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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Neighborhood ministry

Walking and Praying puts Salem Lutheran on the street

Mary Stamp Fig Tree

As they walk and pray through West Central Spokane on Monday mornings, members of Salem Lutheran Church and other neighborhood churches open their hearts, minds and souls to what is happening around them.

Through the discipline of weekly prayer, “we find God in ordinary activities,” said Connie Copeland Malone, outreach minister at Salem.

“We encourage members to walk and pray in the neighborhoods where they live,” Copeland Malone said. “That promotes an attitude of opening our eyes, ears and hearts to where God is leading.”

And, she said, “It helps our 120-year-old congregation find new ways to reach out. We once had a membership of 800. Now we number about 120.”

But membership and attendance numbers, she believes, are no longer the measure of a church. It is the spiritual life and everyday outreach.

At an early age, attending grade school in Spokane and high school in Clarkston, Copeland Malone sensed a greater purpose for her life than her own goals. Her family was minimally involved in different Protestant churches.

After graduating from Whitworth in 1981 in recreation and physical education, she thought she would do overseas mission work. Over the years, she shifted to a commitment to urban ministry in the neighborhood where she lives.

“I realize we can serve God wherever we are,” she said, “with many different people and groups.”

For three years, she has worked out of the Book Parlor in a house at 1414 W. Broadway Ave., next to Salem Lutheran. It functions as a neighborhood gathering place.

“We are a local resource disguised as a book store with fair-trade items, reading and reflection groups, wireless connection, meeting space and some basic food supplies,” she said.

The opportunity to serve as outreach minister at Salem gives her a way “to be invested where we are, to live, work and do things locally,” Copeland Malone said.

The Book Parlor is open daily to provide hospitality “as a tangible expression of the church’s caring,” she said.

Salem also connects members to volunteer at Our Place Community Ministries two blocks away as another way to share their gifts with the neighborhood.

In that style, Walking and Praying – Mondays from 9 to 10 a.m. – makes sense as a way to put church members on the streets to meet neighbors, understand who they are and how they experience God in their lives, and to learn from them, Copeland Malone explained.

“Walking and Praying does not fix anything for anyone, but opens eyes, ears and hearts of the three to eight who participate,” she said. “When more come, the group splits into twos and threes.”

Walkers take different routes each week and revisit some places that seem to need special attention.

“Neighbors expect us. They know we are on the streets,” Copeland Malone said.

“Recently after we prayed outside a drug house for the people inside caught up in addiction and selling, the house was closed.”

When neighbors complained about smell and safety concerns from trash outside one of three neighborhood convenience stores, the walkers went there, prayed and talked with the owner, who is now expected to put up a fence.

“If we offer a little voice, it may be the tipping point to bring some change,” Copeland Malone said. “It’s calling neighbors to accountability through caring.”

If they see a concern, such as trash outside a home, they may contact the resident to ask if the person needs some assistance.

“Life is complicated and messy. Being together, we can look for solutions to improve the lives of everyone,” Copeland Malone said. “Amazing things can happen through relationships to help heal humanity. …

“We walk to be faithful in the ordinary and mundane. In the winter, we walked in the gym, visited members’ homes and visited nursing homes to say, ‘We are here with you.’ We are laying the groundwork for new experiences and adventures.”

As part of being in community, those walking and praying often go at 10 a.m. to Our Place Community Ministries to share in a greater circle of prayer.

“We cannot walk with our eyes closed in prayer,” Copeland Malone said. “Our prayer is in our conversation and in seeing through God’s eyes, seeking God’s answer and comfort. …

“When we walk, we see more than we do driving or riding in a car. Each time we go out, we meet people. In West Central Spokane, people are outside and often walking somewhere.”

In addition to walking the streets, Copeland Malone said people gather at the Book Parlor to share stories, through which they realize everyone is a resource.

Given the location, sometimes people released from jail come there as the first point of contact with a phone, warm place, some food items for sale and a restroom.

“We may direct them to Our Place for food, clothing and other resources in the neighborhood and beyond,” Copeland Malone said.

That’s one of many ways her neighborhood urban ministry brings a little light to people as the church and neighborhood are “faithful to the mundane.”

Condensed and reprinted from the March issue of the Fig Tree, a monthly newspaper that covers faith in action in the Inland Northwest. For more information, call (509) 535-1813 or visit www.thefigtree.org.
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