Meeting needs: Christian Center reaches out to bless Park City — and beyond

Published: Tuesday, June 25 2013 1:32 p.m. MDT

Rob Harter is executive director and pastor at the Christian Center of Park City, where the motto is: "Meeting people at their point of need as an expression of God's love."

Joseph Walker, Deseret News

PARK CITY — Gloria Edwards’ hands are deep inside a brown cardboard box, sorting through clothes that have been brought to the loading dock behind the Christian Center of Park City on a warm, windy June day.

“Today I am here,” she said, her proper British accent providing aural evidence of her history as a teacher in London before she reached the age of retirement. “Tomorrow they may have me work in the thrift shop, and the next day in the food pantry. I go where the need is.”

That phrase — “I go where the need is” — could very well be the motto of the 13-year-old Christian Center, which was established in 2000 by Jim and Susan Swartz and founding director Tim Dahlin as a way to bring Park City’s interfaith community together to serve those in need in Summit and Wasatch Counties.

“We’re not a church, and I don’t conduct services here, although I am an ordained minister,” said Rob Harter, who has been the Christian Center’s executive director since 2010 when Dahlin retired. “But we do have two churches — Baptist and Presbyterian — who meet in our upstairs meeting room each Sunday.

“We have a Christian orientation, but we are completely interdenominational,” Harter continued. “We focus on what we agree upon rather than what separates us.”

And what Harter and Edwards and hundreds of others from a wide variety of faith backgrounds who work and volunteer at the Christian Center of Park City agree upon is this: There is humanitarian work to be done in Park City.

“People are always asking, ‘Seriously, who needs food in Park City?’” Harter said. “Well, it turns out there are always people up here and throughout Summit County and Wasatch County who do. And they need clothing. And they need counseling. And they need legal services. And we’re here to help them in any way we can.”

Last year, for example, more than 51,000 people used the food pantry associated with the Christian Center of Park City and its mobile food pantry, and more than $1 million worth of food was given to individuals and families in need. Thousands more received clothing through the CCPC's two thrift stores, while others received professional counseling by licensed professional counselors as part of what Harter calls an attempt to “go deeper” and “get to the root of people’s problems.”

And of course, Harter and his staff and volunteers are there to offer spiritual support to those in need.

“There is no religious requirement here — we don’t even ask about religion,” Harter said. “But if they request religious counseling or if they want us to pray with them, of course we are happy to do that. And if they belong to a particular religious denomination, we are a conduit to help them find the faith support they need.”

When the Christian Center was established 13 years ago, it was primarily a gathering place for international students who came to Park City to ski or work. (It still serves that purpose, Harter says, becoming a sort of mini-United Nations during certain times of the year.) When a few of the students mentioned that they needed a bed, or they needed ski equipment, center officials said, “Well, we can help you with that.”

“We became the ‘go-to’ place for international students, finding beds and equipment and anything else they needed,” Harter said. “Things just kind of exploded from there.”

Pretty soon the center was operating a full thrift store.

“We’re not as big as Deseret Industries, but that’s the concept,” Harter said. “We’re giving stuff a second chance, and we’re giving people some smokin’ hot deals.”

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