Sunnyside Community House brimming with new opportunities
Sunnyside Community House in southeast Portland is teeming with community-minded ministries and even more outreach and worship opportunities, thanks to a partnership between the Greater Northwest Area Innovation Vitality (IV) team and The Groves Church PDX.
The Groves Church PDX moved in this summer and will be one of the primary tenants and manager of the Sunnyside Community House, which formed after Sunnyside Centenary United Methodist Church closed.
“We were definitely interested in a neighborhood-facing, multi-functional space,” said Sunia Gibbs, lead pastor and one of the IV team’s church planters in the UMC. “There’s a lot of potential for partnerships within the neighborhood. It’s just full of possibilities.”
Sunnyside Centenary United Methodist Church was renamed Sunnyside Community House after the long-time church ceased operation in the space in 2015, but community outreach programs continued in the space.
The Groves started holding worship services in August and Gibbs and the rest of her team have been getting to know the other ministries going on in the building, cleaning up spaces that have been neglected, and are aiming the focus of their ministry on three key targets: faith, art and equity.
Sunnyside Community House is home to three different non-profit theater companies, a music writing and recording studio for at-risk youth, basketball clubs, a once-a-month Burrito Brigade, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, The Children’s Club and more.
For 38 years, Sunnyside Community House was also home to the weekly ministry Hard Times Supper, which moved out in mid-September.
“Sometimes change in a neighborhood like Sunnyside changes the nature of the work of the local church, like our new partnership with The Groves Church PDX,” said Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area. “We thank Pat Schwiebert and all of the volunteers with Hard Times Supper who have been the hands and feet of God’s abundant love in the Sunnyside neighborhood for all these years and wish them well as they seek a new location for their ministry.”
There are a lot of opportunities Gibbs and her team are exploring for ministry, including partnering with the neighborhood to offer services. Gibbs is now a member of the board for the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association and will seek community input as outreach opportunities grow.
The Groves PDX gathers people for Christian worship in the Sunnyside building. Gibbs is being intentional about reaching individuals who feel disconnected from traditional Christian worship. The components of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – Scripture, reason, tradition and experience – shape the justice work she and her church are doing, in coordination with the IV team.
There are plans to partner with a center that offers seminars on faith, equity and inclusion. Additionally, The Groves is developing partnerships with Campfire USA to host an after-school program in the space.
Gibbs, who is also a musician, hopes to provide a place for artists and musicians to write and record music. The large sanctuary of the historic church goes mostly unused, and she dreams of it becoming multi-functional. Perhaps concerts can be held while light streams in through the stained-glass windows.
In the basement where Hard Times Supper used to be located, and where the Burrito Brigade still uses the industrial kitchen once a month to make food and deliver it to the houseless in the area, Gibbs has dreams of a social entrepreneurship program.
She’d love for the kitchen to be used for food entrepreneurs who are interested in learning the trade and want to serve the community.
The plan is also to continue to serve those living on the margins in the Sunnyside neighborhood – the unhoused and those who are food insecure. Gibbs is talking with the neighbors and wants to work with them as this ministry is re-imagined.
“The heartbeat of what’s going on (at Sunnyside Community House) has been a lot about the arts,” said Rev. Dr. Leroy Barber, director of innovation for an engaged church with the Greater Northwest Area Innovation Vitality Team. “It seems that fits with The Groves. Sunia is an innovator, so she’ll expand on that.”
Barber said Gibbs and her husband Paul, who co-pastor The Groves PDX, bring with them a diverse congregation that is much needed in the United Methodist Church. As is their leadership.
“They are young leaders that we need in our church,” Barber said.
Sunia Gibbs said she’s excited to connect people’s faith with their experiences in the Sunnyside neighborhood and understand how to express their faith in the community.
“I think this is a space that is ready for re-imagination,” she said.