Latest Recommendations on Feeding Ministries from Mary Lewis Dassinger

This week is Spring Break and some schools, especially in rural areas, may not continue to serve meals.  Other schools that are not offering any type of continued instruction also may not be offering meals. This means that those low-income students lose access to two meals per day.  Please consider ways to provide meals to these students.

  • Do your research! 1 person from the church should call the local school, the school district or the school superintendent to ask how and where students are being fed. You can also reach out to your local county extension office agent, as they are also aware of resources that are being made available in your area.
  • Look ways to partner – help deliver meals or food boxes along bus routes if they are delivering instructional materials. Or, offer to provide meals at a convenient location for students.
  • Invite other churches in your area to help provide meals.
  • Recruit volunteers.
    1. Set up prep and cooking stations with space in between for volunteers.
    2. Recruit younger volunteers if possible, keeping our most vulnerable members safe.
  • Work with the schools to share with their community where meals will be offered and at what time. If not along a bus route or at low income housing areas where many children live,
    1. Try to serve out of the same spot so that the families know where to go each time.
    2. Keep the times limited to a reasonable time frame.
  • Pack meals to go – either cold bagged lunches or boxed hot meals.
    1. Deliver to cars using protective gear and wiping gloved hands with sanitizer between each delivery.
    2. Or, set up tables near the door so that families can quickly grab and go. There should be no congregating. Minimize activity in the building.
    3. Keep a safe distance, using 6 feet. Tape demarcating where people should stand or wait can be helpful.

Let Mary Lewis Dassinger know if you are providing meals.  If you need assistance, then there are potential resources with which to connect you.

Other Ways to Help

  • Provide Food Boxes along with the meals. Backpack ministries may have food available or looking for ways to continue.
  • Continue to support local food pantries or blessing boxes. Collect food to keep shelves full.
  • Regional food banks can also help you connect and serve. They may know where the greatest need is and able to connect you. They may also need volunteers to pack food boxes as well as financial donations to keep their warehouses full.
    • Any food collections would best be utilized at a local ministry since the food banks would have to turn the food around and send it back out.
    • Confirm volunteer conditions are practicing safe distances.

This link will provide a map of each food bank’s territory and links to their websites.

Contact Names:

North Central Arkansas
Jeff Quick

Arkansas Food Bank
Patricia Fry  (Volunteer Coordination) or Connie Bledsoe (Agency Coordinator)

If you would like to help the ARFB pack boxes this week, please sign up for a volunteer shift here.

Food Bank of North East Arkansas
*Jennifer Hannah or Emily Still

River Valley Regional Food Bank
*Morgan Osman or Tracy Engle

Northwest Arkansas Food Bank
*Kent Eikenberry

Harvest Regional Food Bank
Camille Wrinkle

*These names have been pulled from their websites and have not returned request for permission to contact specifically.

A Quarantine Meditation

A Quarantine Meditation

By Kay Brockwell

St. Paul UMC, Jonesboro

When we began Lent on Feb. 26, we were certainly not thinking about giving up this much. Not our jobs, not our family gatherings, not our dinners out and movie nights, not our worship services. We were not thinking about giving up affectionate hugs from our friends when we met them. Our teens were not thinking about giving up senior proms and high school basketball championships. Our sports fans were not thinking about giving up March Madness and the first month and a half of major league baseball.

We were not thinking about giving up community. 

What a difference four weeks make! Now we are “hunkered down,” making only necessary trips to the grocery and pharmacy and doctor’s office, and being careful to keep the prescribed six feet away from everyone else in the store. In the evenings, we rediscover our families, if we are fortunate enough to still share our homes with them. Unless we’re a health care worker or a first responder or work in what’s deemed essential retail, we’re absent the community of our workplace. Those of us who live alone may go for days without seeing another human being.

Our Lent is fashioned after Jesus’ period of fasting in the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan, and where he withstood those temptations. He spent his 40 days in solitude. And here we are, 2000 years later, spending our days leading to Easter in solitude as well. Our churches are empty. Our Sunday morning church is conducted by Facebook live, YouTube, Zoom meeting or conference call. We, too, are tempted in our solitude; tempted by sloth, by depression, by even further withdrawal from the world we can no longer touch. We, and our church, will emerge from this period time a changed people, and a changed church; the question is how we will change, and how we’ll shape the post-coronavirus church and world.

How do we, then, survive this time in our own little wilderness? While our distractions are lessened, our opportunity to seek God grows. Without the tyranny of a schedule and a calendar, we can spend more time in His presence. We can take time to sit quietly in his presence, not petitioning, not praising, just aware of his presence in us. We can, perhaps, begin a practice of meditation and contemplative prayer.

We can spend more time showing love to those with whom we live, and to others in our community. We can craft wonderful meals, build long-awaited projects, play in the back yard; we can take a home-cooked meal to a neighbor (leaving it on their porch). We can call a shut-in or someone who lives alone and pick up their groceries when we shop. We can mail a card or a small gift. 

We can re-establish our church community through a combination of technology and inventiveness. If most of our members are elderly and not online, we can have conference call services. We can offer drive-up Communion, complete with masks and surgical gloves and individually packaged elements. We can move a pulpit and sound system to the parking lot and hold a drive-in church. We can establish online prayer groups and Bible studies.

We can reach out to those we don’t know by providing food for feeding programs, or in neighborhood “free pantries,” or to our local food bank. We can continue to provide for the many needs that don’t stop because we are quarantined – infant formula, children’s clothing, online one-to-one tutoring for school children, meeting the needs of our homeless.

Most of all, we can remember the many times God has promised that he will never forsake his people. Quarantine may separate us; let us not allow it to forsake each other.

Holy Week: Clergy, Don’t Feel it’s All on You!

Holy Week: Clergy, Don’t Feel it’s All on You!

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

Holy Week for Christians is a time to spiritually follow the journey of the disciples and Jesus through worship experiences so that we all can be reminded why we feel joy on Easter morning.

The tradition of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday Easter vigil is important. I would argue that without those services, can we really appreciate and pass down the stories to our children of why Easter Worship is a celebration?

However, over my time in ministry, I have seen these important worship services dwindle in attendance, and dare I say get dropped from the Holy Week worship schedule altogether due to lack of staffing and attendance. I am not judging. I was on staff at a mid-size church for 10 years. I understand the struggle in planning worship that people say they don’t have time or interest to attend.

Barna Group just published some research that tells us we can do better in creating inspired, encouraged, and forgiving worship experiences for our members.

Overall, churched adults say they leave worship services feeling inspired (37%), encouraged (37%), forgiven (34%), as though they have connected with God or experienced his presence (33%) and challenged to change something in their life (26%). A plurality of churched adults also express always feeling like attending service was the most important experience they had all week (29%) and that they learned something new (28%). (Barna Group, 2020)

To be clear, I am not putting blame on senior pastors, but I would rather like to encourage them to not feel the weight of their entire congregation’s spiritual needs being met by one pastor at every service. Because as we are all designed differently, we all learn differently.

A senior pastor also knows how to see spiritual gifts in others so create a worship team and use their gifts. You can’t possibly do it all every week and especially not a week with at least four services. Sticking with just one way of worship and not relying on the parish members to offer other forms of teaching keeps people at 37%, but if a pastor seeks out the gifts of others to help with the planning and leading of worship more of the congregation will be touched in multiple ways, thus guaranteeing that people leave worship with positive feelings.

During our first session of Beyond Conference 2020, speaker Rev. Dr. Leanne Hadley taught us that although we are called to minister to children, we are also called to let children minister to us!

You read that correctly. Children minister to adults. Every time I work with children, I have at least one experience when a child ministers to my soul. Children are part of the congregation; let them minister to adults during Holy Week.

The best way to learn something is to have to teach it. Challenging a group of fifth and sixth graders to lead service will help them learn parts of worship and the Gospel stories. Your congregation will be inspired and intrigued to see and hear the excitement of the message being taught to them through the voice of innocence. Parents will not miss an opportunity to be part of the worship that their child is helping to lead. It becomes an “everybody” worship instead of a “You” and “Them” worship. Here are some examples of Holy Week Everybody Worship that may inspire you:

The youth at Lakewood UMC lead worship with a Living Last Supper on Maundy Thursday in 2019. Having children or youth lead worship during Holy Week is a great way to take the pressure off of clergy. || Photo by Kat Caserta

1. All can feel part of Palm Sunday at the call to worship by starting in the Narthex handing out palms as the music plays. Don’t let them file into their pews as usual. Not allowing the normal entry and comfort seating interrupts the habit and rote worshipers creating a sense of alertness to the specialness of the day.

Create a special multi-age Palm Sunday choir that starts the procession into the sanctuary and have clergy bring up the end of the processional. The pastor can begin worship by explaining the importance of the Palm as each congregate holds it in their hand. Some churches already do this with a few members or just the choir, but I recommend making it all-inclusive as a symbolic way of “walking into Holy Week” as a congregation just as Jesus knew what he was walking into that day.

2. Take a look at a photo from Lakewood UMC’s Maundy Thursday service last year. Lakewood’s Youth Minister Kat Caserta had her junior high youth lead the worship with a Living Last Supper. They used costumes, set up a Seder meal, and washed feet. They learned Holy Communion, the Lord’s Prayer and learned why the washing of feet teaches us to serve others in a way that creates lasting understanding for the kids who lead. Kat reported to me, “This year, we’re doing it again in our sanctuary and making it more of a blended service with the rest of the congregation. The action will be a big part of the worship service. The youth and children will continue to be a big part of it.” It was so well received they are continuing to lead Holy Week worship.

3. Two years ago, the Rev. Bill Sardin and Children’s Minister Michelle Wilkins at FUMC Hot Springs incorporated multi-generational readers, shadow mimes, and object bags to tell the Good Friday story. All who attended worship could feel and touch the story because volunteers made small bags with a thorn, a die, a sponge, a cross and a nail that the congregation members could hold and look at as the scripture was being read. Church members had visuals, tactical objects, and the spoken word of the Gospel as they were taught the Good Friday story. It was the largest multi-generational Good Friday worship the church had experienced in several years.

Momma’s Kitchen Table

Momma’s Kitchen Table

By Rev. Mark Norman

General Conference Clergy Delegate

I am so thankful for my Methodist mother! Most of my life and ministry have been impacted by my mother’s teaching me about her faith. She played the piano and instilled the hymns in my public and private worship. However, the most important lesson was how important and vital the Bible is to my life. I will always remember my mother cooking the best breakfast with bacon, eggs, biscuits, and baked apples. She would spread it all out and say, “Go get my Bible.” Nestled in her Bible would be the upper room devotionals, and we would read them every day. If the meal was fancy, we read that Bible. If it was the end of the day, we would do those upper room devotions. If we had a road trip, before we got out of the driveway, we would read that devotional.

The Bible has shaped my faith in so many ways. From the foundation that was laid for me, I found the Bible as a source of spirit and life for me. In the preaching moment ( when I was preaching every Sunday), I continue to be amazed by the mystery and power that comes from those sacred pages. Those pages express a passion and directions that guide me for the rest of my life. Proclaiming the truth and empowering people to live for God is such an honor. Our calling as pastors is to declare a liberating gospel that sets people free. The Bible is saturated with the instruction, love, and grace that God pours on us every day.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 119:105-107(Message Bible):

By your words, I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. I’ve committed myself, and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order. Everything’s falling apart on me, God; put me together again with your Word.

My life is a constant rat race from one meeting to another, but the Bible centers me to a place that I am connected to the Triune God. I could not imagine my life without the Word of God, ordering my steps and guiding my thoughts and soul. I love my iPad. I preach from a Bible app; however, I love the stories that people have about their Bible. It may be a family Bible that has passed from one generation to the next. It may be the Bible from their very first appointment. This written work has guided and shaped lives like no other book.

To quote Mr. Wesley, “My ground is the Bible… I follow it in all things, both great and small.” (From the Journal: “June 5, 1766”)

Struggling Into Love

Struggling Into Love

By Rev. Michael Roberts

General Conference Clergy Delegate

To build upon a Jewish Midrash (an art form that Jesus regularly used through parables) there is a story that tries to make sense of this verse. In the story, the angels of heaven are debating about whether or not humans should ever have been created, and the debate quickly broke into two general camps.

Those on the side of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness to the law argued that humans should never have been created because all they do is pervert God’s law, engage in self-justification, and turn God’s truth into lies. In contrast, those on the side of mercy and peace said, “But they are so beautiful.” “They sing lullabies to their children; they care for one another with such compassion; they find a way to bring love into all the pain.” “We are so glad they were created because we want to see how the stories they create are going to end.” Both sides were adamant, so God got involved. God tells them that one of the reasons for the creation of humans was to bring these two camps together. Since both sides truly loved God and wanted to do God’s will, they met in the middle, embraced and kissed.

I was asked to share how the scriptures have shaped my life. This story came to mind. As a pastor, I have witnessed the church engaged in this continuous struggle, played out in many different ways. I have come to see this struggle as a blessing. Israel was born in this struggle. The name Israel means to wrestle and struggle, and it is only in the struggle that we are able to find a faithful way forward. These two sides – priests and prophets, grace and holiness, head and heart, evangelism and social justice, traditional and progressive perspectives — provide the energy needed to bear one another in love and to seek for unity of spirit and the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3). Without this tension, this calling would be way too easy.

I see the scriptures as our primary guide for how to navigate this struggle with faithfulness and fruitfulness. As we move towards General Conference, it is true that some form of division is likely. There are seasons in the life of the church when we need to give each other “room to breathe” and where some form of separation can be healthy. We may be at that place right now. I will predict, however, that this “room” will not free any of us from the tension. Within minutes of any separation, God will continue to bring transformation to human hearts, different insights into the scriptures will touch hearts, and the struggle will continue. God will see to that. The scripture will continue to be our guide.

Using scripture as his guide, John Wesley called all of us to the “middle way.” This is my hope for the United Methodist Church that stays together. When Wesley used this term, he was not talking about politics, party, or opinion. He was talking about behavior. Even with strong opinions, Methodists are to BEHAVE in the middle.

We are called to practice true holiness, which Wesley consistently defined through the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, temperance, and “kindly affection for all.” Wesley calls us to filter all challenging texts, and all struggles with interpretation, through the lens of God’s steadfast and eternal love, pointing out that Jesus calls “love” the summary of it all. This love is patient, kind and does not insist on its own way (I Cor 13:1-8). Discovering this hermeneutic (or method of interpretation) helped scripture come to life, not only in thoughts, but in my behavior.

As we go into this season of conferencing, my hope is to make decisions that will help the United Methodist Church cultivate this witness. My hope is to help cultivate a church where there is room for all, where a high(er) view of scripture is affirmed beyond proof-texting to justify opinions, and where righteousness and peace can embrace. With a Wesleyan optimism that we really can be transformed and can learn how to love, I know that this is possible. The Bible tells me so.