True ministry occurs outside walls of church

Senior Night at Sedona-Red Rock's last home football game: Pastor Jim  with his mom (Judith Cunningham), wife (Cindy), daughter (Micheala - the senior in football gear) and son (Branaghan, also in football gear) and youngest son (Ashton).

Senior Night at Sedona-Red Rock's last home football game: Pastor Jim with his mom (Judith Cunningham), wife (Cindy), daughter (Micheala - the senior in football gear) and son (Branaghan, also in football gear) and youngest son (Ashton).

For "Pastor Jim" Cunningham, his ministry happens most often outside the walls of his church. "I spend about three-fourths of my time ministering to the community, and to those outside my church," he says.

That ministry happens physically rather than with the 30 or 40 people who attend services at the Church of the Nazarene in the Village of Oak Creek. On the day we spoke, he had spent the first of two days helping to move to a new house, but it also means sitting with a family in the waiting room of a hospital, or talking to someone informally outside a local convenience store.

Pastor Jim started out in Sedona in 1983 and he and his wife were the first couple married at L'Auberge. His parents started the church, and after he attended Nazarene Bible College, he returned to the VOC in February 2009 to begin his first official pastorate. "The Sedona area has always felt like home to us, and we love it here. I'm a small town boy at heart."

You may not recognize Pastor Jim, as he likes to be called; he wears shorts and flip-flops year 'round. He believes that community extends beyond his church family to the extended family of the Village of Oak Creek. Using the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate that everyone is your neighbor, Pastor Jim notes that even with a relatively small group of regular churchgoers, the church helps others. The church members put together Crisis Care Kits that are shipped all over the world, and sponsor the Potluck in the Park event that takes hundreds of hours to pull together, all with the goal of building community. This fall, they collected backpacks and school supplies for 33 students in need at Big Park School.

"There seems to be a general agreement here that we don't mesh much as a community, and community is all about building relationships," he says. Toward that end, the congregation will launch a new program called Prime Time this February. The goal is to use the church's 12,000 square foot building as a community center, with an emphasis on senior adults. "We have a building sitting empty six and half days a week. We want to use the building for health fairs, provide a place where people can play bridge, take classes or have discussions. We want to plan outings for people who want to go to a concert or visit a museum in Phoenix. We need a place for people to meet one another."

The initiative might also include a community garden on the church property, or space where English as a Second Language classes might be held. The church is currently remodeling its fellowship hall to get such programs started, although he says that these efforts will require the community's help, so that the VOC truly becomes a village.

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