Look Out When Laity Get Involved
When Lay Leader Stephanie Griffin traveled to the uttermost corners of the conference this year, she returned with story after story of laity practicing inspirational disciple making. She shared a few of those heartwarming examples during her address at Annual Conference.
Asbury UMC in Tyler, was a congregation averaging about 15 members… no nursery… and no children…until Kadden entered the picture. “This energetic toddler, a fourth-generation Methodist and grandson of two charter members of Asbury UMC in Tyler,” says Lay Leader Stephanie Griffin, “is changing the way Asbury worships on Sunday mornings. The congregation quickly realized they needed to make a few changes to welcome this 30-lb. dynamo into worship since he brings a jolt of energy that only a child can bring to a church family. And babies aren’t the only thing Asbury made way for…they looked beyond their walls and found a couple of ways to be in mission.” Asbury gave its under-utilized fellowship hall some sprucing up then offered to partner with “Texas Hunger Initiative" by offering them space for their administrative offices and training center. Asbury is also preparing to become the East Texas home of Justice for Our Neighbor. “The congregation chose to look at what they had to offer – and now they are truly making a difference in the community where they worship.”
Adds Stephanie, “As I have traveled across the conference, I’ve witnessed this truth: Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is about relationships. Until the them becomes us there is no connection.”
Examples of laity looking for ways to build relationships with neighbors:
· having block parties to hand out school supplies
· walking across the street to hand out bottled water to skateboarders
· leaving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the kitchen counter during church on Sunday morning for the children next door to slip in and take
“The story of Adriane Gray, a member of FUMC Rosenberg is a special one,” she shares. In 2009, when Adriane realized that 85% of the children in the area were on the school lunch program, she launched the LUNCHES OF LOVE (LOL) program to feed 150 children at a local elementary school during their two-week break. “In a little over seven months’ time a passionate lay person, who accepted God’s call on her life, reached out to her church and then to others in the community to grow God’s ministry dream despite the challenges of finances, manpower and logistics.” Today, LOL is feeding more than 2,200 children each day during the school breaks. They have expanded their program to include nine elementary schools and launched a second host site at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Richmond.
Additionally, a weekend program has been launched. Each Friday, approximately 400 children take home healthy nonperishable care packages. They will be adding two more schools this summer. One mother sent this note: “Thank you, my LOL angels, for the lunches for my kids during our hard times. We were evicted from our home two months ago and forced to live in our car. The only constant meals my kids received were from school and LOL. I interviewed for two jobs last month and was hired for both! You helped us when we were in dire straits. Someone helped me find shelter and now I have the means to put a roof over our heads and a supper on the table. You helped us and now I want another family to have the 4 lunches my kids received. If it weren’t for the loving people at Lunches of Love, I’m not sure where we would be right now. Each weekend I knew my kids would be OK because they had a great meal from LOL. Thank you for what you do for our kids!”
“It may be intimidating to start a ministry all by yourself, so consider how laity are partnering with community groups living their faith in their daily lives,” adds Stephanie. For example:
· The Congregation at McCabe Roberts Ave. UMC has a community garden and is a part of the T.A.S.T.E. project. (Teaching Agriculture Sustainability Through Economics). Ava Graves coordinates the program that partners with schools, businesses, and other organizations to educate at risk youth in ways to grow healthy food, eat better and use these skills to create job opportunities.
· Other congregations are feeding the homeless, working in health clinics, traveling the globe to provide water wells or building houses -- all to strengthen relationships of love from the Texas Annual Conference.
Adds Stephanie, “This year through the leadership of Leah Taylor and the Duke Divinity Leadership program we are engaging leaders to explore grand new experiments for lay leaders to live their faith beyond office holding and committee membership.” This is an opportunity to identify gifted laity with a passion and revitalize the creative United Methodist imagination that, at its best, founded transformative institutions in the name of Jesus Christ.”
“I’ll do it”
Adds Stephanie, “Lay leaders are the ones who look around and say “I’ll do it.” I think of the McDougal’s in Edom who saw a need for a Sunday School teacher, a bus driver and a youth director and said I’ll do it. And they have made a difference by building relationships with the children in their community.”
In the story of the Good Samaritan, neighbor is defined as the one who showed mercy. “I can tell you that the laity of the Texas Annual Conference is not crossing to the other side of the street to avoid a need. There are many who are stepping into the ditch and binding up the wounds in this hurting world. When you tell God, ‘I’ll do it’, it won’t always be easy but it will fill your life with the love of Christ like nothing you can imagine.”