UCA Wesley Foundation Welcomes Students Back to Campus

The Wesley Foundation at the University of Central Arkansas has been in a time of transition over the past school year as we moved under the ministry umbrella of First United Methodist Church in Conway. This has proven to be a huge blessing as we are able to benefit from the use of First United Methodist Church resources such as spaces for worship, vans, and members ready to feed hungry students.

Welcome Week at the end of August was no exception! We hosted events for new and returning students such as a cookout, a tie-dye party where they were able to make their own Wesley t-shirt for the year, a night out for ice cream, Taco Thursday after the first day of classes, and a planning meeting for our leadership team at Lake Beaverfork in Conway.

Earlier in August, we also had the opportunity to partner with the Center for Global Learning at UCA and welcome new International Students with an evening of putt-putt golf, which was an especially fun time for all because many of these students had never before played mini-golf. We’ve been fortunate that we have been able to continue to build relationships with these students, shuttling them to and from our Welcome Week events, and are very hopeful that they will also begin attending worship with us, which starts this week!

While we have had a busy few weeks, we are so thankful for the resources that make this ministry possible and are so excited to see what God does as we begin looking at our theme this semester of exploring the promises of God!

Project Neuro provides guidance and training

Project Neuro provides guidance and training

First United Methodist Church of West Memphis celebrated a new ministry on Thursday, August 11, called Project Neuro. Sixty-five persons were in attendance for this program launch including school personnel, business owners, and the mayor of West Memphis.

Project Neuro was named after the term “neurodiversity” which refers to variations in the human brain and cognition, for instance in sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions.

This new ministry will serve the underserved population of neurodiverse individuals, due to no local programs being available and will also advocate for neurodiverse inclusion in the community and workplace.

The mission of Project Neuro is to provide guidance and training for neuro-diverse youth and young adults that enables them to develop and discover their talents, hone their strengths, and further their careers or hobbies. Project Neuro is also committed to creating an environment where such individuals can make friends and find spirituality and promote acceptance and understanding of neuro-diversity in the community.

Fifteen participants will meet three Wednesdays a month where they will work with a mental health professional, work on executive functioning skills, reading comprehension, and social skills, and be encouraged to participate in a spiritual activity.

“We have gained more support than we could have hoped for. Numerous businesses and individuals have pledged to help financially and with volunteer positions,” Rev. Carissa Tarkington, Associate Pastor, said. “We received a grant for $7,500 at the event from Ag for Autism.”

Rev. George O’Dell is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church.

Creating a Culture of Testimony

Colleen Holt

contributing writer

The people of Jacksonville First United Methodist Church are busy working on creating a culture of testimony in their church family and their local community, thanks to a grant from Testimony HQ through Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

Rev. Nathan Kilbourne, senior pastor, said the purpose of the grant is to help churches raise the practice of testimony in their church, to share stories of God’s work in their lives to the community as a whole, and to help the church and the community tell their stories together.

According to the Testimony HQ website, over the five-year course of the grant, the program “will help 30 congregations master how to utilize testimony as community engagement; lead each cohort congregation in four concentric circles of learning communities; develop a prescribed course of study for a Perkins Certificate of Practical Ministry in Evangelism; and establish the grant website (www.testimonyhq.com) as the vehicle for sharing resources, such as podcasts, webinars, downloadable resources and written materials.”

Jacksonville is the only United Methodist Church in Arkansas chosen for the first cohort. Rev. Kilbourne said there are a variety of denominations participating with them in the South Central area, including Lutheran, CME, Assembly of God, and non-denominational. Churches in the second cohort will be announced later this year.

There are two parts to the program: Building a culture of testimony and organizing a community engagement component. The church received $5,000, with the money being split between the two components. Jacksonville received a mentor assigned by SMU. The church is partnered with Doug Ruffle of the General Board of Global Missions, who has been a great resource for their work.

At Jacksonville, a program leadership team was started in January, and the program was launched with a sermon series about testimonies.

“This was used to break down walls towards sharing testimonies. Some of the stories start with people first knowing God and sharing what God has done for them. Testimonies can be short or long. This is all about sharing your story. People come to hear about Jesus,” said Rev. Kilbourne.

The Jacksonville church family also has events planned each month to build the sharing of testimonies “into our church’s DNA,” said Rev. Kilbourne. “We also encourage small groups to share their stories on a regular basis.”

He added that the planning team is just starting the process of what the community engagement piece will look like in Jacksonville. “This could include creating storytelling events, dinners at the church, etc. The program itself is kind of wide open in terms of your creativity, and testimonies will definitely look different in different communities.”

Rev. Kilbourne said he learned about the program through Amy Ezell of the Conference Office. “She thought our church would be a great place for this, so we applied.”

The first year, churches receive the money to begin their work, and the second year they are asked to be a teaching congregation to the next cohort. One stipulation is that you have to create a team of laity, clergy and staff, with at least one young adult and one youth member. “We looked for people who have had a heart for testimony. We want everyone to be comfortable with their story.”

Testimony has historically been a part of the worldwide church. Rev. Kilbourne said the African-American church has had testimony as a big part of their church. On New Year’s Eve, their members traditionally tell what the Lord has done for them in the past year.

“It’s built into their culture, and the people hunger and thirst for the stories. These stories are worth sharing. It’s vital to build a culture of testimony in your community so people can hear what God has done in your life.”

33rd Annual Conference for the Black Clergywomen of the United Methodist Church

33rd Annual Conference for the Black Clergywomen of the United Methodist Church

The 33rd Annual Conference for the Black Clergywomen of the United Methodist Church was held in Chicago earlier this month. Eight women represented Arkansas at the conference including Reverend Maxine Allen of St. Paul Maumelle who was elected to the position of National Historian while in attendance.

Funding for their journey was provided by the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century initiative. The goal of the UMC program is to transform and sustain vital Black congregations and Black pastors, offering resources and learning models designed to empower their churches and enhance development. With the help of this initiative, each participant was equipped with the full registration fee and a $300 travel allowance.

The goal of the conference is always to develop and support opportunities for the inclusion and empowerment of Black clergywomen at all levels of the United Methodist Church. This year’s theme was called ‘Brave Enough’ with an effort to cherish the examples of Black joy and faith these women offer their congregations as well as recognize specific difficulties of ministering while Black.

“It’s all about Black women who are ‘Brave Enough’ to be in ministry,” said Rev. Allen.

“You look statistically at the murder rate in this country and Black women are murdered at a higher rate than any other group of women,” she continued.

‘Brave Enough’ functioned in part to honor the two Black UMC clergywomen, Rev. Marita Hill of Atlanta and Rev. Autura Easton-Williams of Memphis, who were murdered this year.

“As we strive to be the light of the world, we must be connected to Christ,” said Rev. Dr. Yvette Massey, President of the Black Clergy of the UMC.

Because of the funding provided to these clergywomen, Arkansas had the highest state representation at the conference aside from the Chicago locals. This achievement was only possible through the dedication of the United Methodist Church to its legacy of spiritual vitality and evangelistic growth and exciting new efforts to recognize the persistence, brilliance, and necessity of our Black churches.

Gray hair is no deterrent to joyful service

Gray hair is no deterrent to joyful service

Caroline Loftin

contributing writer

St. Paul UMC in Little Rock hosted its first-ever music camp for children this summer.

Camp is always a fun opportunity for summertime fellowship, but what makes this one so special is the significant generational gap between its hosts and participants: all of St. Paul’s volunteers were 70 or older, and the campers were first through sixth graders.

For a congregation comprised of mostly older adults, ministry opportunities for children and their parents can be few and far between, but St. Paul’s music director, Barbara Stefan, was more than ready to branch out. Members did not balk at the idea of bringing young people into the church and agreed energetically to move forward with the idea.

“It was inspiring to witness the willingness of so many volunteers helping to make the adventure a success,” said Judy White, St. Paul member and camp volunteer.

The twenty campers and twenty-one volunteers learned, sang, and played a variety of musical instruments and techniques together. The children performed for a large gathering of parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends at the end of the week making it a significant accomplishment.

“I loved seeing their hearts and minds; they were like little sponges… so eager to BE,” said White.

The gift of this music camp was clearly reciprocal. It’s a true testament to faith being stronger than any societal boundary. Young or old, we can all share in the love and light of Christ.

“Gray hair is no deterrent to joyful service,” White continued.