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CommUNITYfest Is Born

Park Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church Working To Build A United Neighborhood

Park Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church Pastor Robert L. Davis, left, invites neighbors to join in CommUNITYfest on Sunday, Aug. 5. Other photos show participants at last year’s event. Photo of Pastor Davis by Sierra Fleenor

  On Albion Street between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Bruce Randolph Avenue sits a red brick church with a tall spire. Amidst the surrounding asphalt and blacktop, a large, bright green lawn throws the Denver Park Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church’s building into relief.

Dr. Robert L. Davis has served as pastor of this church since January, 2016. Shortly after his arrival, Davis noticed that the neighborhood seemed to be experiencing a massive transition. Change doesn’t worry Davis, though, because he knows Park Hill is a special neighborhood.

“Even as we’re transitioning and becoming a younger community, a more Caucasian community, there still is a sense of community,” said Davis. “We know all of our neighbors.”

Davis believes Park Hill SDA has a critical role to play in supporting and developing the neighborhood. “This is where we live. We as individuals may live in different parts of the city,” he said. “But, we as the church, as the collection of people, we live right here on the corner of Albion and Bruce Randolph.”

The church, he says, includes not just the members of his congregation – not just those who share their beliefs – but the surrounding neighbors who may or may not practice any faith. “I don’t care what church you’re a member of. I live across the street from you. I’m your pastor,” Davis said.

Rather than viewing themselves as people living in a house, passing through, Davis wants his neighbors to know that Park Hill is their home and that the Park Hill SDA is here to support them. This is no passive promise. This commitment led the leaders of Park Hill SDA and the Northeast Denver Islamic Center to recently ask themselves what was really needed.

“If we’re really going to be a community,” Davis recalls thinking, “Then we have to fellowship and spend time together.”

In came the women

When Pastor Davis and Imam Ali of the Islamic center started discussing ways to engage and support the community, they first thought they would just have a small barbecue to allow their respective congregants to meet one another. They quickly realized that they could dream bigger and possibly pull off something that would welcome the wider neighborhood into the faith communities’ arms.

“We did the greatest thing you can do: We got the women of the church involved,” said Davis.

Dr. Carrol Ali from the Islamic Center, and Cherrelyn Napue from Park Hill SDA stepped in and helped give shape to the idea. “We thought the most important fact would be holistic health, meaning teaching people how to increase the quality of their health,” Davis said.

The organizers knew that their event would need to have HIV and other health screenings and education, but they also wanted to focus on economic empowerment. “It is really difficult to manage money here in Denver unless you make a high income.”

The group invited local partners to come and meet with neighbors. Partners then provided information covering a wide variety of topics such as investing, budgeting, money management, and even business planning.

What began as a chance to fellowship and spend time together has grown into a gathering of hundreds of neighbors learning and connecting with one another known as the Park Hill Interfaith CommUNITYfest.

Beyond providing neighbors with connections, Davis hopes to discover the gifts and skills of neighbors, so that they, too, can become a community resource to others. “A neighbor may be a lecturer on nutrition, but we wouldn’t know that,” he said. CommUNITYfest provides an opportunity to make these connections formally and informally.

Furthermore, this model for community building suggests that there are not “needy” neighbors and “helpful” neighbors, but rather that this is a resource-rich community that can provide interconnected support. Or, in the words of Davis, “I don’t want you do to things for me, or do things to me—I want you to do things with me, as equals, as partners. I think this model does that.”

Only the beginning

CommUNITYfest may be just one day, but it represents an opportunity for a more united neighborhood, filled with people supporting one another through good times and bad. For Davis, CommUNITYfest is only the beginning.

“I envision a community where people know each other, where neighbors know each other, where we fellowship, where we share, where we give, and where we work together for the common good both on a faith-level and on a secular-level,” he said.

The event also represents a cure to the ails of decaying public discourse and a country divided.

“We live in a nation now where we don’t even have the same objectives,” Davis said. “That’s where the toxicity and the hostility has come in. We don’t know each other, we don’t care about each other, we’re not a part of a community, we’re not a part of a family.”

Davis believes that to change this reality, people have to come together at the neighborhood level to fellowship and to engage in difficult conversations.

“When you start to develop intimate communities you understand that we can vote for different people, we can belong to different political parties, but we still have the same goals and objectives.”

Join Park Hill SDA, the Islamic Center, and supporters and vendors for the Park Hill Interfaith CommUNITYfest, a day of food, music, and activities on Sunday, Aug. 5, from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Albion Street between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 35th Street.

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