Time for Common Ground
by Gary Harbison
Our similarities bring us to a common ground; our differences allow us to be fascinated by each other.
– Tom Robbins
Taking care of our own has always been a part of the American nation. Reaching out has also been a key part of the role of churches. During the current recession and the many recent challenges we have met, from terrorism to the devastation of multiple natural disasters, we have risen to work in unity to meet those challenges regardless of any real or perceived differences. Common Ground in Jefferson City has brought people together to reach out to those in need and to support community connection in Jefferson City.
Jefferson City is a small capital city, as state capitals go. With the state and several other large employers here, and with a well-educated workforce, Jefferson City has an arguably stronger local economy than many of the counties in Missouri. Yet, here we have seen and felt the effects of this difficult recession in terms that are both clear and disheartening. Anyone who has not been directly impacted by the recession knows someone who has, whether a friend, a relative or a neighbor. The service organizations in town, such as the Salvation Army and the Samaritan Center, have seen a steady and continuing increase in requests for assistance, sometimes from people who previously donated to or volunteered with the very organization from which they now seek assistance.
Local churches, too, have seen an increase in appeals for assistance. To help meet the needs for support and to build for the future, several churches have united around Common Ground, a community ecumenical center designed to provide assistance to those who need it, to provide a positive environment for people to grow and develop, and to provide an opportunity for unity to work in action. Under the leadership of the First United Methodist Church, an old building on the east side of Jefferson City has been rehabilitated to become Common Ground. The City of Jefferson supported rehabilitation of the exterior. A lot of sweat and tender loving care went into the interior. The building now features a great deal of usable space. Central United Church of Christ, First Presbyterian Church, and Grace Episcopal Church have all contributed to staffing the center and providing for special projects.
Grace Episcopal Church parishioners expressed an interest in working on issues related to a ministry of food education. Common Ground is located in a socio-economically and ethnically diverse neighborhood. As a whole this area includes the most economically marginalized portion of the city’s population with the lowest household income, highest rate of free and reduced cost school lunches, and the highest proportion of households without a vehicle. Grace parishioners feel that supporting local interest in and capacity for healthy-eating and gardening is a positive and needed addition to the community that will also support positive interactions within the neighborhood. Through the hard work and dedication of several church members, Grace was able to apply for and receive a $5,000 matching local food grant from the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The grant will partially support the work of Grace at Common Ground, which will include a demonstration garden and diabetes and general nutrition education. The grant will help fund completion of the Common Ground kitchen and the construction of the garden. Neighbors will be invited to share in the gardening work and the produce.
Grace parishioners look forward to sharing the positive contributions of Common Ground.