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Meet the ‘do-it church’ in Harrison

Church members celebrate new freezer

The Gathering exists to provide food for body and soul in Harrison, MI. They are looking for partners to support them in this life-sustaining ministry.

Michigan Conference Communications

The Gathering was started by the West Michigan Conference in 2004. It was chartered as a “mission church” three years later. The United Methodist Book of Discipline says this about a mission congregation: “It is expected that long-term sustaining funding from sources outside the congregation will be necessary to enable the congregation to exist, and the assumption of full connectional support items by the congregation is unlikely.” However, 16 years later, a neighbor in Clare offered a better description of The Gathering. He told Pastor Ray McClintic, “You know what I like about your church? You are not a show-off church. You are a do-it church!”

One of the things The Gathering does best is feed mid-Michigan’s hungry. Their food ministry, “Compassion Counts,” was featured at the 2023 Michigan Annual Conference. The Rev. Jim Noggle, founding pastor of The Gathering, participated in a panel presentation by three Christ-Centered Missions and Ministries in Michigan.

Church members at conference
Pastor Ray McClintic and Anita Corlew, the director of the Compassion Counts Food Pantry, participated in the Ministry Fair at the 2023 Michigan Annual Conference. McClintic had knee surgery the week before conference. His colleague, the Rev. Jim Noggle, shared the story of The Gathering during a panel presentation on stage. ~ Facebook photo/The Gathering UMC

Noggle explained what happened when he first arrived in Harrison in 2004. “We listened to the Spirit,” he said, “and learned that the community had the highest demographic of generational poverty in the state at 40%. Two to four generations were living in the same house to survive with what they could bring in.” Noggle added, “Our prayer had to be, ‘God, send us the people nobody else wants.’ And God did.”

At that time, there was no food pantry in Clare County. “It took all day for a family to travel by dial-a-ride [to the next county] for food,” Noggle noted. So, feeding the body and spirit became a priority at The Gathering. Partnerships were established to launch the Compassion Counts Food Pantry in 2007. It was open one day a week, and they “cleared the shelves every time,” Noggle stated. At its high point, 80 churches and agencies partnered to support this vital effort.

Food pantry
Pastor McClintic reports that Compassion Counts is the only brick-and-mortar food pantry in Clare County. Other food distribution is done at drive-through pop-up centers. The food comes from the East Lansing Food Bank. COVID-19 relief free food ends on June 30, 2023. The congregation must now raise $1,500-1,800 a month to cover the cost of 10,000 pounds of food being distributed. ~ Facebook photo/The Gathering UMC

The West Michigan, Detroit, and Michigan conferences have been among those partners over the last two decades. Ministry Shares have supported the pastors’ salaries; $10,000 was allocated in 2023. Second-mile giving has helped fund the food pantry. Compassion Counts is listed in EngageMI as a Step 2 Ministry Partner (CCMM#3059).

Due to various factors, however, most partnerships have fallen away over the years, including a COVID-19 grant that covered the cost of food during the pandemic. New church start-up money from the Michigan Conference, in the amount of $10,000, could end this year. Still, the small congregation persists. Pastor Noggle celebrates their tenacity. “The underprivileged people, who we often don’t pay attention to, became key players within that church.” He concludes, “At The Gathering, there are people in need helping people in need. That lights a fire. Such DNA in that church keeps them going with very few resources.”

Sharing God's word with children
The Gathering UMC opens its doors on Sunday for Bible study and worship. Pastor Ray McClintic shares God’s word with the children. ~ photo courtesy Ray McClintic

District Superintendent John Kasper assigned Ray McClintic to The Gathering in September 2020. Noggle, now retired, comments, “I am so glad Ray is there. He has resurrected that DNA, and it’s coming back to life.”

A resident of nearby West Branch, McClintic confesses, “I have lived here since 1988, and I was not aware of the abject poverty in the area.” Clare County is among the five poorest in Michigan. He reports that the need for food assistance only continues to grow. “In September 2020, we were serving 200 families of about 900 people. Last month, we helped 368 families with over 1,300 people.” Compassion Counts is open three days a week. It is the only brick-and-mortar pantry in the area; the rest are pop-up drive-through sites.

“We are struggling right now,” McClintic says. “The COVID relief free food expires at the end of June. We will have to raise $1,500-1,800 a month to purchase the food from the East Lansing Food Bank.” The 15-20 people who come to worship “give all they can” and remain determined to keep the pantry open.

They are applying for grants and looking for new partners. The Moose Club and Frankenmuth and Hersey UMCs are joining the effort. Ways to help include collecting and donating food, sponsoring concerts and dinners and donating the proceeds. Volunteers are also welcome to help with the distribution of food. Pastor McClintic and pantry leaders are willing to visit churches to share the story of how Compassion Counts changes lives.

One such story involves a phone call from a 94-year-old grandmother. McClintic recalls, “She said she hadn’t seen her grandkids in 15 years, and they want to come for Thanksgiving.” She added, “How do I tell them I have nothing to feed them? I am eating dog food myself.” The pastor invited her to the pantry, and she has been receiving food ever since. Another story is about a “gentleman in his mid-30s, who moved to Harrison without a job or a house.” He also visited the pantry and told McClintic one Sunday morning, “It has taken me two years, but I have finally been able to come to church.” Ray also remembers a widow who received comfort as well as food when a church member prayed with her as she walked away carrying her bags.

Volunteer working at food pantry
A volunteer packs boxes for food distribution. The Compassion Counts Food Pantry is open three afternoons a week. ~ photo courtesy Ray McClintic

“We are sowing seeds,” McClintic reflects. “When you plant seeds, they take hold in fertile ground.” He has hopes to start a newsletter, build Sunday school classrooms, and begin a grief ministry. “We have goals,” he says, “even if we don’t have money. We have God-sized dreams. When your dreams are big enough, God will see you are taken care of.”

God’s people in Harrison believe that God will provide. United Methodists across Michigan can become God’s partners in making dreams come true at The Gathering.

Please pray. Please pay Ministry Shares. Please become an EngageMI Ministry Partner of Compassion Counts.

A thank-you note was shared at the Annual Conference Ministry Fair. A Harrison resident exclaimed: “Your food pantry is the biggest helper in the city that I know of. I don’t know how you do it. It must be a miracle!” Pastor Ray McClintic says with confidence, “Yes! We are going to do it, but I don’t know how.” You can be the how. Neighbors in Harrison will be grateful.

EngageMI is the mission engagement program of The Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church. Compassion Counts Food Pantry is a Ministry Partner in Step 2 of EngageMI. The Gathering also receives Ministry Shares support (Step 1). Those who want to learn more may contact Pastor Ray McClintic at 989-240-6158 or [email protected].

Last Updated on July 5, 2023

The Michigan Conference