FUMC Marshall: Empowering the Next Generation While Healing the Wounds of the Past
By: Sherri Gragg
FUMC Marshall has begun an exciting internship program to create a pathway to ministry for exceptional students from Wylie College.
Healing the Painful Past
In the fall of 1960, Marshall, Texas businesses removed their lunch counters. The message was clear, the doors of white establishments would remain firmly closed to African Americans. There would be no more of the previous spring’s disruptive sit-ins led by the students of historically African American Wylie and Bishop Colleges.
Marshall’s lunch counters would not reopen for more than 35 years. The deep roots of racial segregation and injustice, however, have taken even longer to eradicate. Today, almost 60 years after the students of Wylie College braved assault and arrest during The Civil Rights Movement, the First United Methodist Church of Marshall is partnering with Wylie College to establish The Wylie United Methodist Leadership Pathway (The Pathway) internship program. In doing so, they will ensure racial justice marches on. The program, which is a partnership between the Texas Conference, the North District of the Texas Conference, FUMC Marshall, and Wylie College, is spearheaded by FUMC Marshall pastor, Rev. Rodger Garbs. FUMC Director of Discipleship, David Lee, who has recently begun the process of pastoral ordination, has been vital to the program’s development.
Equipping Young Leaders for Ministry
The purpose of the internship program is to provide a way for select students from Wylie College to develop leadership skills. Garbs hopes that many of these young men and women will choose to serve as pastors, and worship leaders within the United Methodist Church. He believes empowering young leaders of color is an important investment in the future of the UMC. “All churches need strong leaders,” Garbs said, “and strong leaders of color within the UMC are too few and far in between. We are hoping to change that.”
Students commit to an intensive two-year program which seeks to develop their leadership skills through participation in five areas: Sunday Morning Worship, Sunday Evening Worship, Discipleship Small Groups, Leadership Development Experiences, and Mission Experience. The focus areas are intentionally designed to equip the young leaders in a wide range of skills necessary to lead a church effectively. Students not only help lead worship services at FUMC Marshall, they have the opportunity to learn from professionals in 14 different fields such as Administration, Preaching and Worship Leading, and Conflict Management. The Pathway is currently working closely with Wylie College to make the internship program an official course of study at the school so that students are able to get academic credit for the time they spend as interns.
Success and Unity
The program is already realizing the goal of opening the door to ministry for a new generation of UMC pastors and worship leaders. Two interns have committed to pursue the pastorate after only a few months in the program. Both will begin seminary in the fall of 2018.
One the interns’ responsibilities has been to begin a new worship service on Sunday evening. Although it is geared toward Wylie students, everyone is welcome. Current members of the predominantly white congregation have embraced worshipping with the students of color. In a poignant contrast to the banned lunch counters of the past, everyone joins together after the evening service to share a meal.
At the end of each Sunday evening service, in a church that was built by the hands of slaves, four African American interns stand to open their arms to receive their white brothers and sisters for prayer. Tears fall. Prayers rise. And if one listens closely enough, one will hear the chains of racial injustice breaking at last.