New Podcast Focuses on Anti-Racism As Christian Discipleship

Contact: Jeehye Kim Pak, Communications Director
General Commission on Religion and Race, the United Methodist Church
202-495-2949
jpak@gcorr.org

“Expanding the Table,” a new video podcast series from the General Commission on Religion and Race, will debut on Tues., June 1, 2021. Series guests will focus on how individual Christians and church-based entities can and should engage the work of racial justice-making and anti-racism.

Guests for the first podcast—titled “Racism, Police Reform and Faith”—are the Rev. Kirk Lyons of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Rev. Jeremy Wicks of Traverse City, Michigan. Both United Methodist pastors are leading community-wide conversations and demonstrations that call attention to implicit and explicit racial bias experienced by Black and Brown people at the hands of police officers. Both are bringing together church, community, and law-enforcement members to seek solutions.

The Commission’s interim General Secretary, M. Garlinda Burton, says the new podcast series will offer deeper understanding of how racism harms both the church and society at large and how anti-racism and racial justice functions as an expression of Christian discipleship.

“‘Expanding the Table’ explains how people of faith can foster and practice anti-racism from the lens of followers of Christ. Religious and civic leaders will share practices and experiences that will inform and inspire Christians to live out their faith and bring the Word of God to bear on championing human and civil rights for all people,” Burton added.

As a white man, Wicks, a former police chaplain and reserve officer, says that he came to embrace movements like Black Lives Matter, after he “actually started listening to Black people in my community and witnessing how they were treated.” Wicks said the murder of George Floyd led him and members of his mostly white, United Methodist congregation to “open our eyes to the racism that was happening and work together for racial justice through police reform.”

Since 2008, Lyons has led men’s nighttime prayer walk through some of the most crime-ridden communities in New York, praying with and for gang members and drug dealers. As they established connections with the mostly Black and Brown men from the streets, Lyons say the churchmen began to hear stories, not just about how known criminals are treated, but how Black and Brown residents in general encountered and experienced the police.

“Too many police officers bring an indifference and fear of People of Color to the job, to the point that they don’t see us as human,” Lyons said. He and his group are now in conversations with law enforcement on the value of community policing, and having residents and police officers build relationships and trust with one another.

Lyons and Wicks will talk about their work as an outgrowth of their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and offer ideas for how Christian communities may learn more and get involved in local police reform and anti-racism efforts.

The first episode “Racism, Police Reform and Faith” will be available on Tues., June 1, 2021. Please visit www.r2hub.org/library/podcast for information on where to listen. This page will be updated.

The General Commission on Religion and Race is one of 12 church-wide agencies of the United Methodist Church. The Commission offers teaching resources, training and networking among Christians seeking to bring their faith to bear to dismantle racism, tribalism, and xenophobia in all forms. More information available at http://www.gcorr.org.

Brick Time

Sometimes it hits me like a ton of bricks. The fact that I sometimes am so focused on what I want God to do for me that I hardly have any energy left to be concerned with what God wants from me. What is more, and this is really difficult to admit, it happens a whole lot more often than it does not. But this reality is not the final word, it is just the first word. Because the final word is the Good News of the Gospel, and how Jesus saves me from myself as he embraces me with unconditional love that truly transforms me so it becomes a whole lot less about me and a whole lot more about God. 

Holy Contentment

Some days are just…..days. Nothing terribly bad has happened. You’re happy, but not necessarily bursting with joy. And as far as you can tell, nothing life-changing looms is on the horizon. Instead, you are filled with a holy contentment that is characterized by knowing your life is a gift from God, by experiencing how much God loves you even when you are unlovable and by living as Jesus’ disciple in everything you do all day long. Cherish days like this. Enjoy every moment. And know that holy contentment is yet another manifestation of the richness of God’s amazing grace.

Geyer Springs UMC Honored at 2021 Empty Bowls Event

Geyer Springs UMC Honored at 2021 Empty Bowls Event

geyer springs umc

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

As the pandemic raged on in 2020, United Methodist Churches across our conference stepped up to fill the gaps in food security that families and individuals were experiencing in Arkansas. Because of Geyer Springs United Methodist Church’s strong commitment to fighting food insecurity last year, they will be honored at this year’s Empty Bowls event.

Empty Bowls is an annual fundraising event put on by the Arkansas Foodbank. It’s currently in its 19th year, and each year, honorees who have shown initiative and commitment to helping end hunger in Arkansas are honored at the in-person celebration.

Typically, plates of food are prepared by Little Rock’s finest restaurants and chefs and sold to attendees at a sitdown event to raise money for the Foodbank, but because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this year’s event will be a drive-thru experience.

According to the Arkansas Foodbank, 40 million pounds of food were distributed across its 33-county region in Arkansas in 2020. 

Connie Bledsoe, Agency Relations Director at the Arkansas Foodbank, said Geyer Springs UMC played a big role in that distribution number, and the church found success largely by employing the help of youth volunteers from their Southwest Little Rock community.

“At the onset of COVID-19, many of the pantry volunteers at Geyer Springs UMC were seniors categorized as a vulnerable population. In an effort to keep their elderly members safe, the church engaged its youth membership to take on leading the pantry. The pantry would have had to close down if it hadn’t been for the young people in the congregation to keep the pantry going. They serve almost 200 families a month.”

To put it simply, according to the Foodbank, Geyer Springs UMC never stopped serving during COVID.

empty bowls logo

The Rev. Danita Waller-Paige leads Geyer Springs UMC as part of the Southwest Little Rock Ministry Partnership, which also includes Saint Andrew UMC. Her congregation is situated in a diverse neighborhood and brings together people from all walks of life; young, old, male, female, Black, white, and Latinx.

Waller-Paige said she was amazed at the way her church stepped up during the pandemic to help feed not only her community but other communities around the Conference.

“We have touched people’s hearts by letting them become aware of our community’s great need during the pandemic. They responded by sending donations like I have never seen before. So we have been able to give food to 30% more people than usual,” Waller-Paige said.

The Geyer Springs UMC food pantry is open from 12 – 2 p.m. on the first and third Thursday of each month. Waller-Paige said they received grants from many different organizations last year that helped keep the pantry going, including Walmart, Blue Cross Blue Shield, the AR Hunger Alliance, the AR Foodbank, the Central District of the AR Methodist Conference, and The Little Rock Meet and Greet Club.

“Pastor Waller-Paige is an amazing pastor and leader,” Bledsoe said. “She leads two congregations in Southwest Little Rock both of which host regular food pantries.”

Waller-Paige said she is grateful for the award from the Arkansas Foodbank and is happy that the pantry has been such a blessing to not only her community but the people who volunteer to serve their community, too.

“We are humbled and appreciative of this extreme honor. It was unexpected but we all are honored!” Waller-Paige said.

Empty Bowls will take place from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m on May 7 at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock. Attendees will be able to pick up takeout containers of food from their car. Live entertainment will also be on display for people to enjoy from the comfort of their cars.

To purchase tickets, visit the Empty Bowls website. A virtual auction will also take place here.

They’re Just Words – Or Are They?

They’re Just Words – Or Are They?

letters

By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

It seems that almost every United Methodist meeting I attend these days includes the following words and phrases: liminal, asynchronous, actionable, emotional intelligence, nimble, new normal, transparent, and adaptive. In fact, I even use them myself. And while they can be helpful in describing the world in which the church finds itself, I am increasingly convinced we also need to employ the language of faith. The reason is simple. How we talk about something goes a long way in determining what we actually do about it.  

I believe it is time for those who love Jesus as Savior and Lord, those of us who seek to live as his disciples, and those of us who long for God’s will to be just as real on earth as it already is in heaven to inject the language of faith into our lives far more intentionally. I also understand this is a challenge for many of us because we tend to shy away from using faith language, often for very appropriate reasons.   

But if we don’t use the language of faith, we will soon discover our lives being shaped primarily by things other than faith. That’s because faith impacts every single part of our lives all day long. How often we talk about Jesus as Lord and Savior, mention the Kingdom of God, speak about the fullness of grace, or share our commitment to growing deeper in discipleship and living out that discipleship speaks volumes. Quite simply, if these things are an important part of our lives, they should be expressed in the words we use.

There’s one place, in particular, I am convinced using the language of faith will make a significant difference: our quest for racial justice.

Last year, we introduced the phrase, “Dismantling Racism – Building Reconciliation” to describe our work in addressing racism. I was convinced it was clear, to the point, and indicated the work ahead of us. What is more, it focused on more than merely eradicating something horrible. It also talked about replacing it with something good. 

But along the way, I realized some people aren’t interested in addressing racism because they don’t think it’s an issue, at least their issue, or they simply don’t know what to do. As I struggled to deal with this reality, I realized something was missing that is absolutely essential if we are truly serious about addressing racial justice: our Christian faith. So in recent months, I have started talking about our work in a new way, “Dismantling the Sin of Racism – Building God’s Reconciliation.” These additional words that talk about sin and God’s reconciliation dramatically change how we understand what we are facing and give a clearer direction about our ultimate goal. Racism is a sin and the Christian faith offers a way to address that sin. True reconciliation is rooted in Jesus’ ultimate reconciliation through the cross. It is my hope and prayer that being intentional about using our faith vocabulary will help us address racism far more quickly and powerfully than we otherwise would. 

We always walk a fine line as Jesus’ disciples when it comes to employing the language of faith. We never want to be arrogant and we certainly don’t want to act disrespectfully towards others. But we need to include the language of faith in the totality of our lives because we live most fully into our true identity when we acknowledge Whose we are and who we are. That’s why the words we choose every day are so important. Perhaps now more than ever. May we choose words that remind us and others of what we believe about life – both now and for eternity to come.