As you approach our church building from the south, walking up Broadway Place between North Broadway Street and Oakland Park Avenue, you pass three apartment buildings on your left, each a quad. The third is unique. It’s attached to the church. Inside, the rooms have been converted to our downstairs offices and upstairs nursery and preschooler areas. It was the Baptists, who bought the building from the Presbyterians, who incorporated the apartment building into the church structure, sometime between 1965 and 1975, when they built a new foyer and sanctuary, all of it currently utilized by us Mennonites.
In August of 2017, when Edith Espinal was seeking sanctuary, CMC leadership determined we could convert a little-used nursery room above the offices into a living space for her. That plus a bathroom remodel enabled her to live in our building for 1,235 days, nearly three and a half years, remaining with her Columbus family rather than face an unjust deportation order to Mexico, which has since been rescinded.
In November of 2021, we were connected with an asylum-seeker from West Africa in need of emergency housing. Sounkary and her son Adam moved into that same space and lived there for a year and a half. As was the case with Edith, a support team formed around Sounkary, this time speaking French. North Broadway United Methodist Church across the street opened a spot in their Children’s Center for Adam, who thrived among the other children. But Sounkary had left her three oldest children back in West Africa and made the difficult decision to return to them before resolving her asylum case in the US. Her CMC friends continue to keep in touch with her.
Last November, during our fall congregational meeting, we discussed the future of the apartment space. There was wide affirmation to continue making it available for emergency housing. Christian Education folks affirmed making additional space available beyond the single room and bathroom. Since then we’ve done some upgrades and given it a fresh coat of paint.
On Saturday we welcomed our next guest, Keilin, and her (almost) four year old son. A support team has already formed around them, acting something like an extended kinship network far from her native Venezuela. We’ll learn more about Keilin in the weeks to come, but for now we want the congregation to know that our church building is once again serving as a refuge for a family who previously had none.
It seems the apartment building that became a church still wants to be an apartment building – an apartment building and a church. It’s a space dedicated to hospitality, part of the extended care of this congregation. Beyond being the ones offering something, hosting offers us the opportunity to receive much, to learn, even to be transformed.