suggested three years ago that the church host a barbecue, and the idea just grew exponentially over the past three years. The congregation recently held its third event in DeFremery Park.

Area residents were able to play a multitude of games that ranged from kickball to three-legged races, jump off energy in a bounce house, get their face painted, and, of course, dine on great barbecue fare. Click here to visit the Convergence Facebook page.

“It’s a way for us to get to know the community,” says Pastor Bobby Lee.

Getting to know the community actually begins with preparations. Church members distribute invitations door-to-door as well as to local businesses. The conversations that develop are all part of making connections, Lee says.

Rebecca Craft, the congregation’s outreach and events coordinator, was especially excited by two very different conversations. Craft related that when she handed flyers to two young adults, one accepted it kindly while the other replied, “You’re not gonna be pushing church literature and (expletive) are you?”

Craft adds, “I chuckled and said no, and engaged with him a little longer about his comments regarding his experiences.” It was a refreshing reminder as to why she felt God calling her to serve in that community.

Four children, ages three to 12, also were excited about the event. “These kids all wanted flyers and were so hungry to help, and asked for flyers to pass out,” Craft says. “They didn’t want to miss anyone, and made sure that every person who walked by us received a flyer.”

The church had only 10 people – several homeless – when they held the first Day in the Park event. People from outside the congregation, which has grown to about 40 people, have helped with each of the events. Several homeless people who consider Convergence their church, even if they attend irregularly, were eager to help hand out the flyers as well.

The church hand-delivered 1,300 invitations last year and about 400 people attended. This year the congregation distributed 2,000 invitations.

Lee says no one has started attending the church because of the events, but still considers them a success. “We measure success by how the day went,” he says.

Success includes people having a good time, but also the congregation developing a better understanding of the people they serve. Just as when members hand out flyers, they engage in numerous conversations throughout the day.

People attending have been grateful, says Lee. “We have people who are not very well off in the community, but they want to donate to the cause. They would put in a couple of dollars.”

Every Sunday is a day in the park for Convergence. On May 1, the congregation started meeting in a building at DeFremery Park. The church had been meeting in a building at Preservation Park.

The new location enables the congregation to meet in the mornings. Previously they met on Sunday nights. “There are a lot of mental and psychological barriers to meeting at night in Oakland,” Lee says.

Convergence receives most of its financial support through New Life Covenant Church. “They’re doing a lot of exciting work,” says New Life’s pastor, Kevin Budd.

Editor’s note: Photos used in this story and the accompanying photo page are courtesy of Jeffrey Chou.

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