By Lindsay Peyton
Radical Hospitality Despite Social Distancing
Even before the COVID-19 began to hit the small towns of Texas, radical hospitality has become the motto at Cheatham Memorial UMC in Edgewood Texas. There are a number of ways congregants go the extra mile to welcome others to the church and to create a community that extends beyond its building.
Rev. David McGlocklin personally experienced radical hospitality the minute he arrived at Cheatham Memorial. He was appointed to serve about a year ago and had just moved from his native California to Texas. “About 20 people were waiting to unpack my truck,” he said. “That was my first experience of their hospitality.”
The same warmth and welcoming spirit exist in the church’s sanctuary, McGlocklin said. Guests often share their experience of being embraced by the congregation. “It’s not fake; there’s a genuine interest in people who walk through the door,” the pastor said. “New members tell us that’s why they stay. They’re so welcome in this place.”
Cheatem Memorial, however, was not always this way, McGlocklin explained. “They had to do some soul-searching,” he said.
A little more than five years ago, the congregation joined the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI), a program that promotes renewal and growth in the organization. Churches that join the initiative embark on a unique analysis of their operation, services and mission – and then determine the best ways to improve.
Established in 1879, Cheatem Memorial had long been a vital part of the small, rural city of Edgewood, located in East Texas, about 60 miles away from Dallas and 15 miles North of Canton. In recent years, the church recognized that it was no longer reaching its potential to serve residents.
Judi Yarborough, a member of the church for 25 years, explained that the VCI process opened congregants eyes to ways they could improve – especially when it came to working with children and seniors.
“We actually went door-to-door to find out the need,” she recalled.
Yarborough said that the church created “Edgewood Connections,” a partnership of businesses, churches, schools, police department and the mayor to discuss how to band together to care for the community.
During a visit with Meals on Wheels, Cheatem Memorial learned that elderly residents of Edgewood used to gather at the community center to play bingo, quilt and enjoy meals together. “But that had fallen off,” Yarborough said.
The church decided to bring the meals back – but with a new twist. “We recognized that the food we supplied was secondary to the fellowship that takes place,” Yarborough said.
In addition to offering free meals to seniors, Cheatem Memorial decided to include more opportunities for fellowship with different age groups, the police and mayor.
Yarborough recalled that at the first event, the pastor at the time worried if anyone would show up. “We had 125 for the very first meal,” she said. “And it’s just grown since then. We’ve been doing it for five years now.”
Recently, students in the high school culinary program started baking the desserts, and the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) began serving meals, fostering an even greater connection between youth and the elderly.
Individuals from all backgrounds join in the event. “You might find the mayor sitting next to someone who doesn’t have a penny,” Yarborough said. “The chief of police or the mayor will sit with the elderly or the very poor, break bread with them and talk and, more importantly, listen.”
A donation jar at the event supports the Meals on Wheels office in Tyler, and recently, Cheatem Memorial UMC began partnering with other churches to provide food and volunteers.
Another important program at Cheatem Memorial is its partnership with Child Protective Services (CPS), through the CarePortal program, a technology platform that allows churches to connect to vulnerable children and their families. In total, about a dozen churches in the county have joined together to respond whenever there is a request from a family in need.
Volunteers in the past have added drywall to a home to make it safer for the family inside. They have also helped clean and sanitize houses – and even helped teach families how to maintain their homes on their own.
Once the church starts assisting a family, volunteers stay in touch and offer long-term support and prayer. They typically share other programs and resources that the church offers that could help.
For example, for the past 25 years, Cheatham has sponsored the Community Angel Tree, which provides gifts for children and the elderly. The church accepts donations and sorts them for distribution. This year, the community was so generous that the church was able to concentrate on providing food for families as well.
Families that learn about Cheatem from CarePortal and CPS often become a part of the Angel Tree. They also can join the backpack food program that the church started about four years ago.
“There are kids who just don’t have food on the weekends,” Yarborough said.
At first, volunteers responded by filling shoeboxes with food that children could take home on Friday. They later began stuffing backpacks for the students – and also providing food for the siblings at home.
“The children are very happy to have this food,” Yarborough said. “The teachers say the children in the program do much better with their studies.”
Now, Cheatem partners with other churches and the Boy Scouts to help pack and deliver food. The shoeboxes are used for food for the elderly. They are also filled with cleaning supplies to donate to area food banks.
Cheatem Memorial fills a closet with school supplies at the area elementary for students in need. There’s a prayer shawl ministry and even Karate for Christ classes, as well as annual Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous conferences on campus. The church adopted the junior high football team and hosts a booth at the Edgewood Heritage Festival.
Most of these programs were already in action when McGlocklin arrived. He enjoys being a part of them and watching them grow. Each week the pastor is part of a reading program with kindergarten and first-grade students. The church has 10 members who volunteer every week at the school “We have two people every day to read and tutor elementary students,” McGlocklin said.
There are a lot of children, and seniors too, who just need to be loved, the pastor said. He already has plans to create a center for teens in Edgewood. “There’s nothing like that in town,” he said.
McGlocklin also wants to build a space for child care, where mothers could gather for a workout or chat over a meal at a café. And, he is talking to single mothers in the area to explore ways their needs can be addressed.
McGlocklin said that he is consistently impressed with the giving spirit of the church. “They have a passion for this community,” he said. “We want to be a blessing for others, and in that blessing, we receive a blessing.”
Yarborough hopes the spirit is contagious and that other churches will follow Cheatem Memorial’s example. “I wish everyone would do this stuff,” she said. “There are so many people with nothing. We have so much, and we need to share it.”
She was recently named Volunteer of the Year in Edgewood – and laughs saying that she likes to enlist others to work. “Every town has something you can do, even if it’s just to agree to pray for others,” she said.
Yarborough also encourages other churches to join forces and work together. “There are no denominations in Heaven,” she said. “If we all work together, we can be so much better.”
McGlocklin shares the story of Paul and his mission to serve the Macedonians as inspiration. “We may love ourselves, and people who look like us,” he said.
But God calls us to serve all and not discriminate. “Go to people who need the love of God who aren’t being served,” McGlocklin said. “Who are your Macedonians? A congregation needs to figure that out – and then go show them love.”
For more information about Cheatem Memorial UMC, visit cheathamumc.net.