Obituary – Rev. John O. Alston

Obituary – Rev. John O. Alston

Rev. John O. Alston

John Overton Alston, a United Methodist minister, died peacefully Friday, August 27, 2021, with family at his side. He was born February 23, 1931, in Mena, Arkansas, to the late Overton Bettis Alston and Alice Pearl Williams Alston. He was preceded in death by his brother Maurice Edward Alston of Shreveport, Louisiana, and his sister Helen Marie Wallace of Lebanon, New Hampshire.

John grew up appreciating what little he had. Food came from the family’s meager farm. A horse was extravagant transportation, but it sure beat walking in his one pair of shoes. The television wasn’t in the living room – it was in the window of the local general goods store; the house lacked electricity, and the closest radio was far down the dirt road. After his father became an amputee, John, being the youngest, was the only one left at home to help his mother around the farm once his brother joined the Air Force and his sister married. His humble beginnings and commitment to a Christ-centered life meant he never yearned for material things. He appreciated people more than things, he was always willing to help those in need, and he had a special place in his heart for those who lived life to the fullest with little in the way of worldly possessions.

John graduated from Acorn High School (Mena), Hendrix College (Conway), and Perkins School of Theology, SMU (Dallas, Texas). Following high school, he enlisted in the Army Reserve National Guard, drove a Coca-Cola delivery route, and worked in a newspaper office in Mena. His Polk County Guard unit was activated for duty in Korea during 1950-51. (After cruises to and from Korea courtesy of Uncle Sam, John never developed a love of the sea nor the desire to experience another cruise.) Upon return, he was the first veteran of the Korean Conflict to enroll as a student at Hendrix. As students entered the college cafeteria, John was known for being able to address each one by name. His budding call to ministry was nurtured through the “pre-the” (pre-theology) community on campus and “caravan” outreach trips off campus. He met the love of his life, Mildred Chapman from Louisiana, while they were both students at Perkins School of Theology; their first date was to an SMU basketball game, and they married in Cox Chapel at Highland Park Methodist Church in 1959. 

Together John and Milli lived and loved as he served pastoral appointments in Arkadelphia (Wesley Foundation); Malvern (Keith Memorial); Benton (Parkview Methodist); Lonoke; Smackover; DeQueen; DeWitt; Dumas; Pine Bluff (Wesley); Hamburg; Little Rock (Pulaski Heights, Associate Pastor); North Little Rock (Gardner Memorial); Hampstead and Upperco, Maryland (Shiloh and Mt. Zion); Lanham, Maryland; Shreveport, Louisiana (St. Luke’s, Interim Pastor); and North Little Rock (Gardner Memorial, Pastor Emeritus).

John was frugal with everything but his generosity, time, and love. From clipping coupons to cleaning the cake batter bowl, nothing went to waste. Socks with holes were still socks; hand-me-downs (or hand-me-ups) were favorites; the old whatever, as long as it worked, was new enough. When you had a conversation with him, you always knew you had his full attention. He related well to all ages through his care and compassion, quick wit, silly humor, ping-pong prowess, and occasional pranks. Friend to all, John always had a dad joke ready for the occasion. 

John drove countless miles over the years to support his children through piano, dance, scouting, and sports. He loved them dearly and everything they have become – committed Christians with strong family bonds. Ellen, Gayle and John all followed in his footsteps to Hendrix, and his daughters have both been called to church leadership and ministry. He beamed with pride when speaking of his son and his commitment to public service as a police officer and detective. John adored his grandchildren, was eager to share in their games, concerts, or other activities, and was glad when they visited to share time, stories, a meal, or premium chocolate bought at a discount after the most recent holiday.

John loved working crossword puzzles – in pen, never pencil. Anyone visiting the house would find the latest unfinished puzzle resting on a nearby end table with a ballpoint pen on top. Never one to boast of his mastery, he ensured completed puzzles quickly disappeared. When handwriting became more difficult, John switched to Mahjong on the iPad with the same tenacity and precision. 

By far, John’s favorite activity was keeping up with family and friends. Sunday afternoons and unfilled evenings were spent maintaining those connections until he became unable to do so. He talked on the phone as much as a teenager. He cherished gatherings like the Alston Family Reunion on Rich Mountain. He appreciated the outdoors, especially state and national parks, and he loved sharing the places he loved with people he loved. He had worked one summer as a student minister at Glacier National Park, and forty years later took a trip with extended family to revisit breathtaking landscapes, as well as the site of his once getting “stuck” overnight across the Canadian border. 

Now having crossed the boundary from earth to the great beyond, John’s gentle spirit will live on in all whose lives he touched. The words that keep coming up as loved ones speak of him are “kind,” “full of peace,” “funny,” and “one of a kind.” Mere words cannot fully describe the gift of his life, and the impact of his living and loving will continue to transcend his earthly frame and the years it has been such a privilege to share with him. 

John is survived by his wife of 62½ years Mildred “Milli” Alston; children Ellen Alston, Gayle (and son-in-law Tad) Bohannon, and John M. Alston; grandchildren Nathaniel Dauphin, Spencer Bohannon, Caleb Alston, Carson Alston, Claire Alston, and Corbin Alston; in-laws, and a host of nieces and nephews. 

The family would like to extend deepest gratitude to the committed and capable staffs of UAMS Hospital, St. Vincent Rehab Hospital, Lakewood Health and Rehab, and Hospice Home Care for the attentive care and genuine concern shown to John and his family throughout these last few weeks. 

A service celebrating his life will be held at 11:00am, Friday, September 3, 2021, at Gardner Memorial United Methodist Church in North Little Rock. The family will receive guests beginning at 10:00am.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts be directed to Gardner Memorial United Methodist Church (1723 Schaer St., North Little Rock, AR. 72114,  501-374-9520http://www.gardnermemorialumc.org/) or Hendrix College (1600 Washington Ave, Conway, AR 72032, 501-450-1223https://www.hendrix.edu/giving/waystogive/).

Obituary – Rev. Dr. James R. Bell

Rev. James R. Bell, 1930 – 2021

Dr. James R. Bell of White Hall, Ark., passed away in his home on Saturday, August 21, 2021, at the age of 91. He was surrounded by his youngest daughter, Kandice, middle daughter, Kimbra, oldest child, Bruce, and his devoted wife of 60 years, Josephine. Dr. Bell made a peaceful transition to be with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ where he will join in Heaven his mother, Cassie, and his father, Fred.

Dr. Bell was born and raised in Helena, Phillips County, Ark. Dr. Bell was a professor emeritus and director of the Learning Resources Center, now relocated and renamed the Dr. James R. Bell Learning Resources Center on the second floor of the Watson Memorial Library at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Dr. Bell enjoyed fishing, photography, technology, UAPB football and basketball, and especially the Arkansas Razorback basketball team under the head coach Nolan Richardson. He loved Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. where he was a lifetime member and served in various capacities in the Pine Bluff Alumni Chapter. Dr. Bell was a dedicated church member at St. Luke United Methodist. He served as a trustee and leader in many roles at his home church and other churches over which he led as pastor in Little Rock, Hensley, and Pine Bluff. Dr. Bell is survived by his wife and three children, as well his grandchildren, Kristin and Kamryn (Bruce) and Sam, Jr. and Alexandria (Kimbra).

Dr. James R. Bell had a humble spirit and way about himself, a heart full of generosity, and was a giant of a resource to his family, friends, and community. The Memorial service of Dr. James Robert Bell is this Saturday, August 28, 2021, at 11 a.m. at St. Luke United Methodist Church, 32 School Street, Pine Bluff, Ark., 71602.

Masks are required upon entry into the church and must be worn properly throughout the entire service, and there will be no exceptions.

The services may also be viewed at the following link:
Join Zoom Meeting
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82882422870?pwd=WWk1aWJjU2NkbmphNWtGOTlCbS9YUT09
Meeting ID: 828 8242 2870
Passcode: 123

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider contributing to Dr. Bell and his wife’s scholarship fund, entitled the Dr. James R. and Dr. Josephine C. Bell Scholarship Fund. You can make an online gift: www.uapb.edu; place mouse on “Giving Tab” at top of screen; click “Make a Gift;” and complete form. All major credit cards are accepted.

Mail check/money order to: University of Ark., at Pine Bluff Office of Development, Mail Slot 4981, Pine Bluff, Ark., 71601. Be sure to include the name of his scholarship fund on the memo line of your check or with your online donation. You may also call the Development Office directly: (870) 575-8701.

UMCOR Issues Statements Supporting Aid for Multiple Crises Around the World

UMCOR Issues Statements Supporting Aid for Multiple Crises Around the World

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The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries has released statements this week responding to the multiple crises around the world, including the recent earthquake in Haiti and the turmoil playing out in Afghanistan.

UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is working to support Haitians who have lost their homes and family members to the deadly earthquake on Aug. 14. Similarily, funds are also being raised to support Afghans and U.S. citizens who are attempting to escape Afghanistan after the recent takeover of the country by the Taliban.

Additionally, UMCOR;s US Disaster Response and Recovery staff is working to support those affected by the flooding in Tennessee and Western North Carolina, and the rainfall brought by Tropical Storm Henri on the East Coast. Gifts to support these efforts can be sent to UMCOR-US Disaster Response and Recovery, Advance #901670, https://umcmission.org/advance-project/901670/.  Checks can be sent to Global Ministries/UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068, with Advance #901670 on the memo line.

To read UMCOR and Global Ministries statement on Haiti, visit https://umcmission.org/international-disaster-response/earthquake-in-haiti-umcors-response/

The statement on Afghanistan can be found here https://umcmission.org/august-2021/umcor-supports-afghans-in-need/

Individuals who are interested in supporting UMCOR’s response in Afghanistan and Haiti can make gifts online at https://umcmission.org/advance-project/982450/ or by checks sent to Global Ministries/UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087-9068, with Advance #982450 noted on the memo line.

BSA Bankruptcy Affects United Methodist Congregations

The United Methodist Communications Office of Public Relations released the following letter regarding the ongoing Boy Scouts of America bankruptcy case. Please refer to the letter for information on next steps for local United Methodist churches.

Nashville, Tenn.: The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have a relationship with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), which dates back more than 100 years. In February 2020, the BSA announced the national organization would file for bankruptcy to allow it to continue carrying on its mission while also compensating sexual abuse victims who were harmed during their time in scouting. While the bankruptcy is ongoing, the BSA, along with its local councils, recently reached an agreement with representatives of most of the survivors on a proposed $850 million settlement.

 

At this time, negotiations are ongoing for other parties with an interest in the bankruptcy. Questions remain about how that agreement might affect chartered organizations, including thousands of United Methodist congregations that have sponsored scouting programs. United Methodist congregations represent the largest active collection of chartered organizations. The interests of those congregations are represented by an ad hoc committee established to represent United Methodist interests, which is actively engaged in the bankruptcy process and related negotiations.

 

The denomination continues to maintain a relationship with the BSA and churches may continue to support scout troops. However, the ad hoc committee is disappointed and very concerned that the BSA did not include its sponsoring organizations, charter groups, in the agreement with the claimants. This leaves as many as 5,000 United Methodist U.S. congregations—or more than 15 percent of U.S. congregations—exposed to potential lawsuits by the survivor claimants. Charter organizations were promised by the BSA to be covered by their insurance, but at this time, it is not clear to what extent United Methodist congregations will be covered.

 

The ad hoc committee has advised that churches that support scouting units should: (1) agree to extend an expiring charter through December 31, rather than renew that charter; (2) replace an expiring charter with a facilities use agreement that expires on December 31; or (3) terminate an existing charter and replace it with a facilities use agreement that expires on December 31. All of those options allow more time to see how the bankruptcy will impact United Methodist congregations.

 

United Methodist leaders across the denomination grieve for those who experienced harm. Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey called upon the church to pray for the victims and their families. “This tragedy is a reminder for all of us to be vigilant, update Safe Sanctuary policies and continue to review those policies to ensure congregations are following the policies and keeping all young people safe from harm.”

 

More than 80,000 distinct claims from 1940 through 2018 were filed by the court-established deadline. Some of those claims are potentially connected to scouting units sponsored by United Methodist congregations. The BSA implemented its current program designed to help prevent sexual abuse and ensure the safety of Scouts starting in the 1980s and there have been fewer cases since the development and improvement in the program. The percentage of claims related to United Methodist-sponsored scouting units is proportionately lower than that of other chartered units. United Methodists have and continue to implement Safe Sanctuary policies and practices.

 

A leadership team has also been formed to help develop principles, guidelines and action steps in preparation for leading the church through the unfolding bankruptcy and its impact on United Methodist chartered organizations. The team, chaired by Bishop John Schol, includes representatives of the Council of Bishops, as well as persons with financial, legal and communications expertise.

For questions or concerns, please contact the Rev. Jim Polk, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministry, at jim.polk@arumc.org, (501) 324-8042.

District Superintendents Craft New Fall Mission Strategy for Arkansas Conference

District Superintendents Craft New Fall Mission Strategy for Arkansas Conference

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The Appointive Cabinet of the Arkansas Conference. From left to right, Rev. Dr. Ann Ferris, Southwest District; Rev. Dr. Blake Bradford, Northwest District and Dean of the Appointive Cabinet; Rev. Jim Polk, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries; Bishop Gary E. Mueller; Rev. Dr. U.C. Washington, Central District; Rev. Edna Morgan, Southeast District; and Rev. John Fleming, Northeast District.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The way churches do ministry is constantly changing and adapting to the world around it, and for the District Superintendents of the Arkansas Conference, that means applying new strategies for reaching people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Starting this fall, the Arkansas Conference Appointive Cabinet, including the Bishop and the five DS’s from each district, will be implementing a new strategy that involves bringing people together for communal ministry celebration in the form of District-Wide Charge Conferences, as well as visiting local church pastors to have more one-on-one conversations about local community needs and plans for ministry.

“We’ve done these types of Conferences before, but we want to use this time of gathering as a way to connect and celebrate the ministry we’re all doing,” said the Rev. Dr. Blake Bradford, District Superintendent for the Northwest District and Dean of the Appointive Cabinet.

Instead of individual Charge Conferences, the District-Wide Charge Conferences will serve as a way to conduct the important business of the church, but also as a way to be in connection and celebrate the “family reunion” of United Methodists from around each district coming together in fellowship.

Due to the challenges from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these District-Wide Charge Conferences will occur online in a safe, virtual environment, but the emphasis will still be on gathering together to conduct important ministry work in a connectional way.

Additionally, Bradford said the plan is to also have strategic leadership gatherings this fall with local congregations. District Superintendents, as well as circuit elders, will be meeting with pastors and key leaders in individual congregations to talk about the next steps for their mission plans.

DS’s will each have a list of churches in their District that they will be traveling to, and will be meeting with church leaders to discuss their overall mission strategies, post-COVID ministry plans, and opportunities and challenges for their churches. But more than anything else, Bradford said the goal is to offer support and encouragement to leaders in each church.

Circuit elders will also be trained and will implement the same strategy in their circuit churches, reporting back to District Superintendents on the information they’ve gathered in their travels around the district.

“That means that every church or charge will be visited,” Bradford said. “Charge Conferences are usually business meetings, but what I love about this plan, and I guess the business work I’m really looking forward to, is having some deep-dive discussions about ministry and ministry plans, and what’s going on in the local community.”

The Rev. Dr. U.C. Washington, Central District Superintendent, said that he is looking forward to the opportunity to form a strong coalition in the Central District through this new strategy.

“That includes the district strategy team, the district leadership team, and district boards of church, location and building. We want to extend the power of a coalition among those groups.”

Washington said one of the strategies that he is hoping to build upon in the Central District is the Conference’s commitment to Dismantling Racism and Building Reconciliation, which can be found on the ARUMC website at arumc.org/dismantling-racism-initiative/.

“When it comes to dismantling racism and building reconciliation as a district and a safe community, I’m hopeful we will pray and plan and practice efforts that will position us to be more welcoming of others. And in turn, we will begin to build and reflect the broad diversity of the Central District of the Arkansas Conference,” Washington said.

The disruption of COVID-19 forced many charges to rethink their mission strategies, and quickly implement digital presences, a rapid shift that many were not prepared to handle. By meeting with churches and discussing what their next steps should look like, Bradford said the Cabinet is trying to encourage local churches as they continue to adapt their plans and ministries to share Christ in their local communities.

“You know, I think it’s really important to have these deep, deep conversations around strategic ministry plans because the disruption of 2020, with COVID and everything else, what it’s done is it has pushed the clock forward on all existing trends. The things that we thought were going to be our future five, 10 years down the road are what we’re experiencing right now, today,” Bradford said. “Some of those challenges are challenges around church attendance, challenges around figuring out how to have both a digital and in-person presence.

“We now have to ask, ‘what did we learn about ourselves, and what ministries are going to no longer be effective in the world we’re now experiencing?’”

The Rev. Edna Morgan, Southeast District Superintendent, added they are also emphasizing the importance of equipping pastors and laity with community resources to respond to COVID-related stressors.

In cases of mental health crises resulting from job loss, grief, or isolation, appropriate referrals will be made to help pastors and laity get the help they need.

“We want to be ready to meet the needs of our neighbors during this challenging time for all of us,” Morgan said.

During recent “Leadership Gatherings” with pastors and laity, Morgan discovered that churches are connecting ecumenically with neighboring churches to help address food insecurity (blessing boxes, backpack ministries, and food pantries) within our communities at a time when many people are living from a place of scarcity or hoarding.

“We need to continue our current partnerships and explore making new ones to address other critical needs within our mission fields. This year, in addition to our feeding ministries, we are opening our doors to help with literacy programs for our children by providing books and tutors to assist children who are struggling academically,” Morgan said.

“Living with COVID is not a sprint. As Methodists, we are here for the long haul, so let’s continue our traditions to help where we can by being creative and intentional as needs arise among our neighbors. We purpose in our hearts to ‘do all the good we can, in all the ways we can, to all the souls we can, in every place we can, at all the times we can, with all the zeal we can, as long as ever we can,’” she added, attributing a famous John Wesley quote to the work they are striving to do.

Bradford said the consultation strategy for DS’s meeting one-on-one with clergy will also be shifting. Instead of focusing on form-heavy assessments during the summer, the plan will now be to focus on one-on-one meetings between clergy and their DS in late summer and early fall, with a more robust assessment happening in November and December during consultation season.

This shift helps clergy to focus on their summer activities and new appointments, and gives a little more room for experimentation and figuring out their next steps in a post-COVID world, according to Bradford.

The Rev. Dr. Ann Ferris, Southwest District Superintendent, is finding one-on-one check-ins very meaningful. She reported, “It’s wonderful to hear stories of how God is working in the lives of the clergy and their churches, and to learn of some of the ways they have adapted to the COVID environment to try new and innovative things in worship, discipling and reaching out into their communities.

“I believe everyone and every church, however limited, can do something to help make disciples and transform lives, so I’ve been challenging our pastors to help all their members identify something they can do and then start doing it. I have also been connecting pastors with others who might have ideas or resources they need to become more fruitful. Despite all the challenges of the present time, there is so much we can do and I am excited by all that our churches are doing.”

The new strategy for this year falls squarely in line with the Conference trajectory of making disciples who make disciples, equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world.

“We’re going to have to be creative in some new ways. We’ve known this for years, but the tools that used to work aren’t working like they used to. We can’t transform communities if we’re not realistic about where they are today and we can’t transform lives unless we’re realistic about where people are today.”

“We’re going to have to be mindful about where the world is today and learn new methods to tell the old story of God’s grace and God’s great love.”

The District-Wide Charge Conferences will be held for each District on the following dates:

Southeast: 3 p.m, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2021
Southwest: 5 p.m., Sunday, Nov 7, 2021
Northeast: 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021
Northwest: 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021
Central: 5 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021