Hot Springs First Opens Gym for People Seeking Shelter from Cold

Hot Springs First Opens Gym for People Seeking Shelter from Cold

gym

The gym inside Hot Spring First’s Christian Life Center has been setup as a temporary refuge for those seeking shelter from the frigid temperatures this week. Photo courtesy of Cindy English and Hot Springs First UMC.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Arkansas is experiencing the biggest winter weather event in years, with snow accumulations topping 12 inches in some areas, and temperatures dropping into the negative digits. With the harsh winter weather comes an increased risk for people without a home or without a sufficient way to warm their homes, but Hot Springs First United Methodist Church has opened up a warming center to make sure those who need hot food and a warm shelter are taken care of this week.

The Rev. Bill Sardin, associate pastor at Hot Springs First, said that his church was contacted by the American Red Cross of Hot Springs early last week about opening up their church building to shelter people from the frigid weather.

The gym in the church’s Christian Life Center is functioning as the temporary shelter and warming center.

The Rev. JJ Galloway, senior pastor at Hot Springs First, said that the Red Cross is providing much of the supplies needed.

“The Red Cross provides cots, blankets, food and water, crates for small animals, wonderful volunteers to stay with the guests, along with security for the church,” Galloway said.

Hot meals at breakfast and dinner time have been offered to guests, and volunteers from both Hot Springs First UMC and St. James Episcopal Church are working to make sure guests are fed and clothed.

Additionally, shower facilities and snacks are available to everyone. Sardin said that guests are welcome to come and go as they please, and many choose to leave during the day and come back at night.

They’ve also found time to make the shelter not just a safe place for people, but an inviting and comfortable environment as well.

“In the evening time, we turn on the projectors and play movies to provide some entertainment,” Sardin said.

On Sunday, Feb. 14, the church also had the opportunity to share their worship service with the people gathered in the gym.

“Our guests were invited to stay for the livestream broadcast of our contemporary worship service which is held in our Christian Life Center each Sunday at 10:45 a.m. All guests stayed, some reclining on their cots, and others intently listening,” Galloway said.

“Not long into the service, the WiFi went out, but Rev. Bill Sardin continued to preach and interact with our guests, along with our ConneXion Praise and Worship Band. At the end of the service, Holy Communion was offered to each person. Several special prayers were shared with our guests, including a prayer for the Red Cross team. It was truly a holy morning in an ordinary worship setting that turned out to be anything but ordinary.”

Sardin said they plan on continuing to provide a place for people to stay until the weather warms up above freezing temperature, which according to local weather reports, may not happen until the weekend on Feb. 20 or 21.

“The first two general rules are: Do no harm and Do all the good you can whenever and wherever you can. We have a facility that can offer warmth and safety. If we did not offer this shelter not only would we be failing to do good but we would also be doing harm,” Sardin said.

Rev. Galloway added that the church’s prime location, at the intersection of Grand and Central Avenues, makes it vital for them to continue this mission during the frigid weather.

“In opening our Christian Life Center this week to our friends and neighbors, we open our hands to be the hands of Christ during this dangerous time of sub-zero temperatures. First United Methodist Church is truly blessed to be a blessing and we look forward to living out that blessing in our community now and in the years to come,” Galloway said.

If you are seeking shelter from the cold weather this week, Hot Springs First UMC is located at 2350 Central Ave in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Churches Move Ash Wednesday Services OnlineAsh Packs and Lent Kits are the norm in ongoing pandemic

Churches Move Ash Wednesday Services Online
Ash Packs and Lent Kits are the norm in ongoing pandemic

lent kit

Lent Kit from Elm Springs UMC.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Ash Wednesday is the annual day of remembrance that kicks off the Lenten season, and while many churches are celebrating the traditional imposition of ashes differently this year, churches around the Arkansas Conference have not slowed down their commitment to recognizing this important day.

Traditionally, Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent and the six weeks before Easter. It’s a time of repentance and moderation.

According to UMC.org, Ash Wednesday asks Christians to reflect on two themes, “our sinfulness before God and our human mortality,” and the way that Christ has conquered both for us through his death and resurrection.

Churches from every corner of the Arkansas Conference are taking more precautions this year in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, while still emphasizing the importance of this centuries-old day of self-reflection.

“Normally, an Ash Wednesday service is conducted in which participants receive the ashes. However, in the interest of safety, we opted to prepare ashes to be provided to families on Sunday, the 14th, just ahead of Ash Wednesday,” said the Rev. Jemmie Reynolds, senior pastor at Mayflower UMC.

Mayflower is including a daily devotional book called “The Sanctuary for Lent 2021” in their take-home kits, as well as instructions and information on the Lenten season.

At Elm Springs UMC, the Rev. Jennie Williams is taking a similar approach with her church’s own take-home Lent Kit.

The kits will include ashes for self-imposition (the traditional placing of ashes on the forehead), as well as a weekly devotional book, “Lent in Plain Sight” by Jill Duffield.

“In light of COVID, we are taking the first rule of Methodism, Do No Harm, very seriously, so we have chosen to alter our Ash Wednesday plans to make a way to observe the beginning of Lent in a safe and meaningful way,” Williams said.

They will also have a virtual service on their Facebook Page at 7 a.m. on Facebook and YouTube.

devotional guide

A devotional guide from Mayflower UMC, part of their Lent Kit.

Reynolds said the decision to move Mayflower’s Ash Wednesday service to a safe, at-home experience was made for the wellbeing of the congregation.

“I have personally conducted one funeral for a dear friend who was infected. The threat is very real. Members and families of members have been affected … There are so just too many unanswered questions to ignore the situation. In the words of a wise man, ‘Do no harm. Do good. And stay in love with God.’”

The Center for Disease Control and Arkansas Conference guidelines for COVID-19 have led churches to conduct alternative worship services throughout the pandemic, with many choosing virtual or parking lot worship services instead of in-person gatherings. But for a service that requires more physical contact and close proximity than guidelines allow, churches needed to shift to a more individualized approach to Ash Wednesday.

St. Jame United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff decided to create take-home kits as well, but have also made the decision to take their service virtual this year.

“Rev. Samantha Meadors and I wanted to create a service that would be meaningful and contemplative,” said the Rev. Natasha Murray, senior pastor at St. James. “We will gather for our Ash Wednesday observance on Zoom that evening and go through the items that create a kind of sensory station that will connect us during our time together as we contemplate the meaning of Lent.”

St. James’s Ash Wednesday boxes will include a burlap cross that participants will use as a reminder of their journey during the 40 days of Lent. It will also contain crackers, a nail, and ashes mixed with oil for them to place on themselves and their loved ones in their bubble. Clay and frankincense resin that congregants can burn are also included in the boxes.

The Rev. Russell Hull, senior pastor at Star City First UMC, is also conducting a virtual service on Ash Wednesday, but will also have a variety of events to serve every comfort level.

“At 6 a.m. I will lead a Facebook Live option. People can either make their own ashes or pick up an ash-pack at Worship on Sunday morning or at the office Monday or Tuesday. From 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. we will offer a drive-through option at the church. The ash-packs will be available but will include a printed devotion. And at 6 p.m. we will offer a more traditional style in-person gathering. The ash-packs will be used here as well, with self-imposition of ashes,” Hull said.

burlap cross

A burlap cross, one of the items included in St. James UMC Pine Bluff’s Ash Wednesday box.

For each of these pastors, reflection and repentance, as well as the hope for a better future, is at the forefront of their minds.

“Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular, is an opportunity for each of us to confront our own mortality and brokenness, while still remembering that we bear the Imago Dei, the image of God,” said Williams. “My prayer is that we spend this Lent in self-denial and in reflection on the journey of Christ to the cross, and on our own journeys of faith.”

Reynolds said that he has seen the challenges of the pandemic firsthand, but also knows that there is a lot to learn from the struggles.

“This pandemic has created challenges to normal in house worship. But isolation has also pushed families together … The Lord has always had a way of using the most difficult situations to create new life. We are beginning to see how risk may have opened a window for revival. We are praying for revival.”

Ash Wednesday is Feb. 17, and the Arkansas Conference is also offering a virtual worship service for any clergy member that wants to join. Bishop Gary Mueller will lead the service on Facebook, starting at 8 a.m. More details can be found on our Facebook Page. 

Simple + Sweet Creamery Fights Childhood Hunger With Handmade Artisan Ice Cream

Simple + Sweet Creamery Fights Childhood Hunger With Handmade Artisan Ice Cream

simple and sweet creamery

Left to right, Coleman Warren and Tanner Green of Simple + Sweet Creamery, an artisanal ice cream business in Northwest Arkansas seeking to end childhood hunger.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

What if an ice cream shop could also serve as a way to feed hungry and food-insecure children in Arkansas? That’s the driving force behind Northwest Arkansas’ newest artisanal ice cream shop, Simple + Sweet Creamery.

In 2019, Coleman Warren, Simple + Sweet’s co-founder, was serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Omaha, Nebraska. Warren and his girlfriend, Bailee King, were helping to serve upwards of 600 kids a day at a large food bank in the Omaha area called the Food Bank for the Heartland. Warren’s role was to not only serve the kids food but get them engaged in extracurricular, fun activities as well. It’s an experience that he says totally changed his life.

“I remember very specific instances where I just had this wave of realization about how privileged I am. And how privileged a lot of people that I surround myself with are,” Warren said. “And so when I got back to Arkansas, I was so inspired. I wanted to start a nonprofit. I wanted to contribute somehow to these efforts to feed kids.”

Warren knew he wanted to contribute to feeding hungry children in his home state, but hadn’t yet figured out how to do it. But then he remembered something that he experienced in Omaha that he had never had in his native Northwest Arkansas: really, really good artisanal ice cream.

“Where I’m from, we have some ice cream places, sure, but they are nothing like these places in Omaha. They were different somehow. And I just got the idea to do that in Arkansas,” Warren said.

Ice cream couldn’t be the only reason to start a business, however.

“I thought, ‘what’s the point in starting this ice cream business if it had no purpose?’ And so, I was in one of my statistics class at the University of Arkansas where I go to school, and I had the thought ‘what if the ice cream store was an economic engine for this nonprofit that helps fight food insecurity?’”

Warren, who is a 20-year-old junior studying industrial engineering and political science at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, partnered up with his childhood friend Tanner Green, as well as King, and found a way to jump into a brand new food business with a nonprofit mission.

Green is the chief operating officer for Simple + Sweet. King is the creative director and is responsible for building the messaging and imagery associated with the company.

Simple + Sweet currently sells 11 main flavors, with more flavors coming soon. Each flavor is handcrafted using natural ingredients that are locally sourced. Whenever someone buys a pint of ice cream from Simple + Sweet, more than 50% of the price of the pint goes toward fighting hunger in Arkansas. The money is donated to nonprofits in the area, like the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.

They’ve also used money from pint sales to donate to food pantries run by school districts in the area, like the Farmington School District.

“The role that food and food scarcity plays in a child’s life is enormous, very impactful, and can make all the difference in a healthy childhood,” King said. “Simple + Sweet wants to find a way, a system, that will allow the community around us to buy an amazing product and be able to help someone in need, in return.”

honey bun ice cream

Honey + Butter ice cream from Simple + Sweet Creamery. 

Warren said the team had help from the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center to craft a viable business plan, and managed to snag some ice cream making know-how from an ice cream shop in Mammoth Springs called The Spring Dipper.

“The owner of the shop, Neil McWilliams, taught us how to make just, I mean, just amazing ice cream. I don’t know how else to say it, you just have to try it. It is just so good,” Warren said.

After crafting a few flavors, Warren sampled the ice cream out to probably the best testing group you could get for ice cream: college students. But just when they were getting started with testing and feedback, COVID hit in March 2020.

Not deterred by the shutdown, Warren and his team decided to take a chance and sell the ice cream they had made with The Spring Dipper online to see what would happen. Within 24 hours of putting it up on the internet, they sold out.

“After that, I was like, ‘Okay, how do we keep this going?’ I remember in July, I thought that we just weren’t going to do it. I was like, OK, this just isn’t happening, we don’t have the equipment to do it,’” Warren said. “And I was talking on the phone with Neil at Spring Dipper about finding equipment and how expensive it was, and right when I got off the phone, I saw an ice cream machine listed on eBay for an amazing deal, and I bought it right then. It’s one of those things that has to be a God thing. It just felt like a sign.”

Warren’s connection to the church is also a big motivation for Simple + Sweet’s mission to continue in Arkansas.

“My family has been attending the Farmington United Methodist Church for as long as I can remember,” Warren said. “I got the chance to start playing drums for worship when I was only 7 years old, and then in 2020, I got the opportunity to lead the worship team at Farmington.

“It’s such an amazing congregation there, and they really show that they care about you and want to see you grow as an individual.”

honey lavender

Honey + Lavender ice cream from Simple + Sweet Creamery.

The Rev. Charles “Dee” Harper is the senior pastor at Farmington UMC and said that he has really loved getting to know not only Coleman but Bailee as well.

“Coleman is someone who I am blessed to work with. He is mature beyond his age, spiritually growing, caring of others, and he has a drive and energy that I admire greatly,” Harper said. “We are so blessed as a church to have these two young people in our congregation. I am excited about how God will use both of them in the future.”

Warren said that if it wasn’t for the influence of his church and the leaders in it who shaped his worldview, Simple + Sweet might never have happened.

“I’ve always been taught to contribute to whatever you’re a part of and contribute to a high level. Farmington UMC taught me what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be Christ-like. And that’s caring for your neighbor. That’s having a sense of community. And that’s giving yourself to something bigger than yourself,” Warren said.

Harper said that he thinks the future for Simple + Sweet is bright, and the work they are doing is vital to the life of the church.

“I believe not only our future but our present will be shaped by businesses, nonprofits, and churches who champion interactive and new ways of building relationships and support in their communities. I think Simple + Sweet has the potential to be one of those types of organizations. They make a delicious product, are building a supportive online community around it, and they are working to help fight hunger,” Harper said.

Warren and his team are currently working on new seasonal flavors, as well as a low sugar option and a dairy-free option. One of their upcoming flavors for Valentine’s Day is a chocolate-covered strawberry ice cream.

For more information on Simple + Sweet, and to try some of their artisanal ice creams, visit https://simple-sweet.com/. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram at @simplesweetcreamery.

Your Mental Health MattersARUMC EAP offers 10 sessions per year

Your Mental Health Matters
ARUMC EAP offers 10 sessions per year

mental health

As a clergy member, and a human being, YOUR mental health matters.

That’s why the Arkansas Conference is happy to provide you and your family members with 10 mental health counseling sessions per year, through the ARUMC Employee Assistance Program.

We want you to know that it is ALWAYS okay to get help and support from a professional outside of your family or church. No one should be embarrassed to seek the help they need, especially during the difficult year that we all just went through. 

We have all taken a hit to our mental health during the COVID pandemic, but help is here for you now.

Watch the video below, and for more information on the ARUMC Employee Assistance Program, visit our website.

Snowpiercer, Caste and Fighting the Sin of “Isms”

Snowpiercer, Caste and Fighting the Sin of “Isms”

snow train

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

I recently rewatched a fantastic science fiction film from 2013. It’s a movie called Snowpiercer, written and directed by filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, who is probably best known for his 2019 Academy Award Winning movie Parasite.

The film takes place in a dystopian future where humans have inadvertently created another Ice Age by trying to reverse the effects of global warming. The surviving members of the human race must live inside a perpetually moving passenger train because the outside world has become too cold for any living creature to survive.

The train is a 10-mile long, 1,001 car behemoth, with each car serving its own purpose.

Life is actually pretty normal for people on the train; at least it is if you happen to be a part of the elite class of passengers who live in the middle and front cars of the train. If you’re one of the unfortunate souls who live at the back of the train, your life is more about survival than indulging in the comforts of the past world that the front cars provide.

The film makes it clear that the people living on the train have adopted a caste system for classifying the inherent worth of other human beings. In one scene, a member of the elite front cars explains the social order of their caste system by using a shoe and a hat.

“Would you wear a shoe on your head? Of course you wouldn’t wear a shoe on your head. A shoe doesn’t belong on your head. A shoe belongs on your foot. A hat belongs on your head. I am a hat. You are a shoe. I belong on the head. You belong on the foot.”

It’s not too far off from the caste systems that exist today in India and the United States. In India, the caste system is complex, but mostly groups people by their wealth, status, and work. In the U.S., our caste system is based on the perceived racial superiority of one group over another.

Our office at the Arkansas Conference is right in the middle of reading and discussing Isabel Wilkerson’s excellent book Caste: The Origins of our Discontent, which sheds new light on a subject that has haunted our nation since its founding.

According to Wilkerson’s book, “A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups.” 

It differs from racism because it is not based merely on hatred, it’s more powerful than that. 

“It is the worn grooves of comforting routines and unthinking expectations, patterns of a social order that have been in place for so long that it looks like the natural order of things,” says Wilkerson.

In Snowpiercer, the caste system acts in much the same way as the real world. It doesn’t take long for the passengers to adopt a new caste system to subject one group of people, deemed inferior, to the whims of the dominant, supposedly superior group of people. Even when everyone is on equal footing — trapped on a train, protected from the dangers of the cold world outside — an artificially constructed ranking of humanity prevails.

What I think both Snowpiercer and Caste expertly explain about the human condition is that sin — whether it be the sin of racism, classism, sexism, or any other “ism” — is a constant battle that we, as a society, will always face.

Humans have this knack for placing people into categories and explaining all the ways in which we are different, and how one group is better than another. We fail to see the ways that we are the same, of which there are many.

Paul explains it pretty clearly in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

There are ways, however, to fight the sins of caste. Education and conversation are great places to start. 

The Arkansas Conference also offers many helpful resources on the Dismantling Racism page of our website. If you’re interested in learning how your church can learn more about dismantling racism in your own community, reach out to the Rev. Rashim Merriwether, the Special Assistant to the Bishop for Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives, at rashim.merriwether@arumc.org.

If we are not vigilant and always working to beat back these sins whenever they rear their ugly heads, they will continue to dominate and consume our society, and subsequently, doom us to repeat the sins of the past.