WINSTON-SALEM – Scott Osterberg describes conditions in the Waughtown neighborhood around New Story Church as “thirty grit sandpaper rough.” One in two children live below the federal poverty line. A church staff member was once hit by a stray bullet while helping lead Monday night worship.
Try adding a public health crisis to the mix of dynamics.
“The people we work with are struggling more than most,” Scott said. “We’ve had a tremendous number of people in recovery who have relapsed because times have gotten so tough. We’ve had people lose their jobs, lose their places to live.”
In the age of social distancing protocols, Scott and his team have had to get creative to sustain outreach efforts in Waughtown, a community afflicted by joblessness, high student dropout rates, gang activity and a legacy of disinvestment.
“This pandemic…forced us to not just think outside the box,” Scott says, “but kind of destroy any box there was.”
Much of the shift involved taking the church to the people. Staff and volunteers mobilized to deliver meals. A prayer team fanned out to share blessings with people on the street. A group packed teacher appreciation bags for nearby Forest Park Elementary.
The church hosted pop-up clinics and a COVID-19 vaccine event with Spanish language outreach. There was even a drive-through baby shower for an expecting family.
As a United Methodist mission church, New Story relies on outside contributions to underwrite its work. In Waughtown, the average income is lower than 94 percent of U.S. neighborhoods, according to real estate database NeighborhoodScout. The church also has a campus called Peters Creek on Trademart Boulevard.
“About 70 percent of our church is in poverty,” Scott said. “For them, to give a dollar a week would be a tremendous amount.”
The Foundation provides financial support for the church’s medical and dental clinics, homeless shelter, clothing closet and feeding ministry.
Scott has taken part in leadership development courses through the Foundation’s Reynolds Ministries. He’s needed every bit of it to respond to the needs of his congregation.
A banner out front proclaims “Everyone is Welcome Here.”
“So many people at New Story are new to the faith,” Scott said. “This pandemic has created so many questions, but not a lot of good answers.”
“I’m very hopeful that whenever the pandemic comes to an end, we’ll take a lot of the things we learned and use them to reach even further out than we already have.”
The current class of 25 individuals from across the Conference will be stronger and better equipped because of their commitment.