Beacon Heights welcomes neighbors

Children in front of a handmade sign that says "Toy store"
“Kidlandia” at Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren. Photo by Anna Lisa Gross.

By Anna Lisa Gross

Beacon Heights Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne, Ind., has been seeking to serve like Jesus in the neighborhood, led by a child. Maya Koczan Flory wanted her congregation to build a kid-oriented village in the spirit of KidZania. Without the corporate sponsors, the church did the Brethren version: simplicity, sharing, service. Kidlandia!

On beautiful July days in 2021 and 2022, the congregation made kid-sized storefronts, borrowed canopies, and invited people to empty their basements and attics and closets. The result was a toy store, clothing store, grocery/household store, and bookstore. Wanting neighbors (especially kids) to have an empowering experience of choosing, free tickets were handed out, color-coded for each of the stores, and shoppers got to choose how to spend them. Everyone got a backpack of school supplies. Musicians, cooks, and artists nourished the gathering.

As the church prepared for Kidlandia 2, in order to engage neighbors, surveys were handed out asking what they like and don’t like about the neighborhood. The survey showed the neighbors enjoy this part of Fort Wayne but lament limited opportunities to get to know each other.

With a big parking lot on a visible corner, the church has offered a thriving food bank and preschool for 40 years, a Little Free Library, a playground, and a basketball hoop available to neighbors.

But do neighbors know they are welcome?

The church decided to change its look to communicate welcome. The basketball net was replaced, the backboard repainted, and extra basketballs purchased to loan out. A couple of benches were moved out of the bushes into the open. Families started sitting and watching kids play basketball.

A new thing was tried: Trunk or Treat. Turns out you can pack a church parking lot with kids and adults in costumes—just buy candy and put out signs. The church shared Sunday school craft supplies with those who wanted to make “God’s Eyes.” Everyone was invited to trace their hand, decorate it, and add their name to a mural for the playground.

Beacon Heights prays neighbors know that the church cares about them; their need for food, books, and play; their need to share what they have to offer; their need to meet each other and be known.

This article originally appeared in Messenger. Subscribe to Messenger here.

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