Hope First UMC Offers Mental Health Coaching Through Online Training Program

Hope First UMC Offers Mental Health Coaching Through Online Training Program

hope fumc

Hope FUMC in Hope, AR. Photo by Rodney Steele

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Mental health has become an important facet of a person’s overall well-being, even more so as the world continues the slow recovery from the last year of pandemic isolation.

That is one of the reasons why Hope First United Methodist Church has made an effort this year to assist their church and community with its mental health needs by providing mental health counseling to anyone who needs it.

The Rev. Steve Johnson said the church’s efforts to provide mental health help started with his own experience going through a training program with the American Association of Christian Counselors.

“I’m a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors, and have been for many years,” said Johnson, senior pastor at Hope FUMC. “I got an email about this course and how, especially with a pandemic, that they were hoping to train some people to help others as they try to cope with mental health issues, not just considering the pandemic, but just in general.”

Johnson said to get his church enrolled in the program, he signed up through the organization’s website. He said that there is no cost for a church to enroll in the program and tuition is free for members who take the training.

The name of the training program that Johnson underwent is called the Mental Health Coach First Responder Training. It’s a 40-hour, all online training program that consists of on-demand video lectures from “some of the world’s leading mental health experts,” according to a brochure provided by Johnson.

The training is Biblically-based, and training courses can be accessed at any time from any internet-connected device.

“It’s broken down lesson by lesson, and each lesson is usually 45 minutes to an hour. Then there’s a short quiz after each lesson that you take and then it’ll move on to the next one,” Johnson said.

Johnson said after churches go through the training and complete it, they can then advertise to their community that they offer Christian counseling.

There are currently five other people from Hope FUMC who hope to go through the training, and all of them are laity in the church.

One of the new students hoping to complete his training this year is Bobby Hart, superintendent for Hope Public Schools in Hope, Arkansas.

Hart attends Hope FUMC and said that he entered the program from a referral that Rev. Johnson gave to him.

“I hope this training will help me to offer a kind ear and trained voice when working with students and staff in my school district,” Hart said.

He said that mental health help for the community is more important than ever, and it’s becoming a more common issue, especially in schools.

“As an educator, I see this in children and in adults. We have to find ways to remove the stigma attached to these issues and make seeking help for mental health issues no different than any other health care issue.”

Johnson said that he’s happy that a group like AACC is offering free training to churches, and hopes that more churches in the Arkansas Conference will take advantage of this.

“A lot of communities, and a lot of people, can’t afford coaching or counseling, and so this kind of fills the gap. It’s not so much based on trying to cure someone of a mental health illness. It’s more based on providing life skills and coping skills; helping someone reach the goal that they want to have an abundant life.

As for the future, Johnson hopes that he can get more people to undergo this training, and provide a support system for the community in Hope.

“Hopefully, we can get a mental health ministry established by using these coaches and offering it to the community as a way to have outreach. Not necessarily to draw people into the church, per se, but to help them with life. Of course, a side benefit would be if they became part of the church. But it’s not the total goal.”

Lent’s Eat!Elm Springs Duo Takes Church Cookbook Online With Video Cooking Series

Lent’s Eat!
Elm Springs Duo Takes Church Cookbook Online With Video Cooking Series

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The pandemic has made us all chefs. At some point during the year-long quarantine, we have all tried our hand at reigniting a passion for cooking or attempting a new recipe. For some, we were happy just to keep the kitchen from burning down around us.

At Elm Springs United Methodist Church, the Rev. Jennie Williams and Brooke Hobbs have taken their cooking know-how and created a brand new internet cooking show that’s fun, engaging, and tells a bigger story of the strong community connections found at the church.

Williams, senior pastor at Elm Springs, said the idea came about after finding a collection of old cookbooks that church members had published.

“During the pandemic, we’ve really had a lot of time to kind of go through everything in the church and clean out things that we find. One of those times when I was cleaning up, I found a stack of cookbooks, dating from around 2014 or so,” Williams said.

“So then I was like, well, I’m really bad at cooking, and I don’t like doing it. So why don’t we film ourselves cooking things out of this book?”

Williams enlisted Hobbs, the new Youth and Communications Coordinator at Elm Springs, to help with the videos’ production and editing. Hobbs has experience filming and editing videos, so it was a natural fit for her.

“Brooke is why there’s been such a substantial bump in our production quality,” Williams said.

The video series is called Lent’s Eat, a play off of the title of the church cookbook, Let’s Eat, and the holy season of Lent, which is when the videos will be published.

In each video, Williams and Hobbs explain which recipe they’re going to tackle that week, as well as name the author of the original recipe. Many of the people who submitted recipes are still members of Elm Springs. If they have died or no longer attend the church, Williams said the videos allow their children or grandchildren to see their family members’ recipes come to life.

“It’s been a great way to connect with some of our members who are homebound and can’t come to the church right now for different reasons,” Williams said.

Choosing to take the recipes and repurpose them into a video format rather than republishing them on their website or in a church bulletin was a decision that was made because of the massive influence of video content right now, said Hobbs.

“We noticed that our video content is really engaging for folks, and we wanted to be able to put something out there weekly that broke up the monotony of the normal, not just something that we’ve done before, like a video devotional. This is something that increased our engagement with our online community in a new way,” Hobbs said.

Right now, the goal is to release videos every week, Williams said. The first video covered a Mexican Casserole dish created by Elm Springs member David Cheek and a Hot Artichoke Dip recipe by Doris Turentine.

In the video, Williams and Hobbs explain the origins of the recipes and then show a step-by-step process for how you can make them at home. At the end of the video, Rev. Williams offers a blessing to both Cheek and Turentine and thanks them for their contributions to the cookbook.

“The first recipe we did was Doris’s artichoke dip, and Doris is homebound right now, so I’ve never met her; I’ve only talked to her on the phone. But I’ve connected with her granddaughter, who’s around my age. She watched the video, and then she took it over and let her grandmother watch it.

“And so I know it has been fruitful, in terms of it being light and silly, but I think it’s also been meaningful for some of those people as well.”

Rev. Jennie Williams, left, and Brooke Hobbs are the creators behind a new online video series called Lent’s Eat.

Williams and Hobbs film, edit, and publish the videos as a team for Elm Springs UMC.

In their latest video, Rev. Williams and Hobbs make a monkey bread recipe from the Let’s Eat cookbook.

Hobbs said that they intentionally didn’t edit out mistakes they made while cooking the recipes to make it feel more authentic. At one point in the Mexican Casserole video, we follow Williams and the uncooked casserole as she travels across the church’s property to find a working oven, as the first two ovens she tries have issues heating up.

“I think the thing that Pastor Jennie and I both recognize is that we do want to be culturally relevant across all of the generations. This video is really fun and has more of a TikTok style to bring in some millennials and younger. But then also think about making it relevant to all generations,” Hobbs said.

Williams said that this video series has not only been good for her church community, but it’s also been good for her personal health as well.

“One of the things that I feel like is my gift is connecting with people. Moving to a new church in a pandemic is like a nightmare for somebody like me, who thrives on making personal connections. And so this helps me get partly there with making connections again,” Williams said. “I am who I am, and God picked me to to be in this role. And so I like to share that with others because I’m obviously imperfect. But I still feel like God can use me. And that’s sort of what I want to communicate in all these different ways, whether I’m talking about theology or whether I’m just cooking a recipe and making, like, seven mistakes along the way.”

To watch Lent’s Eat, visit Elm Springs’s Facebook Page. New recipe videos will be posted each week during the Lenten season.

Getting Shots Into People’s ArmsOaklawn UMC Assists Its Community with Vaccine Sign-Ups

Getting Shots Into People’s Arms
Oaklawn UMC Assists Its Community with Vaccine Sign-Ups


Photo by CDC on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Vaccines from major manufacturers like Pfizer, Moderna, and, recently, Johnson & Johnson are now making their way into the arms of eligible Arkansans across the state. However, a major hurdle that prevents the elderly population from receiving vaccines is confusion about how to sign up for a shot, as well as limitations with using current technology.

Oaklawn United Methodist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas found a simple way to work around that issue by partnering with a local elderly aid organization and using their church building as a vaccine sign-up hub for their community.

“We contacted the Oaklawn Center on Aging and asked them how we could help get people signed up for the vaccines, and we found that they had been swarmed with more than 2,000 applications from people who wanted the vaccine,” said the Rev. Russell Breshears, senior pastor at Oaklawn UMC.

Breshears said they offered to use their Family Life Center at the church, which has gone mostly unused since the pandemic began, to hold vaccine sign-up clinics for the elderly residents who were interested in getting vaccinated.

Breshears said that a group of about eight volunteers from the church set up tables inside their Family Life Center, and assisted people ranging in age from 70 years old to 94 years old with their vaccine appointments.

At the time of their first few clinics, only adults 70 and older were permitted to receive the vaccine, but recently, Arkansas lowered the age requirement to adults 65 and older.

Word of mouth, as well as posting on social media about sign-up times and putting ads in the local newspaper, helped to inform people in the community of when they would be able to come to the church and get signed up.

Breshears said once people arrive at the church, the process for signing them up to get the vaccine is fairly straightforward.

“We have to get a photocopy of the driver’s license and their Medicare card. And we have to help them fill out some paperwork, and then tell them the appointment time and give them a reminder sticker.”

He mentioned that paper copies work much better for older individuals who might not be as familiar with technology.

“What churches can do is help get them signed up because many senior citizens are not familiar with the Internet. So if they have an online portal like a Walgreens or Baptist Hospital, they lack the skills to enter that online portal.”


Kent Bard, Joe Jordan and Diana Breshears, volunteers with the Oaklawn UMC vaccine efforts.

Kathy Packard, Executive Director of the Oaklawn Center on Aging, said Breshears and Oaklawn UMC showed up to help at just the right time.

“God put Russ Breashears in the right place. He called us when he heard we were taking names on a list for a vaccine clinic. We thought maybe 500 people would show up with their consent form to get a place in line for a vaccine. We were wrong! Over 2,000 in two days. We were overwhelmed and I called Russ back and asked for help. Without hesitation, he said of course we will help.”

So far, the vaccine sign-up clinics have been a great success for the Hot Springs community. Packard said that without Oaklawn UMC’s help, many people would have been unable to get signed up to receive a vaccine.

“Together all the organizations involved were able to help over 1,300 people over the age of 70 get a COVID vaccine and bring hope to their lives,” Packard said.

Oaklawn’s participation not only led to signing up people to get vaccinated, but it also led them to assist in a drive-through vaccination clinic that happened in February at the Garland County Fairgrounds.

Breshears said the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management asked Oaklawn, as well as other organizations around the county, to help with an onsite vaccination clinic at the Garland County Fairgrounds rodeo arena. The first one was held on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, and another one was held on Feb. 23. Breshears said they were able to help more than 1,800 people receive a dose of the vaccine.

Nursing students from National Park College were also part of the group that worked with Oaklawn to assist in vaccinations, said Breshears.

Oaklawn has now been approved to host a vaccination clinic at their Family Life Center, and that clinic will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 9. Advanced registration is required at the Oaklawn Center for Aging.

Breshears said that Oaklawn UMC has been able to help so many people because of the willingness of its members and volunteers to help get people signed up and vaccinated.

The biggest thing that pastors and churches can do to get involved, Breshears said, is to reach out to their local pharmacies and health clinics and ask them how they can help with vaccine sign-ups.

“Most places are desperate for more volunteers because it’s often only a few people who have the job of signing up thousands of patients for appointments. So reaching out to your local sponsoring agency is the best place to get started.”

For Packard, Oaklawn UMC’s willingness to reach out and help their local community is something that she will remember for a long time.

“Oaklawn Center on Aging will continue to partner with Oaklawn UMC for future programs to enhance the quality of life for older adults,” she said.


Women Have Shaped My Life

Women Have Shaped My Life

mother child

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

This month, people from all over the world are celebrating the many inspirational and powerful women who have shaped their lives.

March is Women’s History Month, and just like Black History Month before it, we shouldn’t only celebrate it once a year. However, it is certainly nice to have a whole month dedicated to groups that don’t always receive the attention they undoubtedly deserve.

The first Women’s History event happened in 1982 as Women’s History Week. It later expanded to include the entire month of March in 1987 after the United States Congress passed a resolution declaring it a national month-long celebration.

If many of us sit and think about it, it’s easy to recall names of women who have impacted our lives in profound and immeasurable ways. It could be a famous “first,” like the first woman in space, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize or the first woman Vice President of the United States. It could also be someone much closer to our hearts, like our mother, grandmother, aunt, or guardian.

As I think about the women who have impacted and shaped my own life, I realize that the women I admire the most come from both historical figures and the women closest to me in my family.

I think about my grandmothers, on both sides of the family, who have taught me about the importance of having a strong and steady faith, as well as the value of being an independent thinker.

I think about my mother, who always encouraged me to pursue the things that made me happy and recognized early on that writing was not only something I was good at but something I could turn into a fulfilling career as well.

Powerful women throughout history also come to mind, like Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights activist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through the power of pen and paper, she exposed the horrors of Jim Crow-era lynchings across the American South, and went on to be one of the co-founders of the NAACP in 1909. Her investigative journalism work inspires me to always seek out the truth, even if that truth makes some people uncomfortable.

I also think of Christian writers, like Rachel Held Evans, whose raw and vulnerable accounts of her faith transformation have taught me to explore my faith in new and different ways. Evans tragically died in 2019, but her books are ones that I’m sure I will return to time and time again throughout my life.

And I of course cannot ignore the impact of seeing Vice President Kamala Harris become the first female vice president in U.S. history, and knowing that many little girls will grow up understanding that it’s possible — and not only that, necessary — for them to do great things as well.

Women’s History Month is about celebrating powerful, courageous women who have impacted not only our lives but the lives of countless people across the globe.

Remember to celebrate the important women in your life, not just in March, but every day of the year.

Following in Your Children’s FootstepsDeLano family pursues pastoring from different pathways

Following in Your Children’s Footsteps
DeLano family pursues pastoring from different pathways

kris, lauren, steve

Left to right: Kris, Lauren and Steve DeLano at Lauren’s ordination in 2016.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Legacy clergy families are something that we’re quite used to in the church. There are countless examples of the children of clergy, or their children’s children, deciding to enter into the family trade and become the pastor of a church, just like generations of family members before them.

It’s not often that you hear about the parent of a clergy member deciding to follow in the footsteps of their child, but for Steve and Lauren DeLano, that’s exactly what happened.

The Rev. Lauren DeLano has been a pastor in the Arkansas Conference since 2016, serving her first appointment as the associate pastor at First United Methodist Church Conway, before moving to a senior pastor appointment in the summer of 2020 at Vilonia United Methodist Church.

“I grew up going to Central United Methodist in Fayetteville and I was always looking for opportunities to be in leadership and serve. So as soon as I could be a Vacation Bible School leader in middle school, I was doing that. That later led me to lead a small group of 7th-grade girls when I was a senior in high school,” Lauren said.

Lauren said she never thought about life as a pastor leading a church until she attended her higher education at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. There, she met two people who influenced her life and led her on the path to becoming an ordained elder in the church.

“I met Rev. J.J. Whitney and Rev. Wayne Clark, who were the associate chaplain and chaplain at the time. I was at Hendrix, and we were having a lot of conversations about vocation and calling,” Lauren said. “It had never occurred to me to think about being a pastor or how people became pastors. I’d never seen a female pastor in leadership in the church until J.J., so she was super influential in my call story.”

Conversations with Whitney lead Lauren to answer a call to ministry and attend her seminary education at Boston University, where she graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2016.

Lauren said she originally went to seminary to become a youth pastor but decided quickly to change that path when she realized she didn’t have the patience for youth ministry.

“So I moved beyond being a youth pastor and began to love sacraments and love serving people of all ages. And my ministry wouldn’t be as full as it was without people of all ages.”

lauren delano

Like most seminary educations, Lauren’s studies at Boston University involved numerous research projects and papers, and she found herself turning to the best editor she’s ever had to proofread her papers, her father.

“I was really proud when I found out that Lauren wanted to pursue ministry. I remember being very humbled because God was calling my daughter to serve Him,” Steve said. “And then when she started asking me to help her proofread her papers, that’s where my interest in ministry really grew.”

Steve and Lauren said that through Lauren’s seminary work, they were able to have conversations on theological and social justice issues that they had never discussed in detail before then.

“And then my son, Matt DeLano, ended up deciding to go to seminary as well and is now a pastor in the Church of Christ church. So I had something like six straight years of having a child in divinity school and assisting them in their work how I could,” Steve said.

Steve said that his wife, Kris, sometimes looks like the odd one out in the family now, since she’s the only one in the DeLano family he hasn’t pursued a career in ministry.

“But a big part of this story is her mother — and my wife, Kris — who has been an encourager and supporter of all of us throughout.”

steve delano

Lauren said that by having her father proofread her papers, she was able to see new perspectives and ideas that she wouldn’t have otherwise considered. And now, as a pastor, Lauren continues to have her dad proofread her work, but this time it’s for Sunday morning sermons.

“That, I think, has been really helpful because he and I vary on our beliefs theologically, socially, and politically. And so it’s helpful for me to have a different lens reading my sermon so that when I’m preaching to my congregation, who’s not all like me, who might be more like my dad, that I get a different perspective. He’ll point out things like ‘you know, you said this thing here, but that might not be true for all people or some people might hear that in a way you’re not intending.’ And so it’s really helpful to have his lens, to give me more to think about and to challenge me when I’m preaching,” Lauren said.

Steve’s journey to the pulpit happened not only because of his conversations with his daughter and his son but through circumstances in his line of work that were outside of his control

Steve and his wife, Kris, moved from Arkansas to Wisconsin in 2015. The company that Steve worked for provided a great opportunity for him in the Midwest and Steve said he couldn’t turn down the offer.

However, in 2019, Steve’s position was eliminated at his job, and it appeared he was at a crossroads in life.

“I took that as a sign that it was time to move on and pursue a career of discernment, whatever that meant, and it eventually led me to pursue a career in serving others and God. It led me to be a licensed local pastor,” Steve said.

lauren steve football

Lauren and Steve attending a college football game together.

The Rev. Steve DeLano became a licensed local pastor in the Wisconsin Annual Conference and currently serves as the pastor at Mayville UMC in Mayville, Wisconsin, where he was appointed in July 2020.

Steve said that all the years of reading Lauren’s papers and sermons really helped him to strengthen his theology and sort of get a head start when it came to receiving his local pastor license.

He also credits Lauren’s sermons as a reason that his perspective on certain issues has changed, specifically when it came to social justice issues.

“Probably the biggest impact that Lauren has made on me, though, is really on social justice issues, because I grew up as a conservative Kansan, and now I’m much more moderate in my thinking. She’s been able to share experiences with me that I haven’t had, and that’s really been able to shape me,” Steve said. “And it’s really fun to be able to look to her as my friend and colleague, not just my daughter because usually, it’s the other way around where you’re calling up your parents for advice.”

Steve said that although he really loves being a pastor at his church, he doesn’t think full-time ministry as an elder is in the future for him. He eventually wants to be able to retire with his wife, and settle someplace warm, like Arkansas or Texas.

Lauren, on the other hand, is now approaching her first year as the senior pastor at Vilonia UMC. There are many more years ahead for her career as a pastor, but she’s certain that she’ll continue to reach out to her dad for advice on a new sermon she’s writing or to get a new perspective on an idea that’s floating around in her head.

“I don’t think we’re really that different from each other. Ultimately, our goal is the same: finding the best way to love and care for people.”