Arkansas Conference Receives Faith Based Group of the Year AwardAnnual Award Given by Arkansas Foodbank

Arkansas Conference Receives Faith Based Group of the Year Award
Annual Award Given by Arkansas Foodbank

mary lewis brenda

Brenda Norwood, left, and Mary Lewis Dassinger, right, accept the award for Faith Based Group of the Year from the Arkansas Foodbank.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church is humbled and grateful to receive the Faith-Based Group of the Year Award from the Arkansas Foodbank for the 2019 year.

The Arkansas Conference was selected as this year’s recipient thanks to its annual Ingathering hunger relief event, which has been hosted at the Arkansas Foodbank for the past three years.

This year’s Ingathering event hosted 275 volunteers who helped pack 40,000 pounds of sweet potatoes — which were donated by a local farmer who attends an Arkansas United Methodist Church — and 22,000 pounds of dry beans.

The Arkansas Conference was also recognized at the event for its COVID-19 response in 2020. Thanks to a grant provided by the Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, the Arkansas Conference Delta Project has been able to close the gap for those facing food insecurity during the pandemic through mobile food distributions.

The Delta Project mobile distributions have been able to feed approximately 2,658 families with 17,600 pounds of produce and 111,080 pounds of food since April 2020.

foodbank award

200,000 More Reasons Project Coordinator Mary Lewis Dassinger along with Brenda Norwood, chairperson of the Conference Board of Global Ministries, were present at the ceremony to accept the award on behalf of the Arkansas Conference.

“I was proud to receive this award along with Brenda Norwood on behalf of the Arkansas United Methodist Church. Our commitment to feed the insecure speaks to the power of the Methodist connection and gives glory to God. Being united together with our community is a powerful witness to the ‘Acts’ church we are called to be,” Dassinger said.

Bishop Gary Mueller added, “As Christians, we are called to serve the needy when they are hungry. The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church is grateful for this recognition and to work alongside the Arkansas Food Bank in ministry.”

This year’s Ingathering will be different than in year’s past due to the ongoing pandemic. Instead of a centralized gathering at the Arkansas Foodbank, each district will participate in their own local Ingathering event. To find more information on what your district will be doing for Ingathering 2020, visit

Q&A w/ Emily Autry2020 Global Mission Fellow from the Arkansas Conference

Q&A w/ Emily Autry
2020 Global Mission Fellow from the Arkansas Conference

Emily Autry

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

How were you selected as a Global Mission Fellow?

The short answer: I applied. The long answer: I graduated college in May of 2019 from the University of the Ozarks. I hold a bachelor of arts degree in religion and political science. I originally had the goal to attend seminary following graduation, however, I decided to take a year off from school, move back home, and spend time discerning my call in ministry. While attending a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic conference for my home church, Fort Smith First United Methodist Church, I felt God calling me to mission. This is when I decided to apply to be a Global Mission Fellow. I sent in my application in December of 2019, interviewed in January and early February, and by March, we were in a global pandemic and I was quarantined in Mexico totally unsure if the program would still go on. However, I got the call and was asked to serve during a pandemic in Miami, Florida, and I said yes!

Where will you be serving? What kind of needs are in the area where you’re serving?

I am serving the Florida Annual Conference as a Coordinator for the Fill the Table Initiative. Fill the Table is a year-long initiative whose goal is to engage 100,000 Florida United Methodist in feeding 3 million meals to alleviate hunger due to Covid-19, racial injustice, and aims to implement asset-based community problem-solving. There are 3 million people that suffer from food insecurity in Florida. This number is on the rise due to Covid-19 and the economic stress and unrest in our country right now. Although social distancing and safety precautions are important, and are being followed, food banks, food pantries, and feeding programs need volunteers and donations more than ever. Our churches are being asked to take part in feeding Florida right now!

What are your responsibilities as a Global Mission Fellow?

My responsibility as a GMF is to engage in my new local community of Miami, Florida. I am here to serve with the Florida Annual Conference to learn ways that God is already at work in this place. I have committed to living simply in order that I might better understand and witness to systemic injustices of the community and country. I also connect the church in mission. I get the chance to tell stories to the local churches about this experience of God’s gracious love. It’s also my responsibility to advocate for social change, and testify about hope in the face of injustice. I invite churches to participate in mission through prayer, financial support, emotional care, and common action. Lastly, this program gives me space and tools to grow personal and social holiness in order to better love God, myself, my call, and my neighbor.

What is your personal goal while serving in this role?

My personal goal while serving is to surrender wholeheartedly to God and this calling to mission that God has called me to. I want to learn and engage in every way possible in order to grow in my faith and my calling. By the end of these two years of service, I hope to have a deeper understanding of my calling to ministry and to be ready to attend seminary.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse or story that you’d like to share?

My favorite Bible story is Luke 4:14-30. Jesus uses Isaiah 61:1-2 to announce the nature of his own ministry – “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed…” This story sets up the idea that Jesus was sent to tell everyone, not just the Jews, of the Good News. I am called to do the same. I am called to go out of the church and live in the world as a disciple of Jesus Christ to proclaim the Good News to everyone that I meet.

Who is the person who has influenced your life the most?

My Mom, Rev. DeeDee Autry, has influenced me the most in my calling and in my faith. My mom has always given me space to ask hard questions, be curious, and wrestle with God about our life in ministry. Being a Preacher’s Kid is really hard at times because our whole lives revolve around the church. Church work is hard work. Thankfully, my parents were so intentional about creating space for life outside of the church. My mom is one of the most faithful and spiritually driven people that I know. She is always listening to God and doing what God is calling her to do. She is a true example of what it means to live as a disciple of God. I pray to be as deeply grounded and driven as her one day.

How can we stay in touch and support you in your time of mission?

Email me at, Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I regularly post updates on my week. My Instagram is @em_grace1 or Emily Autry. I also have a blog: I would please ask if you would give to my advance account. This financial support ensures that I am able to continue my work in mission as well as future missionaries to come. My Advance #3022615. Thank you so much!

Rev. Rashim Merriwether Appointed to Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and InitiativesNew Cabinet Position Will Bring Forth Conversations on Ethnic Issues

Rev. Rashim Merriwether Appointed to Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives
New Cabinet Position Will Bring Forth Conversations on Ethnic Issues

rashim merriwether

The Arkansas Conference is proud to announce that the Rev. Rashim Merriwether has been appointed as the Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives, a newly created Cabinet-level position within the Conference leadership.

In his new position, Merriwether will be tasked with bringing forth conversations on ethnic issues and how they relate to the Arkansas Conference.

“This will come through work in connectional ministries, dismantling racism and collaborative efforts with BMCR, ELC, and other ministry efforts along with initiatives identified by the Bishop,” Merriwether said.

Bishop Gary Mueller said that he is excited to have Merriwether on the Cabinet and looks forward to the conversations and ideas that he will bring to future meetings.

“Rashim has many years of experience working with communities of all different backgrounds. I’m so grateful to have his wise counsel on the Conference Cabinet to help United Methodists in Arkansas dismantle racism in our communities and build stronger relationships between our diverse churches.”

“I feel the weight of both necessity and responsibility in this position,” Merriwether said. “The General Commission on Religion and Race was created in 1968. GCORR was established inviting conversation at a common table to address systematic and systemic racism, while seeing the importance of conversation on dismantling racism and its effects and mechanisms ( i.e. segregation, Jim Crow laws, and any exclusionary tactics), with an intentional purpose and timeline. The goal was, and still is, to be an authentic, responsive, and vital church.

“It is my goal to add relevant conversation and experience to this initiative begun in 1968. I look forward to working towards dismantling racism, working to make the experiences, calls, and service of all ethnic people relevant and connective in the work and goals of The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church.”

Merriwether is currently the senior pastor at Hunter UMC in Little Rock. He previously served as senior pastor at St. James UMC in Fayetteville, and the Director of Ethnic Faith Communities in the Arkansas Conference.

To get in touch with Rev. Merriwether, contact him at

Ordination Service Takes Place in Scaled Down, Online Version

Ordination Service Takes Place in Scaled Down, Online Version


This year’s ordination service for full elders, associate, and provisional members of the Arkansas Annual Conference took place in a very scaled-down, but no less meaningful ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 30 at St. James United Methodist Church in Little Rock.

Rather than a room full of hundreds of fellow clergy, family members, and friends, the 2020 Ordination Service was limited to no more than 50 people in St. James’ sanctuary and was live-streamed for the rest of the Arkansas Conference to view at a safe distance.

This year’s ordinands were Andrea Cummings, Daniel Read, Doug Phillips, Jonathon Bevil, Matthew Carter, Taylor Loy, and Brad Moore. Kenny Lee was ordained as an associate member, and Lyn Poplin and Chase Burns were commissioned as provisional members.

You can view photos of the service below as well as a slide show video. To rewatch the Ordination Service, visit

Weathering the Unpredictable Storms of Life

Weathering the Unpredictable Storms of Life


By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

A few months ago, my wife and I decided we needed to take a much-needed vacation somewhere out of state.

With flying being out of the question, and not wanting to spend a full day of our vacation driving to a faraway beach, we decided on Galveston, Texas as our vacation destination. There isn’t as much to do on Galveston Island as some of the nicer beaches in Florida, but a week away from work — and on a beach — was still a vacation, regardless of where we were.

However, Mother Nature and her two destructive friends, Marco and Laura, had different plans for us.

As soon as we arrived in Galveston, we were being told we were going to have to leave. Anticipating the massive evacuation from the island and the traffic that came with it, we rebooked our AirBnB and headed out the next morning.

Thankfully, we found an available Airbnb in nearby Austin, Texas where we could spend the rest of our vacation week.

And although Hurricane Marco weakened, and Hurricane Laura thankfully did not end up being as deadly as anticipated — despite making landfall as a Category 4 storm — the unpredictability of the storms created a very stressful week for residents of Louisiana, Texas, and even Arkansas.

That unpredictability, and the stress that comes with it, can be a hard battle to fight.

It can feel like everything is out of your control. In the case of a rapidly strengthening hurricane charging through the Gulf, it very much is beyond anything you can control.

We were certainly stressed about having to change our vacation plans. I cannot imagine how the people who lived in the path of the storm must have felt, having to leave their homes in a flash, and not knowing if they would be there when they returned.

When I feel overwhelming stress, I turn to one of my favorite verses of scripture for comfort.

“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 (CEB)

Notice how it doesn’t say that awful, stressful, unpredictable things will not happen to you. It’s guaranteed that they will. And in 2020? Yeah, you can bet on it.

But what Jeremiah is trying to offer here is a bit of comfort in the midst of chaos.

The Lord will watch over you in tough times. You will not be forgotten or abandoned. Even when it’s tough and the pain doesn’t make sense, you can turn to the Word of God and know that you are protected.

I know that’s a hard thing to believe in, especially when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, a storm, financial ruin, whatever unpredictable thing it may be.

But I believe that it’s true. I’ve seen the light through life’s darkest moments.

I hope you will remember Jeremiah’s words, place your trust in the Lord, and don’t let the storms of life keep you down.