Acting on your heartburst

bigcrossAt New Community United Methodist Church in Oakhurst, we jokingly talk about writing a new daytime drama series called “As the Dumpster Turns.” The dumpster is where we toss not only our trash, but also donations to our thrift store that are broken or too shabby to sell in the store. Despite the sign on the dumpster prohibiting folks from getting in it, there are always people climbing into it to retrieve what we have deemed beyond repair.  It is a fitting metaphor for the people we serve through our various mission ministries. These are folks whom our culture has often deemed beyond repair. But we know that when we love one another the way Jesus loves us, lives can be transformed.

“I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.” The center piece of our mission projects is our weekly community meal. It began as a casual conversation during a car ride home from another church that had a community meal. Wondering why we couldn’t do a meal like that turned into let’s just do it. The early days of New Community were marked by a lack of institutional structure and to borrow a phrase from Tom Bandy and Bill Easum, “heartbursts.” We might not be using the phrase exactly as they meant it, but whenever one or two people felt passionate about starting a particular ministry (the heartburst), they were given free rein to just do it. No votes, no “ we’ve never done that before,” just do it. The meal quickly expanded from a once a month event to every Wednesday. Two other churches in town take a Wednesday night, and New Community has teams that take two of the Wednesdays. In months where there is a fifth Wednesday, the youth prepare the meal. The meal is open to the entire community and serves as a place for all of the community, not just low-income or homeless, to share a meal and our stories. Meals are simple but hearty, often using food bank commodities. The budget for this ministry is under a $1,000.

“I was homeless and you gave me a room.” Four years ago many of the churches in town came together in response to the death from exposure of one of the town’s homeless men. The initial discussions seemed somewhat hopeless at times. No one could agree about how to best start sheltering, and some wouldn’t even come to the table because of New Community’s stance on full inclusion or the fact that the pastor was a woman. Finally, Pastor Kelley O’Connor said, “can’t we just agree to love?” The five churches that formed Full Circle Family Outreach agreed to do just that, and to let each church figure out what that meant to them. But every church serves dinner and breakfast, and provides a place to sleep during the winter months. New Community took Wednesday evenings to dovetail with our community meal.

“I was shivering and you gave me clothes.” While our thrift store funds many of our ministries, it also is a ministry. The clothing we receive as donations not only goes into the store, but also is given away. If anyone in town is in need, they can come to the store to pick out clothing or blankets. Some of the clothing goes to Seventh Generation, a non-profit that sends clothing all over the world. In addition, clothes are taken to Calwa United Methodist Church for their monthly clothing giveaways.

 “I was in prison and you came to me.” And then there is the prison ministry clothing. When a prisoner is released, they often have no clothing except the prison issue sweats or flimsy jumpsuit. Our prison ministry puts together large bins of clothing from our thrift store and takes them to the nearby prisons in the valley.

sortingOne other “heartburst” that happened at New Community came from Gridley United Methodist Church. Gridley had a program of backpacks for children in crisis. The backpacks are packed with items like toiletries, school supplies and comforting toys. They are given to Madera County Social Services to give to children who are experiencing any kind of crisis. Since the program was started at New Community, 1,522 backpacks have been handed out.

As a pastor only recently appointed to New Community, I feel blessed to step into a church with so many active mission ministries. When you read through the list, it might seem like we are a much larger church than we are. Each of these ministries runs through the efforts of a small number of folks who feel passionately about using their gifts to be the active presence of God. Empowering our folks to act on their “heartbursts” is a privilege.

Questions:

How do we as church leaders empower our members to act on their “heartbursts”? How do we get in the way?

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_DSC0088-LRev. Helen Mansfield
Pastor
New Community United Methodist Church
Oakhurst, CA

Mission Outreach for a New Day

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me….” Matthew 25:35b

DSCF5372There once was a story about a boy and an old man, who were sitting on a dock in the late afternoon, fishing.  They talked about many things-why sunsets are red, why the rain falls, why the season changes, what life is like.  Finally, the young boy looked up at the old man, as the old man was baiting his hook for him, and asked, “Does anybody ever see God?”

“Son,” said the old man, looking across the blue water, “it’s getting so I hardly see anything else.”

Isn’t that a wonderful way to see the world?  We want to approach our work at church that way, too.  We realize that this is a new day.  Many of our treasured old timers are no longer with us, and we miss them.  We face many challenges as we strive to cope with these changes.

I think that mission outreach for our churches means getting out of the church and meeting new people.  I find this is not as easy to do as it sounds.  Maybe your church has folks clamoring to get in, but I often find people are more reluctant than that.  They are afraid to make a commitment.  They are afraid of what an active faith will demand of them.  And they are afraid of how we will judge them.  I think at times these are legitimate concerns.

To me, mission outreach is at the heart of our ministry in Jesus Christ.   I believe we need to discover new ways for a new day!

Jesus says that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him.  How can we do it?  Here at Watsonville First, we’ve found some interesting ways to enter into relationships with new people.   Here are several.

BECOME A COMMUNITY SERVICE HOURS PROVIDER

You probably know that high school students in California must complete community service hours to graduate.  As non-profits, churches qualify to provide these hours!  This is a relatively easy way to get help get church projects completed, and meet new youth at the same time.  Contact your area high schools and ask to become a provider.

If you don’t know what your volunteers can do, be creative!  Their work can range from yard work to VBS.  We’ve also had folks help in the office by answering telephones, printing documents, etc.  Most people are willing to learn something new to complete their hours.  We seek to discern the gifts and talents people have and use them, if possible, and we explain specifically what it means to be a professional and talk to the public, etc.

At Watsonville First we’ve set up a permanent file for each participant.  We find that after students complete their work, the schools don’t always keep track of their hours.  We’ve had students come back on the eve of graduation to get another copy of their completed forms, so that they can graduate.  We’ve also provided proof for a student to establish her residency under the DREAM Act.  What an opportunity!

We also keep a file of the blank forms the students need.  Usually they must obtain written permission from their school counselor and a parent before they can participate.  Some schools have relaxed guidelines, and others are more specific.  (For an example of one school’s community service program, see Aptos High School’s website under students-community service: www.aptoshs.net/CommunityService)

ANOTHER WAY

Photos to Dec 19. 2012 CHURCH and HOME 126Another way of reaching out to the community is for your church to become qualified as a community service provider for adults.  This is a bit more complicated than working with high schoolers, but it’s a great way to enter into new relationships with people from your neighborhood who you haven’t even met yet.

Contact your local county Superior Court, and ask to become a provider.  Each county in California calls their programs by various names, but in Santa Cruz County it’s called the Court Referral Program.  Statewide these programs are set up through an agency called the California League of Alternative Service Programs, which allows groups like us help folks through community service sentencing programs known as alternative sentencing, or public work programs.

Still have questions?  Ms. Lisa Martinez (bilingual) with the Court Referral Program in Watsonville has agreed to help you find your local provider.  She can be reached at (831) 724-8799.

You also need a certificate of liability for the court program.  Berger & Jones (or your insurance provider) should supply the required form for free. They have the form online:  http://bergerandjonesinsurance.com/Site/28172672/default.asp  but I find it too complicated to fill out.  Just call them!

Lastly, we use a basic covenant of conduct that each adult participant must sign before working at our church.   This contains a written summary of the parameters for all our adult volunteers.  (See attached.)

I pray you and your church will find new ways to do God’s work of mission outreach in your community!

Questions to consider:

  • Are you and your congregation reaching out to new people?  If not, why not?
  • If so, will you share your ideas with us on this blog?
  • What can we do to help you with mission outreach at your church?

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Robin Mathews-Johnson PHOTORobin Mathews-Johnson
Pastor
Watsonville First UMC

Caring for our Community

Woodland is a community that cares.  It has more services both public and private or non-profit than many communities 2 and 3 times its size.  The United Methodist Church has always been a part of that; if there is a civic event, outreach, parade, or what have you, you can be sure that there are United Methodists involved in the leadership of it.  In addition, we partner with the other mainline denominations in town to jointly address many community concerns.  Collecting food and packing boxes for Christmas Food Baskets, canning applesauce, contributing and staffing the Woodland Community Food Closet, are just some of those joint annual events.  Very often community outreach projects begin as a ministry by the churches to the community and become independent.  When the project becomes its own 501c3, it soon is receiving funding from many sources and no longer dependent on the churches alone for support.  Then it is launched on its own.  The Community Care Car began that way and many members of our church still volunteer as drivers.  That’s the nature of mission — giving it away.

This is a generous and loving church and we church support many ministries beyond our doors, but at arm’s length.  That is, we take 16 special offerings during the year, including the 6 church wide special offerings, and the conference offering which we have made a special offering. Most of these are taken on the first Sunday of the month as a communion offering.  Obviously we have some months where we take more than one special offering.  People are ready to give to specific projects.

One of my goals as pastor has been to shift the focus from charity giving to partnership with those in need, but it has not been easy.  For example, when a 12-year-old approached us and said she wanted to collect warm things (socks, gloves, hats, scarves, etc.) to give to the local homeless shelter, who could tell her “No”?  Last year someone gave us 200 pairs of socks that was in addition to probably another 200 scarves, mittens, etc.

homelessnessSome of our missional giving came from long standing traditions.  Our church was pivotal in feeding the hungry from the 70’s when a concerted effort was begun to feed the homeless.  We were a part of building a permanent homeless shelter which also has a residential drug treatment program.  Since becoming a permanent facility, leadership at the shelter has expanded its ministries four-fold.  We are not needed as we once were, but we still have teams of 6-8 helping make and serve meals 2-3 times a month.  Members collect produce from the local farmer’s market and bring it to the shelter while others support the shelter in other ways: layettes for newborns, tutoring and special classes, holiday celebrations, etc.  It is still easier to give than to sit down and eat with a homeless person; however, the homeless who join us  for worship are welcomed by folks ready to listen, offer information, and include in fellowship.  We have had a number of homeless persons join the church and as a result have gotten out of homelessness.  Several families who are financially living on the edge have been kept from homelessness through the generosity of members who have contributed to a special assistance fund for emergency support.

In addition to the meals for the homeless shelter we have 3 other meal ministries.  We prepare meals for a transitional half-way house for people who are coming back into society from jail or from mental health issues.  Our youth have taken on a ministry of preparing meals and leaving them in the church freezer for anyone who is in need, primarily busy people,  seniors who need an extra meal on the weekends, or anyone who stops by and needs food.  Approximately 30 meals are prepared on a monthly basis and in the process, youth learn how to sharpen their cooking skills.  It is a win-win situation for everyone.  Joe’s Dinner is also another ministry that  began with a member who was concerned about folks who didn’t have enough money at the end of the month to cover all their needs.  This meal is open to anyone who wants to come.  It has been taken over by Joe’s son and daughter in law who have ‘upgraded’ the experience to include child care, using good dishes, not paper plates, and fostering an atmosphere that is not a ‘soup kitchen’.  It has become Joe’s Fellowship Dinner where people off the street, families at the end of their rope and members of the church all come to eat together.

The last ministry I want to mention is one that grew out of our church and is now independent — the Ark Preschool.  The church provides significant space for it and members volunteer in many ways, but it is no longer ‘ours’.  Ark Preschool grew out of a gifts discovery class held here at the church where 2 members of the church realized that they felt called to begin a preschool for impoverished children.  The school is now a non-profit agency and has expanded to hold 24 children and is free for the families who enroll.  The only requirement is that the families come by referral from some public agency, including the church.  It is a Christian preschool and a model that is changing the lives of young children and their families.

Mission work permeates our life.  Our church has been sending letters through Amnesty International for 35 years.  The children support the Heifer Project and Unicef; the adult Sunday School has ‘Mission Sunday School’ in the summer where a small team goes to homes to clean out closets or do yard work, paint or whatever is needed; the UMW involves the whole church in making health kits and providing new school clothes at the beginning of the school year for the children who are at the shelter or in transitional housing.  At UMC Woodland, even if you’ve never put your hand into mission outreach, you are steeped in it happening all around you.  Just hearing about what some group is doing means that everyone begins to see the world in a new way.

Question to consider:

* What unique missional goals or programs does your church have with your community?
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Rev. Ardith Allread
Pastor
United Methodist Church Woodland

Missions – Reaching Across the Street and Around the World

As individuals and communities of faith we are now enjoying the Easter after glow.  We will continue to celebrate the powerful Easter story and its impact on our lives.  It is an important time of thanksgiving and joy, and in these moment s of celebration we may actually catch a spiritual updraft  believing that anything is possible in the name of the Risen Christ.  Post Easter how do we keep soaring into the greater works Jesus envisions for us?

According to scripture Jesus was very busy after the resurrection giving final instructions to the community of believers with the disciples not entirely clear about what comes next.  Jesus was very clear “I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do.  They will do even greater works…” John 14:12

In his book “Vital Churches Changing Communities and the World” Jorge Acevedo reminds us that “The ‘greater things’ Jesus invites us to participate in are about demonstrating, illustrating, and expressing God’s love to people.  These are the greater things that we are invited by Jesus to do.  Demonstrating God’s love is the primary task of followers of Jesus.  It also is why the local church exists.”

In his reflections on years of outreach mission experience, Acevedo offers us a picture of what it looks like to love our neighbors.  He says loving our neighbors involves three things;aid, advancement, and advocacy.  This weekend, I heard a mission story that embodied these three actions.  It was a powerful story about reaching neighbors in need and showing God’s love.

The mission setting that caught my attention is a cooperative ministry organized through ecumenical partners concerned about the needs of, and the quality of life, for senior citizens in the community.

First, we love our neighbors by giving immediate aid– A concerned and loving family was working hard to take care of their aging grandmother.  The grandmother’s world had steadily gotten smaller and smaller.  She had little interest in eating, weighed only 85 pounds, and could no longer move about on her own.  She got weaker and weaker and was finally placed in hospice care.  While in hospice care, with constant supervision, she began to stabilize.  Hospice suggested that the grandmother be brought to the Ecumenical Senior Service organization for meals and greater contact with other seniors.  The family did as instructed and brought her to the center where she began to thrive.  Within a few months her body weight doubled and she was done with  the immediate crisis.

Second, we love our neighbors by giving ongoing advancement – Once the grandmother gained strength, the Ecumenical Senior Service organization was able to help her receive other resources and explore other opportunities.  She became an active and vital part of the community at the center.  She had things to do, and people to see, she had purpose.   Her life had advanced to a new level of engagement with the world.

Third, we love our neighbor by our continual advocacy – Because of anongoing commitment to advocate for the dignity of seniors at all stages of life, this grandmother lived another eight years as a vital  part of the community and shared in its mission until her death at the age of 99.  Her life was transformed through the mission of the ecumenical partnership, and in turn she participated in the transformation of others.

This is what it means to love our neighbors.  Leading our congregations into the mission field, doing what matters to God, reaching across the street and around the world happens when we are guided by the Spirit and grounded in our Wesleyan DNA.

Questions to consider:

  • How does your community of faith invite and inspire disciples to serve God by serving neighbor?
  • Where do you see aid, advancement, and advocacy in the name of Christ in your congregation’s love of neighbor?

(Vital Churches Changing Communities and the World, Jorge Acevedo, Abingdon Press, Nashville.)
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Picture1Rev. Linda D. Caldwell
Conference Superintendent for Mission Collaboration
California-Nevada Annual Conference