From immigration forum and ESL classes to annual unity service, Columbia church reaches out to diverse community outside its doors
By Jessica Brodie
COLUMBIA—One congregation’s efforts at bridge-building have not only helped it reach out to its neighbors but also earned it the annual conference’s 2017 Barbara Boultinghouse Bridge Builders Award.
Windsor United Methodist Church, in the northeast section of Columbia, is a predominantly white congregation that has gone out of its way to welcome people of all races and tongues, and today it includes African-American, Asian and Latino members in keeping with the multiethnic neighborhood outside its doors.
The Boultinghouse award is presented to a person or organization who has built bridges of understanding by promoting equity and inclusiveness of all persons. Windsor’s pastor the Rev. Steve Gaither said the congregation does all it can to do just that, from orchestrated efforts at “welcoming the stranger” to a variety of services for the community, such as healthcare or library book distribution.
“It’s the most active church I’ve ever been to as far as outreach goes,” Gaither said, noting the congregation believes in providing for the needs of “the least of these,” uniting people in understanding and trust within a very culturally diverse area.
Windsor’s Skills for Life and Work program, which offers English as a Second Language and GED classes, is one of the most prevalent ways the church ministers within the community. Supported by the Richland County Two School District, the ESL classes are offered at three levels—beginner, middle and advanced. The program also helps in other ways, such as gifts for needy families at Christmas or help for new immigrants with food and medical assistance.
Another Windsor outreach effort is the church’s annual Unity Service, held each September for the past seven years. Windsor and three other neighborhood congregations, each with diverse cultural and worship styles (European, African American, Filipino and Korean) gather for a service, plus share a common meal and revival service. More than 200 people attended the 2016 Unity Service.
Windsor also hosts the “Fil-Am” church, a congregation made up of Filipino and European people and provides a unique worship opportunity for those who may not be able to worship elsewhere. Last summer, Gaither said, the Fil-Am congregation worked with Windsor to provide vacation Bible school for a combined ministry to children and young adults.
Most recently, Windsor hosted a Richland County-sponsored immigration education forum Feb. 28. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, deputies, school representatives, immigration attorneys and other officials gathered at the church for a non-political event that provided information and answers concerning the immigrant population in the area. More than 400 people attended the forum.
For more on Windsor and its ministries: www.windsorumc.org.