“Opening the Basement Door” — Palmer UM Fellowship

Submitted by Pastor Erin Day, Palmer United Methodist Fellowship

The “front” door to Palmer United Methodist Fellowship in Palmer, Alaska.

Basements are a way of life in Southcentral Alaska: many houses here are built with a foundation well below the ground, as a means of adding square footage and a little extra stability for the earthquakes we experience on a regular basis.  Basements are functional and flexible: they can be places for storage, for entertainment, for extra living space, or for ordinary activities like doing the laundry.

Most Alaskans don’t expect a church to meet in a basement, but that’s just where Palmer United Methodist Fellowship makes its home. And like every other basement, “functional and flexible” are the perfect adjectives to describe our small-and-mighty community. 

Sixteen years have passed since our fellowship first began to gather together in the Matanuska Valley, in the shadow of craggy mountains and ringed by farmland. The face of the small city of Palmer has changed during this time: a growing population and economic shifts have also meant a rise in homelessness, increased need for social services, and more vulnerable children and families in our midst. This reality has demanded a faithful response. As a small congregation we knew we couldn’t do *everything*, but we were certain we could do *something*.

Over this past year, our small-and-mighty church took a good look at our community and ourselves, and asked, “What does our heart burn for? What is God calling us to do beyond our basement? Who is God asking us to love?”

A period of discernment and deep listening taught us that we want to see our community fully nourished in body and spirit, and that we want to make this vision a reality by loving God and neighbor through practical care and inclusive community. How are we doing this, you ask? By embracing our “functional and flexible” basement ethos, of course!

We discovered that there were homeless and in-transition students at two local elementary schools who relied heavily on the breakfasts and lunches provided by their school during the week, yet had no guarantee of food to eat on the weekend… so this spring we packed over 100 bags of non-perishable groceries for our homeless and in-transition elementary-aged neighbors to take with them on Friday afternoons, ensuring that they (and perhaps a sibling or two) had something to eat over the weekend. 

As school begins again this fall we will continue this important work, with the added potential of providing material support to a local bilingual school that currently does not have a school lunch program in place. A few perceptive parents noticed that some students consistently brought very little or nothing to eat for lunch, and decided that something had to be done! We are excited about the potential to partner with our neighbors to ensure that little bodies and hearts are nourished well.

We’ve also discovered that homeless families no longer have a place to wash their laundry, since the local laundromat foreclosed in March. What does a functional and flexible community do? We find resources and partnership! The building that houses our worship space just happens to include a local hair salon, whose generous owner has agreed to allow his salon laundry facilities to be open for use by homeless families. Our church now has the opportunity to open our doors to our neighbors in a brand new way, making our basement a space where community can be built as the laundry gets washed.

Palmer is a place where creativity thrives, and we are excited to see how God leads us to creatively respond to the evolving needs of our neighbors. If the past year is any indication, there is more practical care to offer, more inclusive community to build, more partnership to cultivate, and more love to sow into fertile ground. We will continue to be a functional and flexible cadre of Jesus-followers, living beyond our basement and into the abundant life that Jesus offers.

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