Members of Refuge Church in North Raleigh gather to worship every Sunday morning inside Durant Road Middle School. But they don’t treat the school like a landlord. Instead they consider it a part of the family and an integral component of their mission and outreach.
“We really wanted to be able to serve the faculty and teachers here,” said Justin Buchanan, lead pastor of Refuge Church.
From the earliest stages of the church coming together, members believed they could have a meaningful relationship with a public school.
“We had been forming for a year and noticed there was an opportunity for us here at Durant and began to explore that,” Buchanan said.
Refuge holds services in the school auditorium on Sunday morning and offers Christian education in the classrooms. But members aren’t interested in being one-day-a-week tenants who leave the building behind on Sunday afternoons. Instead, they actively seek out opportunities to work on campus. When Durant Road principal Nancy Allen moved grounds beautification very high on her wish list, school and church volunteers were quick to join together.
“We are lucky enough we have Refuge church sharing in our property during the weekend, and they were looking for a project to support our school,” said Liz Crute, president of the Durant Road Middle School PTA.
Church members didn’t hesitate to spend a recent Saturday morning working alongside Durant Road student and parent volunteers on that campus beautification project. Armed with picks, shovels, tillers, saws and more, the two groups joined together to spread beauty around the front yard of the school.
There was nothing easy about the work that had to be done. Layers of leaves were raked into piles, shrubs were clipped and forgotten plants were repurposed into new beds. Volunteers fought relentlessly against what seemed like miles of buried rubber edging, unforgiving red clay and stray roots that had long ago claimed parts of the yard for themselves. Gift markers from classes gone by were unearthed. A plaque honoring a teacher lost too young was moved to a centerpiece spot. And a marker for an historic tree was readable again.
Volunteers from the church cut timbers to outline new beds and spread topsoil and mulch donated by Mulch Masters, one of the school’s neighbors. Norwood Nursery is owned by Durant Middle School parents and they offered deeply discounted plants picked with care to survive the sunlight and water conditions that come from being in the front yard of a school. But the transformation never would not have happened without the hard work of a group of volunteers who weren’t afraid to swing a pick or dig a hole or persevere when a shovel tapped into stray concrete buried beneath a flower bed.
“We are so grateful as a school to work with a community partner that sees the value in reaching out to the community,” Crute said. “This means so much to us because there is no way we could have done this without the support and labor of people willing to come out on their Saturday and help us get this project done.”
Congregants at Refuge Church feel they belong at Durant Road Middle School and there are no plans anytime soon to take on a building fund or a mortgage that would allow them to move out.
“We want to invest in people, not buildings and I think sometimes churches get it backwards and invest a lot in buildings and not people,” Buchanan said. “I know buildings are important because part of your investment in people comes with having a place where you gather, teach and grow and encourage one another, but meeting here works well for what we are doing, and it allows us to have a partnership with the school and see needs in the community.”
Thanks to the hard work of a school family that includes children, their parents, teachers and members of the church who meet inside the building, the front yard of Durant Road Middle School is lush and flourishing. And just like the vegetation, the students who study at Durant are growing, and so are the members of Refuge Church. Some of the best things in life can be cultivated with sunshine, water and a little loving care.
Carla Turchetti compiles Faith in Focus each week. Email her with details of upcoming events at firstname.lastname@example.org.