Camden FUMC Teams Up With Community to Encourage Vaccinations

Camden FUMC Teams Up With Community to Encourage Vaccinations

sign

A sign sits inside the Native Dog Brewing building in Camden, Arkansas, part of a partnership between Camden FUMC, the brewery, and other local leaders to get their community vaccinated. Photo courtesy of Camden FUMC.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 on the rise in all 50 states, and vaccine rates moving at a meager pace in most places, churches are now turning to incentives to get more people vaccinated in their communities.

Arkansas is in the middle of a COVID crisis — hospitalizations have hit an all-time high and the fully vaccinated number currently sits much lower than many other states at 37% — but churches like Camden First UMC have stepped up their outreach efforts to ensure that vaccination rates continue to go up.

“This is a church that has a strong missional bond with its community. We started planning for COVID a month before COVID hit (in 2020) so we could pivot safely for our food pantry and our weekly community meal (called Sue’s Table),” said the Rev. Beth Waldrup, senior pastor at Camden FUMC.

When vaccines were made available to the public in early spring of 2021, a collective sense of relief reverberated through many United Methodist churches in Arkansas, but Arkansas has lagged behind other states in its vaccination rate. Waldrup and FUMC realized they would need to step up their efforts to encourage people to get the jab.

“As the vaccination numbers began to lag and the variants started creeping in, we first started talking about vaccines with all our neighbors at Sue’s Table and the Food Pantry. When Dr. Erin Goss, a local physician, announced she was organizing a pop-up clinic to be held at a new micro-brewery that has significant outdoor space, we volunteered to purchase gift cards as an incentive,” Waldrup said.

Waldrup said that $25 gift cards to Walmart and Brookshire’s, a local grocery store, were purchased by the church and given out at pop-up vaccine clinics to encourage vaccinations.

She said the vaccine clinic at the local brewery, Native Dog Brewing, was a big success, and 31 people from the community were vaccinated in one night. The event at the brewery was even more successful than their first night at the local health department where eight vaccines were given out.

Waldrup said there have been a couple more pop-up clinics, with more than 100 vaccines and gift cards given out in the last few weeks.

“We consider it successful. If it saves one life that might infect a dozen more, it is worth every cent,” Waldrup said.

Although the clinics have been a team effort, Waldrup said one person who has helped out quite a bit with the campaign is Allison Lawson.

Lawson used her experience as the Executive Director of the Ouachita Valley Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to charitable giving in Arkansas, to help organize a media campaign to raise awareness of the vaccines.

“I should start by saying the work I did with Camden FUMC was as a personal volunteer and church member and not in my executive director capacity. But I definitely used a lot of concepts and training I’ve learned from the Community Foundation for this project, like the importance of collaboration with trusted local partners,” Lawson said.

“I think we approached it in a very community-oriented way. It was important that we reached out to medical providers, of course, but we also wanted respected community leaders to be part of this effort so that every part of Camden was represented.”

To get the word out about the free vaccination clinics, Lawson and Camden FUMC worked with their local newspaper, Camden News, to create a series of video public service announcements. The video included local community, religious, and medical leaders discussing the importance of getting the vaccine.

Additionally, local leaders in the Camden area were asked to submit letters to the editor encouraging vaccinations. And finally, Lawson said they hosted a Facebook Live Q&A with local medical professionals to answer any questions that people in the community had about the vaccine or COVID-19.

“They talked about how important it was to our community that everyone get vaccinated; what they’d say to a friend that was considering whether to get vaccinated. One doctor also explained how an mRNA vaccine works,” Lawson said.

According to Waldrup, this is not the end of their efforts, but only the beginning. She said while the congregation at Camden FUMC has a 98-99% vaccination rate, Ouachita County only has a fully vaccinated rate of around 41%. However, Waldrup said before their efforts to get people vaccinated began, that number was only 36.5%.

Waldrup said while they were at first worried about adults getting the virus, now their main concern is children and teenagers heading back to school.

But she said they are committed to continuing their vaccine efforts until the rate goes up in Ouachita County.

“We would love to see our county rate up to 70%,” Waldrup said. “Our church loves the people in its mission field so we will continue to work with all available parties to keep people safe.”

It’s Not Always About Winning

It’s Not Always About Winning

olympics

Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics ended on August 8, 2021, after more than two weeks of intense competition from the world’s greatest athletes. Technically though, it was the 2021 Tokyo Olympics because of a yearlong delay thanks to COVID-19, and the virus’s presence in this year’s games was heavy on the minds of everyone involved, from athletes to organizers of the games, to everyone watching at home.

Empty stadiums — cleared of fans and athletes’ families due to Japan’s current COVID protocols — gave the games an eerie, bizarre feeling.

But despite the weirdness of the Olympics, the stories of success and the legendary athletes that emerge every Olympic quadrennium were still present. New champions were crowned, and in the end, the United States just managed to eke out China for the title of most medals and most gold medals for a country won at the games.

For some athletes, though, it was not about winning at all. Sure, that’s obviously the goal whenever you find yourself on the biggest stage in the world, competing at the highest possible level for your sport or skill. But time and time again at the Olympics, we’ve seen examples of camaraderie and sportsmanship shine through in the midst of the pressure of competition.

One of the best examples of sportsmanship at this year’s games was between two high jump contenders, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy. These are two names you probably aren’t familiar with, but their story is one to remember.

At the high jump finals, both competitors were evenly matched at 2.37 meters. However, neither of them could manage to clear the next level up, the 2.39-meter height, which also happened to be the world record for the high jump.

Round after round, Barshim and Tamberi attempted to clear the height, with neither one succeeding at their goal. Just when it seemed like the competition would go on indefinitely like this until one or both competitors were too tired to continue, Barshim made a decision; he asked the Olympic official if it were possible to share first place, therefore guaranteeing that both men would take home the gold medal. And it just so happened that, yes, that was possible, although most people never think to ask.

And so both athletes, at the top of their game and unable to best each other in competition, embraced one another with tears in their eyes, captured in a now viral video seen the world over, simply ecstatic to share the accomplishment of being dual world champions.

Thinking about this amazing story, I’m reminded of the countless verses in the Bible that instruct followers of Christ to stay humble, thinking of others always before yourself.

Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Likewise, in Philippians 2:3, we read Paul’s words to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

For humans, it’s natural to want to dominate, win, and capture all of the pride and accolades that come with being a champion. But as Christians, this is the antithesis of how we should interact with the world.

The Apostle Paul, who authored both Ephesians and Philippians, warns over and over against the downfall of pride. Pride most often leads to ruin. Just look at history and you’ll see no shortage of examples of leaders and countries who ultimately fell to ruin due to pride.

As we continue the long journey into our Church’s future, it’s important to remember that it’s not about winning or losing; one side getting what they want while the other side suffers in failure. It’s about remembering that we are all humans, created in the image of God, and “winning” is not the most important thing.

If athletes whose entire lives are dedicated to being the best they can be can figure this out, then so can we.

Centershot Ministries Teaches Biblical Truths Through Bows and Arrows

Centershot Ministries Teaches Biblical Truths Through Bows and Arrows

life bow

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Archery is an ancient art that can be found referenced throughout the Bible. Many of the most famous heroes of the Old Testament — like Jonathon, King Saul’s son and friend of David — were archers, as it was a common tool for hunting and war in the ancient world. Years later, the practice of archery is still being taught to new generations through the fun and engaging programs offered by Centershot Ministries.

Since the early 2010s, St. James UMC in Little Rock has hosted its Centershot Archery ministry for kids and adults of all ages who are interested in getting involved in the world of archery.

Kim Anderson, Executive Director of Ministries at St. James UMC, said the program got its start after a man named Jim Emery joined the church in 2012.

“The very day he and his family joined, he asked to meet with me regarding a possible new ministry,” Anderson said. “Jim introduced me and St. James to Centershot Archery. He had run a program at his previous church and asked if St. James would consider such a ministry.”

Anderson said within a few weeks, the church had approved Emery’s proposal, and new equipment was purchased to get the program going.

Centershot Ministries is the main organization that helps to provide the curriculum and training for churches that want to start an archery program at their church.

According to their website, they are a “non-denominational outreach program that shares the Gospel of Jesus using the life-skill of archery.”

Darren Corbin is the current head archery coach for Centershot at St. James. He said he took over the program recently after the last coach left.

“My son joined the program several years back since his archery coach was the person in charge of the program. Two years ago, the person in charge moved out of state and I felt called to continue this program at St. James,” Corbin said.

Last year was tough for the program due to the coronavirus pandemic, said Corbin, but he said they were still able to have about six students participate. Corbin said being able to have the program available was huge for the students and gave them something to look forward to every week.

But it’s not just students that can participate in Centershot. Corbin said the program allows a wide variety of ages — from 4th grade through age 97 — to participate, but people usually fall into certain leagues based on their age.

Centershot Life League is basically the all-ages group and is designed for youth, college, families, couples, men, women, and seniors. Centershot Compete is their competitive league for 4th – 12th grade and offers an opportunity to travel and compete in local, state, and national tournaments. There’s also Centershot Blue which offers law enforcement and first responders a tool for Community Engagement and Officer Wellness.

“School Resource Officers and P.O.S.T Teams can use these leagues and fun shoots to develop trust around positive engagement,” Corbin said.

One of the ways that Centershot Ministries teaches not only archery skills but valuable Biblical lessons is through the LIFE Bow.

The LIFE Bow is a special bow colored-code bow that tells the story of sin and salvation through Jesus Christ; black represents sin, red represents Jesus, white represents purity, blue represents water baptism, green represents growing in faith, the multi-colored string of the bow represents the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, and gold represents the streets of Heaven.

Anderson said the ministry of Centershot fits into the mission at St. James exceptionally well.

“St. James’ mission is To Know Jesus Christ and To Make Him Known,” Anderson said. “Through the Centershot Bible Studies, devotionals, and LIFE Bow, students and their families come to know Jesus Christ. This also gives them the tools to share their faith, thus making Jesus Christ known. This is truly a community outreach program as 100% of participants are not members of St. James.”

Centershot and St. James are currently gearing up for an archery clinic to be held on July 31 at St. James UMC. The event will consist of three separate clinics for different age groups and skill levels.

The first will be an Exploring Archery Clinic from 9:30 – 11:45 a.m. This is for kids entering 6th grade through adults of all ages and is centered toward anyone who would like to know more about archery or is interested in giving archery a try.

The Basic Archery Clinic will be from 1 – 3:30 p.m. and is designed for students in the 6th – 12th grades that have some experience with archery but are wanting to improve their skills.

Finally, the Anyone Can Shoot Clinic will start at 3:30 p.m. and will be hosted by Centershot Coach Darren Corbin. Corbin will be available to answer any questions you may have about starting a Centershot Ministry at your own church.

The cost for the clinic is $5 per person for the Basic or Exploring clinics. The Anyone Can Shoot clinic is free but is limited to 25 participants. Registration for all clinics is required and can be found here.

Corbin said he hopes that more churches in Arkansas will get interested in Centershot after attending the clinic. St. James UMC is currently the only church to offer a Centershot program in Arkansas, according to Corbin.

Anderson said she wants the clinic will build more interest in the program as well and hopes to see more people participate once it’s safe to do so.

“Corbin is really striving to provide a good balance between faith and archery. As more people learn about Centershot, it is our prayer that more individuals and churches will participate in the program. We are happy to share our resources and knowledge with anyone interested.”

For more information about Centershot Ministries, visit https://centershot.org/ or contact Darren Corbin at anyonecanshootarchery@gmail.com.

Ready, Set, Read Aims to Break the Summer Reading SlumpParagould FUMC keeps kids reading when not at school

Ready, Set, Read Aims to Break the Summer Reading Slump
Paragould FUMC keeps kids reading when not at school

kids laughing

Photos by Danielle Honeycutt and Karoline Risker

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

One of the best environments for the development of strong literacy skills for kids usually happens at school, but when class ends for the year and children go home for the summer, those reading skills tend to fall off and can sometimes stop developing altogether.

For nearly a decade, Paragould First UMC has aimed to break that summer reading slump with its Ready, Set, Read summer program, a weeklong event that encourages kids in the area to continue reading and learning during the summer months.

“Ready, Set, Read came out of a Wednesday night Bible study in which Angela (Newby) and I were both participating,” said Danielle Honeycutt, one of the program coordinators for Ready, Set, Read. “The study was over the book, ‘Outlive Your Life’ by Max Lucado. During the discussion, Angela and I started talking about the low literacy rate of our students and we wondered how we could break the cycle.”

The idea that spawned from that meeting was Ready, Set, Read. Newby, who is also a program coordinator for the event, and Honeycutt said the mission of the event is getting kids to read during the summer, with the hope of avoiding the regression that happens when they’re out of school for several months.

kids with firefighter

Photos by Danielle Honeycutt and Karoline Risker

Ready, Set, Read takes place at the Paragould FUMC during one week of the summer. This year, the event was June 28 – July 2, and according to the Rev. Chase Burns, associate pastor at Paragould FUMC, between 75 and 100 kids from around the city participate each year.

The church makes use of its abundant space to hold fun events for the kids, including their gym, worship center, six classrooms, a youth room, playground, and various other small gathering rooms for guest readers to use.

Kids who participate in Ready, Set, Read are bused to the church in the morning. Each day consists of a shared activity and story reading, grade level readings where kids are divided into age-appropriate groups, free lunch, special guest readers from the local community, game time, and finally, an end-of-day devotional.

Through the use of guest readers, Ready, Set, Read opens up the event for local leaders to participate in their community and also allows an opportunity for the kids to meet police officers, firefighters, and city officials who help run their city.

Some of this year’s guest readers included Paragould School District and Greene County Tech School District principals and superintendents; Paragould police officers, firefighters, and paramedics; and representatives from the Paragould Chamber of Commerce, Junior Auxiliary, and Nunn Construction. Paragould Mayor Josh Agee also participated in a video where he read the “Book With No Pictures” to his two young daughters.

Although Ready, Set, Read was already in place before 200,000 More Reasons launched their new literacy initiative, Burns said the mission of the event now fits in very nicely with the mission of 200,000 More Reasons. It has even led to a new pilot initiative, which will take place in 2021.

Burns said the new initiative is a series of mini Ready, Set, Reads that will happen off-campus at locations around the city. The mini-events will be half days, and they hope to have them quarterly throughout the year.

“During the quarterly events, we will be partnering with our mission committee (the committee that oversees the operations of the Witt House-our platform to feed those in need within our community). We plan to offer a meal, fellowship time, supplemental nutrition to take home, on-site snap assistance, a prayer booth, a group reading session, free literature games, and other opportunities to build relationships with one another as we share the love of Christ,” Burns said.

free book store

Photos by Danielle Honeycutt and Karoline Risker

Honeycutt and Newby said they hope that kids who participate in Ready, Set, Read leave the event with a love of learning and reading. 

“We sent them home with brand new books to start their own libraries at home. We want them to read while they aren’t at school and we want their siblings to read also. If we can get books into the hands of children and teach them about Jesus and serving and loving our neighbors, we have done our jobs,” Newby said.

Burns echoed that hope and said that Paragould FUMC’s mission doesn’t end with improving childhood literacy.

“We are looking forward to expanding our efforts in not only fighting childhood hunger, focusing on literacy, and promoting healthy, stable families as a means of hope and assistance for families to move out of poverty; we are looking forward to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, through loving God, serving others, and making a difference,” Burns said.

The View Is Always Better at the Top

The View Is Always Better at the Top

pinnacle mountain

Pinnacle Mountain. Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Have you ever looked up from the bottom of a mountain and thought to yourself “there’s no way I’m getting up there”?

Maybe you were ambitious and thought you could traverse a hike through the woods and up the side of that mountain, but now, you’re three miles in, tired, dehydrated, maybe a little hungry because you forgot breakfast that morning, and you’re staring up at what seems like an impossible feat.

If you’ve ever hiked the East Summit Trail at Pinnacle Mountain in Little Rock, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s a nice little meandering walk through the woods for about a half-mile, but then you arrive at an impossibly large mound of boulders staring at you and just daring you to try to conquer it.

But also, if you know that trail, you know that getting to the top is absolutely worth the challenge.

Because once you get over that last stretch of boulders at the peak, you are rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding landscape. From the top of the mountain, 1,013 feet above sea level, you get a wonderful view of Pinnacle Mountain State Park, as well as Lake Maumelle, the Maumelle and Little Maumelle Rivers, the Arkansas River, and even the downtown Little Rock skyline.

Every time I get to the top of the summit, I just have to sit and take it all in for a while.

Hiking up a steep mountain is a bit like life. You sometimes find yourself at the bottom of your journey, tired, unsure, and scared to face what seems like an impossible task before you.

And the journey is anything but easy. You end up exhausted, winded, perhaps a little bruised and scratched up from a few small tumbles you took along the way. But once you get to the top, the reward is no doubt worth that difficult climb.

Right now, I think the United Methodist Church, and the world, are still climbing to the top of that summit. We thought we were going to reach it in 2020, but it seems like God had other plans for us. 

We are still working through our fierce disagreements on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. We have deep theological differences that need to be healed. We are just now getting to a point where the coronavirus pandemic seems to be under control in the United States, although in other parts of the world, it is still raging uncontrollably. And racism in the world and the church is anything but resolved, although we have made great strides in recognizing the hurt and pain that have been directed toward our Black and Brown brothers and sisters throughout American history.

Bishop Mueller recently said in his Episcopal Address to the 2021 Annual Conference that he believes we are experiencing the gift of an unexpected pause right now. I believe the same; we’re halfway up the summit, taking a granola and water break before we conquer the remainder of the trail.

I don’t know what the future holds for the church; I hope that whatever the outcome, it is God’s will and that every side finds peace and comfort in the decision that is made. Similarly, I don’t know when the pandemic will end, or when we’ll finally make reparations for systemic and systematic racism.

I do know that God doesn’t leave us wondering where we should look when we face a mountain. God says, simply, to look to God. 

One of the most famous verses about mountains, of course, is the one about having faith like a mustard seed, but I find Psalm 121:1-2 to be a little more relevant to my mountain metaphor.

“I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.” – Psalm 121:1-2, The Message

Take heart, knowing that the path that’s left before us is not as long as it seems, and once we get to the summit, we should pause and take time to reflect on all that we have learned before we head down the other side. 

Because the view is always better at the top.