By Sybil Davidson
Just over a year ago, New Hope UMC in Gainesville welcomed a new neighbor: A brand new high school was opening in the church's backyard.
"We had this opportunity to have a presence in our community school," said Rev. Andrew Covington, New Hope's pastor. "I reached out to the principal and shared that the church really wants to be there for the teachers, students, and administration."
The congregation was clear that the purpose of partnering with the school would never be filling seats in the church. Instead, their presence would be a way to live out their membership vows outside the church. Their message would never be, "come to our church," but it would instead be "we're here for you."
The church got to work spreading the word that if there is ever anything the school needs, to please reach out to New Hope UMC.
On the very first day that teachers were on campus last year, the church was there with breakfast! The Fellowship of Christian Athletes club was another natural way to lend support. The church provides chicken biscuits at every FCA meeting. They've provided lunch to band camp, helped with ribbon cuttings, and are a location for work/study for special education students every Thursday.
The relationship with those students became so strong that many of them volunteered during Vacation Bible School at the church over the summer!
Rev. Covington personally became a mentor through the school counseling department.
"We're not a huge church and we don't have unlimited resources," he explained, "But we have made a firm commitment."
The relationship the church set out to build last year grew beyond their imagination, and New Hope was recently honored by the school as a "Bronco Backer!"
"It was an honor to get this recognition, but the real honor is the relationship," said Covington.
This school year New Hope UMC has expanded its reach to two more community schools.