Wesleyans have a long history of acts of devotion (love toward God) and compassion (love toward neighbor). Awaken City Church (ACC) in Boston, Massachusetts, is finding fresh ways of loving God, neighbor and the often overlooked.
“There’s beauty in every tribe, every nation together representing the kingdom of heaven at the table,” said Rev. Melinda Priest. In 2019, Rev. Priest and her family moved to Boston and planted ACC. Boston’s a transient, diverse community, teeming with opportunities for relationships. “There’s so much diversity in this community, but that doesn’t stop people from talking to one another — there’s really a community,” Rev. Priest reflected.
Seeing the opportunity for more connection, Rev. Priest and others started to pray for Judea, the places near them, asking these questions in prayer: “What are the needs for our neighborhoods? How can we practically show Jesus’ love?” As the church community prayerfully asked God, they were directed to the immigrant population.
Since Boston’s a transient area, many in the church knew how it felt to have family far away, to be new to the community and learn a new way of being. Rev. Priest wanted space “for those from other countries to find their place at the table, be part of the family.” This sparked the start to opening an Immigrant Connection (IC) site within their church.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains strict guidelines for an IC center. For confidentiality purposes, the office must have a locking door. Therefore, Awaken City Church stopped renting from the local school and searched for a place for the IC site and other community outreach expressions.
Shortly after their process began, ACC encountered an obstacle: finding a space affordable enough for the church. Because of Boston’s high rent costs, this proved difficult. In their search, the team discovered that one of their congregants had a storefront available for lower rent than other options.
ACC also has a daughter church, Public Church in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, led by Pastor Amanda Oicle. Pastor Amanda’s dream was to open a coffee house ministry. When a storefront came open next to ACC’s space, the two churches prayed, planned and raised funds to repurpose it into a coffee shop called Public Coffee. The coffee shop is open to the public, offering space for people to gather, feel loved and accepted. Public Coffee becomes ACC’s kids’ ministry space on Sundays.
This process hasn’t been easy as COVID-related delays lasted over a year, but it’s been worth it. IC at ACC has now been accredited, have two accredited DOJ legal representatives, a legal assistant and a great group of volunteers. The site offers 10-week classes (four times a year) for non-English-speaking individuals to learn conversational English in addition to citizenship classes; “We want to provide a pathway for someone to gain the dignity and opportunities they deserve,” said Rev. Priest.
ACC hopes to keep building their clientele and continue to serve their neighbors. Their mission statement guides their hopes for the next season: “We will together be able to serve more people with different resources and provide legal services; we want to build a place of belonging where immigrants can really be seen. We want to help alleviate worries about basic human rights such as being able to work freely, have a home and reconnect with family abroad,” said Rev. Priest.
ACC has learned that “God calls us to be like Jesus and we’re on a mission wherever we are — if it’s near or far,” said Rev. Priest. ACC is stepping into Christ’s character through practical ways — simply meeting people where they are — handing out food, sitting with people; loving others like we’re called to do. “There’s a space of belonging … changing the city through one-on-one relationships, one day at a time, in partnership with the Holy Spirit and other faith communities who share the same heart for our city,” said Rev. Priest. The important thing is willingness to be in that space, look for where God is being active and jump in — changing the city through relationships and systems.
In a world that’s so diverse, an IC site is one way to embrace the diversity around the corner and the world— providing opportunities to be Jesus’ hands and feet in our neighborhoods. Rev. Priest ends with a final admonition on how IC has reframed the purpose of the church for ACC’s congregation: “Church isn’t about coming and seeing; it’s about coming and being with others, to worship everywhere we go, to love well.”
Church isn’t about coming and seeing; it’s about coming and being with others, to worship everywhere we go, to love well.