The congregation at Derita Church responded as one might expect when burglars recently drove off with thousands of dollars’ worth of lawn equipment.
The members took the high road.
“If you stole our stuff, we forgive you,” reads a message on the sign in front of the church, at 2230 W. Sugar Creek Road.
That sentiment reflects a transformation taking hold within the nearly 80-year-old church, said Pastor Linda Bowman.
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Bowman arrived nearly three years ago. The church’s name changed 18 months ago from Derita Presbyterian to Derita Church, although the affiliation with Presbyterian Church (USA) remains.
The congregation has become more diverse, and the organ has been replaced by a praise band that includes guitars and drums.
Perhaps the biggest change is the effort to create a new definition for what a church should be.
“They’ve completely changed their focus from doing church to being the church,” Bowman said.
The church facilities and grounds are open to other ministries, an after-school program and a summer day camp, as well as athletic groups. Children from the neighborhood use the playground.
There are always more serious needs in the community that the congregation of about 100 recognizes and wants to respond to. Unemployment, wage cuts and hunger are problems for some residents in Derita and elsewhere.
People resort to desperate acts when their basic needs are not met, Bowman said. Bowman said she suspects the person who drove a vehicle through the garage’s roll-back metal door, marking it with red paint, probably was familiar with the property.
The garage that held a riding mower, leaf blower and other equipment is at the back of the property and is not visible from the main road.
“We don’t harbor any ill feelings,” Bowman said. “We are saddened that there is a person or persons who are in a situation in life where they have to take from someone else.”
The break-in will not cause the congregation to shut out the community, Bowman said.
Instead, members would like to open a food pantry in Derita, which would be more convenient for residents who don’t own cars.
They also would like one day to open a clothes closet and offer job training in Derita.
“We’re continually asking ourselves, ‘What would Jesus focus on doing if Jesus were in Derita right now?’ ” Bowman said. “We believe that would be much less focus on self and much more focus on the people in our community who need a hand, need some help and need a friend.”