Serving in the Absence of Ideal

By Catherine Howie

We recognize that God created everyone in his image. That makes every person — every single person — worthy of our time, effort and attention.

There is nothing new or profound about how we do ministry in Trinity Church/Garfield Park (TCGP), Indianapolis, Indiana. Every Thursday night when we open the door, we see Jesus in every face that has been waiting to come in out of the weather. We don't bring Jesus into southeast Indianapolis from the more affluent northern suburbs. We find Christ's presence already here in hugs and handshakes across socio-economic lines, in grinning faces, as people greet one another by name, in the midst of bowed heads during prayer and in lifted faces as we worship.

Our ministry model is building Christian community around a shared meal and worship service. 

Trinity Church’s four contextualized congregations worship God in three locations across Indiana’s capital city. The two congregations meeting in the Garfield Park neighborhood — one racially and economically diverse and the other consisting of Chin refugees from Myanmar — are provided ministry support by ministry teams and resources from the two congregations in the northern suburbs.

Ministry does not flow in only one direction. Stay-at-home moms, a retired chef, a physician, a railroad worker, school teachers, nurses, a college professor and a hotel executive receive far more than they give when serving at Garfield Park.


As people finish their home-cooked meal, the worship service begins with the message, followed by engaging discussions around each table. Amber Summers serves as a table leader.

“I have a heart that deeply loves those on the outskirts,” said Summers. “And of course, like God always does, [the people at my table] give me more than I could ever give them.”

During the adults’ service, youth under age 18 meet. Matthew Hines teaches the children and brings his family who eagerly embrace TCGP. Carin, his wife, serves in the meal ministry, his preschooler can’t wait to see his teacher and his two teens, Ian and Silas, actively participate in the student ministry. “I continued going because my teenage son felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to do so. It has been powerful for our whole family.” Ian and Silas have developed relationships with local teens that extend beyond Thursday nights.

I have a heart that deeply loves those on the outskirts

“You people are doing a good thing,” Keith offered at a church block party. He worked with his parole officer to adjust his ankle monitor to allow him to come to church every Thursday. “We need this [ministry]. You are making a community where there weren’t none.” The Garfield Park neighborhood has no downtown, few centers in which to gather and several distinct populations. TCGP is strategically poised at the intersection of these groups to be a bridge.

In 2012, former pastor Eric Key cast vision for a church that reaches across the neighborhood dividing lines — ethnic (Latino, Burmese, African-American, Caucasian) socio-economic, gender and age — what separates one from one another, to be united in the love of Christ. That vision continues even with a less-than-ideal arrangement as staff and volunteers live outside the community.

God has made it clear we are to continue to be his “ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20) in Garfield Park.


We strive to be as incarnationally present as we can, because to do nothing until we have an ideal situation is not an option.

Recently, Kerry,* a Desert Storm vet, came to me in tears and smelling of alcohol after having listened to the sermon about God using us despite our human failure. “I know I’m going to hell because I’m a failure and a baby killer!” he cried. He was assured that what he had done on the battlefield was not beyond God’s forgiveness, and that according to 1 John 1:9, if he confessed his sin, he was forgiven. He prayed with us and went away rejoicing in God’s grace, freed from the dread of hell and separation from God that had tormented him for decades.

This is why volunteers serve Christ cross-culturally in their city every week.

This is why we trade the pursuit of warm-fuzzy feelings for humble obedience in the grit of raw life.

This is why we do not wait for an ideal situation.


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