On the last Tuesday evening before public school dismissed for summer, members of Chester United Methodist Church gathered with residents at the Broadwater public housing community for fun and fellowship and to launch the Library Box project.

The church brought a large box and a few dozen books for kids to read during the summer. There would be no system for checking out books other than the honor system – take one, read it, bring it back, and take another.

“We were asking people to watch over the box, to own the box,” the Rev. Sylvia Meadows, senior pastor of Chester UMC, said.

“An amazing thing happened that blew my socks off. While we were there, some of the residents started bringing books to put in the box. We had too many books to fit in the box. How cool is that? ”

That embodies the concept of asset-based community development (ABCD), which is at the heart of the Embrace Richmond mission to change neighborhoods from the inside out.

With ABCD, it’s all about identifying strengths and gifts in a community and working with those community leaders to use their gifts and bring about change from within.

ABCD resonated deeply with Chester’s UMC members, as they completed Embrace’s Mission Shift training.

“It really connected with our church people,” said Dr. Jim Davis, Chester UMC’s Director of Spiritual Formation. ‘OK, Lord, what gifts have you placed here in the communities?’”

Chester UMC members were deep in prayerful discernment for God’s will when two church members heard Wendy McCaig, Embrace Richmond’s Executive Director, speak at another local church. Soon thereafter, Chester UMC invited McCaig to lead the Mission Shift training to see if it might be a part of what God had planned for the church. Members engaged in the intentional, prayerful discernment gatherings invited three or four additional members to the training, which meant some sessions had 75 people in attendance.

“It was the next faithful step for us in the process of learning to prayerfully discern God’s will at each juncture,” Meadows said. “It’s a paradigm shift (away from) making our plans and asking God to bless them.”

Without question, the shift from ministry “for” others to ministry “with” others represents another paradigm shift in the church world.

Doing “for” is all many churches have ever known. Church people with the best intentions actually do harm to the communities by doing for people what those people could be doing for themselves.

“It feels good and it’s easier,” Meadows said. “You’re giving the help instead of letting the people be empowered to be all God has created them to be.”

In her role as pastor at Chester UMC, Meadows counsels young couples before their wedding. Recently she met with a couple, both of whom are school teachers and musically gifted. They were looking for something to do this summer.

An idea hit Meadows in the night – a camp for children in Broadwater, where they can explore music and dance and the arts.

“The children can find out what gifts and talents they have,” she said.

It’s an exciting time at Chester UMC.

“God is popping up all over the place, laying a path for us,” Meadows said. “I really think God is calling us to be agents of change alongside the people of our communities.”