People of Faith: Nov. 4, 2016

Sonya Schmidt Murphy

Sonya Schmidt Murphy

Murphy joins Camp Aldersgate as CEO

The board of directors for Camp Aldersgate, a United Methodist-related camp that offers experiences for individuals with special needs, has announced the selection of Sonya Schmidt Murphy as the camp’s new chief executive officer. Murphy succeeds Sarah Wacaster, who was employed with Camp Aldersgate for 21 years.

A Little Rock native who grew up in Magnolia, Murphy comes to Camp Aldersgate with experience in the healthcare, education, banking and nonprofit sectors. She has spent the majority of her career in nonprofit management, including serving as executive director of Economics Arkansas and president of the St. Vincent Foundation.

Murphy is a life-long United Methodist and an active member of St. James UMC Little Rock, where she serves as a member of the Church Council, and she and her husband, Mark, are both members of the Genesis Sunday School Class.

“Our board of directors knew we needed someone with vision, energy, leadership, strong community relationships, and a giant heart,” said board chair Cathy Engelkes. “Each of these are critical as we look to take Camp in new strategic directions. And we are convinced Sonya has demonstrated each of these key qualities throughout her many years of service in Arkansas. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious, and when combined with her vision and leadership, we just knew we had found the right person. Camp Aldersgate is a ‘one-of-a-kind, wonderful place,’ and it takes a ‘one-of-a-kind, special person’ to lead it. We are absolutely thrilled to have Sonya on our team!”

As the only camp of its kind in Arkansas, Camp Aldersgate’s mission is to create extraordinary experiences for individuals with special needs, enabling them to expand their worlds, and express their unique voices. It serves more than 1,700 individuals with and without special needs each year through its year-round programming, including Summer Medical Camps; Kota Camps for children with and without special needs; a Seniors Day Out program for central Arkansas senior adults; and Weekend Camps that provide opportunities for campers with special needs to experience activities that promote their cognitive, physical, emotional and social growth.

William McCastlain

William McCastlain

McCastlain receives interfaith leadership award for suicide prevention efforts

For the third year in a row, a United Methodist is among the recipients of the Marie Interfaith Civic Leadership Award.

William McCastlain, a member of Pulaski Heights UMC Little Rock, was honored Sept. 25 for founding the #3people4life campaign in memory of his older brother Cal, who took his own life at age 19 while a student at Ole Miss. With the help of his youth minister, the Rev. Jay Clark, McCastlain created #3people4life, which urges youth to always have three people they know they can contact in any time of need, whether it is just one bad day or an ongoing slump or depression. The #3people4life campaign asks young people to have those three names and numbers written somewhere they will see them often, such as in their wallet or purse, or on a mirror, as a constant reminder that these three people are always available to help.

The son of Cal and Heather McCastlain, he is a Human and Organizational Management major at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He graduated from Little Rock’s Episcopal Collegiate School in 2015. He created a memorial page for his brother through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), raising over $24,000 through wristband sales, online donations and direct mail. He will serve as 2017 treasurer of Active Minds, a student-run club at Vanderbilt that works to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health and disorders. Next year Active Minds will have a Suicide Awareness Week on Vanderbilt’s campus, and they hope to work with the Nashville Chapter of AFSP to coordinate events and speakers as a prelude to their “Out of the Darkness Walk.”

This year’s Marie Awards were presented at Temple B’Nai Israel in Little Rock. The Marie Award recognizes outstanding Arkansans who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of the public interest by word, action and example through interfaith engagement and civic service over a number of years. To learn more about the Marie Award and its recipients, visit

Todd Burris

Todd Burris

Burris takes on new duties for UM Publishing House board

Todd Burris, a layperson from First UMC Conway and the director of administrative services for the Arkansas Conference, has begun his second term on the board of the United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH), during which he will serve as chair of the Audit Committee, as a member of the Products and Services Committee and on the board’s Executive Committee. The UMPH board met at its Nashville headquarters building Oct. 10-12 to organize for the 2017-2020 quadrennium.

Now consisting of 25 members (reduced from 43 members by action of the General Conference to achieve a more workable size and decrease costs), the board worshipped, reviewed priorities including new initiatives for building digital capabilities for serving now and in the future, affirmed the next year’s budget, welcomed new president and publisher the Rev. Brian K. Milford and elected officers.

UMPH is a publisher and distributor to Christian clergy and laity, with primary responsibilities for publishing (through Abingdon Press) and distribution (through Cokesbury) for the United Methodist Church. The Publishing House is a fully self-supporting agency and receives no general church funds.