Laity Luncheon and Panel Discussion
By: Sherri Gragg
Lay Leader John Esquivel facilitated an engaging panel discussion on how churches can best get involved with Bishop Scott Jones’s “We Love All God’s Children” initiative. “Our objective for today is to provide you with information about how you and your church can participate in “We Love All God’s Children,” said Esquivel. “We want congregations of all sizes to be able to say, ‘We can do that!’”
The panel of experts in the areas of education, health, and discipleship were as follows:
The Rev. Dr. Jesse Brannen- Former Director for the Center of Congregational Excellence, and current District Superintendent of the Central South District.
Susan Brannen- Primary nurse for Lakeview Methodist Conference Center Infirmary.
The Rev. Jill Daniel- Former associate pastor of Trinity UMC Beaumont, and new Director of the “We Love All God’s Children” initiative. Served National Head Start Association.
Bea Garza- Former senior leader in the Houston Independent School District, and recently retired President and CEO of AAMA, the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans. Chairperson of the Conference committee which oversees the “We Love All God's Children” initiative.
Dr. Brant Graham- Superintendent of the Burkeville ISD, and the licensed pastor of Moscow Bible UMC and First UMC Corrigan. Graham also serves on the We Love All God's Children committee.
The Panel Discussion
Q: How can a church effectively engage with local public schools?
- Think, dream, and hope. Then, work within that.
- Don't try to be something you are not.
- Understand that it is a relationship first. There is a lot of teaching and learning going on, and a lot of opportunity for volunteering in the current system.
- Be bold and courageous. Make that contact!
Q: Are there any rules churches should know about?
A: (Graham) Yes. Show up with identification. You won’t get in otherwise. Understand that the school may run a background check on you. Whether you are serving in a large district or a tiny district, you will be treated a bit differently but all will be glad to see you.
Q: Post Harvey, what are the reoccurring health needs of children?
A: (S. Brannen) There are a lot of asthma and breathing issues. Also, there are a lot of children who just need love and support. They need nurturing, and to know that someone cares.
Q: Our community has been affected by repeated disasters. Does the Conference have something to equip local churches to minister to children who have suffered repeated trauma?
A: (J. Brannen) Yes. “We Love All God’s Children” is a holistic approach. There are plans in the works. The new director begins July 1. We fully expect that by the end of this year, there will be concrete plans in place to address all of those issues.
A: (Daniel) One of the things we will be doing is to ask what the needs are in the community. Please continue to voice them. Whatever your issue is, we want to know what those are. The conversation that begins today will continue on.
Q: Our church has begun a mentoring program, but we are having difficulty building a relationship with elementary schools. What can be done to build relationships so that the schools have more confidence in us?
A: (Garza)- Change your mindset. Begin by asking "How can we help?" If a school is not accepting to mentoring, try week of teacher appreciation. Take in gifts for the teachers or provide a large cake. It is about relationship building. Begin conversations and find out where the pain is. Then ask, “How can I help with the pain?”
The Laity Luncheon, which followed the panel discussion, featured accomplished Jazz pianist, Pamela York. Former Houston Oiler and San Francisco 48ers Super Bowl champion, Spencer Tillman was the featured speaker.