By Sue Botos
Some angels landed in Rocky River last week. They may have arrived by bus instead of wing, but to city officials and residents, they were really heaven-sent.
The seraphs, aka members of Rocky River Gateway Church, plus groups from partner churches in Hendersonville, Ky., and Knoxville, Tenn., spent three days giving much-needed face lifts to Bradstreet’s Landing, Linden Park, Elmwood Park and the Hamilton Ice Arena, planting, painting, cleaning, weeding and even replacing roof shingles.
“When I start a church, I also serve the city,” Gateway pastor Alex Ennes said. “The first thing I did when I came to Rocky River was meet with the mayor and ask how we could help out,” added Ennes, who began the Rocky River church, which meets at Lutheran West High School on Sundays, in January.
Prior to that, the Arkansas native headed the downtown Gateway Church, which meets at Hilarities Comedy Club. “That started with just me, my wife and our dog,” said Ennes, whose family now includes two boys. He said he made his way north after meeting his wife, Shari, a Westlake resident, on Match.com.
With a background in ministry, Ennes spoke with colleagues who had started churches and realized that this was his calling. “People are usually wary of new churches,” said Ennes, who is also the chaplain for the Cleveland Indians. “This (association) kind of helps people think, ‘He must be a halfway decent guy,’” he noted.
This kind of community service is important to the ministry, so Ennes met with Mayor Pam Bobst and Parks and Recreation Director Chris Mehling to brainstorm projects. He then sent for re-enforcements from the Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville and the First Baptist Church in Hendersonville. Ennes explained that the churches are partners in the North American Mission Board. This organization sends crews throughout the country to assist with disaster relief and other projects.
One of those crews was at Linden Park on Friday, planting lilies left over from the Beautification Committee’s recent perennial plant sale. Youth pastor Matt McCraw, from the First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, said that his group of 18, four adults and 14 teens, split into six teams to tackle jobs throughout the city.
“We’ve had a partnership (with the other churches) for three years and come to Cleveland every other summer,” he said, adding that his group contributed $1,000 to Gateway Church for more projects.
Ennes had said earlier that many times a city will have the materials, such as paint, but not the manpower to do the jobs. This thought was echoed by parks and recreation worker Brian Thompson, who checked in with the Tennessee group at Elmwood Park. “We get a big to-do list as soon as the weather breaks. They’re doing a lot of stuff we probably wouldn’t have gotten around to,” he stated. Nearby, students Ava Hurst and Cassidy Giles were scraping layers of paint from picnic benches, while a crowd descended on the concessions stand to reshingle the roof and replace rotted wood. “We really like helping others and getting the word out,” Hurst commented.
Restrooms received attention at all of the group’s stops, with the facility at Bradstreet’s Landing stripped down to the stud walls and renovated. “That one was in rough shape,” Ennes recalled.
At the Hamilton Ice Arena, the groups painted behind the bleachers and cleaned up the restrooms. “They even cleaned up the boards around the rink with Magic Eraser. They’ve been a big help,” stated rink supervisor Jeff Waddell.
But while the visiting angels vanished on Monday, Ennes said that work in the city will be ongoing. “We have a partnership with the city and a long-term strategy,” he stated, adding that such projects as the clearing of fallen trees, the result of last fall’s hurricane, could be on the agenda.