Feeding from the Depths

Feeding from the Depths

By Rev. Eva Englert-Jessen

Program Coordinator for the Center for Calling and Christian Leadership, Hendrix College

I’m not sure I’d be a minister today if it weren’t for church potlucks. There is something about the gelatinous salads, mac and cheese, quirky cupboard serving bowls and potluck conversation that nourishes the soul. I think Jesus knew what he was doing when he told us that coming together around simple elements — brought forth as wheat and grape from creation and nurtured into bread and wine — is a profound way to experience God’s love, and to be challenged to extend that holy Table into the world.

Food matters. Food really matters.

Churches have played a tremendous role in responding to the needs of the hungry, through a variety of food programs such as weekly meals for anyone in need in the community, summer meal programs for schoolchildren, and food pantries. This work is important; it shouldn’t stop. And yet, as helpful and theologically grounded (and important!) as food charity is, I’ve learned more and more that the complexity of problems related to food injustice and poverty require an even more robust response from the church; responses that get at the heart of the issues themselves.

Two of my favorite food justice authors Roger Gottlieb and Anapuma Joshi define food justice in terms of equity, fairness, and sustainability not only for consumers and eaters, but also in terms of how food is grown, produced, and accessed. If the food systems that create hunger are characterized by a lack of equity and fairness in any of these areas, then to respond in a meaningful way necessitates paying attention to the interaction of all of these components of food injustice.

I wonder about possibilities for deeper engagement in our Arkansas Methodist churches around this. There are so many ways to do this work creatively! Examining the roots is hard, and time-consuming, and requires asking questions that don’t always have straightforward answers or quick fixes—but is that not the road of faith we walk in our personal lives and with our fellow Christians? The task Jesus gives us to love God and love neighbor is not an easy task, but it is one we do in community.

One such example of this examination of the roots is situated in uncovering the history of lands we live on, and the ways throughout history and into our present in which land has been used to exploit God’s creation—both the land and the people—who were forced leave or to work it. As I’m learning from teachers and writers such as Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch of Arkansas State University, Arkansas is not exempt from a past that not only enslaved Africans and their descendants, but that also upheld many programs (including programs connected to the U.S. Department of Agriculture) that continued to deny African-Americans the right to land ownership even after the abolishment of slavery. We can draw a pretty direct line from this history to the reality of what many experts call “food deserts,” where lack of access to fresh, healthy foods is clustered in specific geographic areas. Communities affected by land loss and food deserts are in or near our churches. I feel God calling us to dive more deeply into the realities that affect their abilities to live the abundant life into which Jesus calls us.

Some might read this and think I’m being “political,” a word that has become so demonized in our age of partisan polarization. But I believe that the God who calls us all to partner in what John Wesley would describe as God’s work of reconciling all of creation, calls us to reckon with the ways in which we humans are capable of both great compassion and kindness and great harm. I think this reckoning sometimes involves zeroing in on the nitty-gritty layers and systems that we move through, even when we’d much rather not look at them at all.

Even as we dive more deeply into the causes of hunger and the ways in which poverty ensnares so many in our communities, let’s not forget the abundant grace of God that is always present, always reaching out, always inviting us into deeper relationship with Christ, one another, and with the Holy Spirit that dwells within each of us. As we gather around Fellowship Hall tables for potlucks and approach a season of holiday meals and gatherings, may we be transformed by meals of grace and the Meal of Grace we partake in as Christians during Communion. May we also extend that grace into each person, creature, and moment we encounter.

Rev. Eva Englert-Jessen (Hendrix ’12, Boston University School of Theology ’17) is a provisional Deacon in the North Texas Conference of the UMC. She is serving in Arkansas as the Program Coordinator for the Center for Calling and Christian Leadership. The Center, which is based at Hendrix College, creates programs for young United Methodists to explore and discern their calls to lay and ordained ministry and church leadership.

Eva is passionate about the intersections of vocation, faith, and justice—especially related to food and the environment. As a Deacon, she is also committed to supporting and creating spaces for the church (broadly defined) to be a source of personal and social transformation.

Little Oaks, Big DreamsMabelvale's ballpark needs help. The local UMC is working to give them a community space again

Little Oaks, Big Dreams
Mabelvale's ballpark needs help. The local UMC is working to give them a community space again

By Sam Pierce

Featured Contributor

Blair Ragsdale has only ever been thrown out of one ballpark in her life.

“An umpire and I got into it one evening and he tossed me,” she said. “There are a lot of good memories over there. I’m 68 and I have spent many an hour with my children when they were growing up — it was a good time.

“I’d like the children now to have that same experience.”

Ragsdale currently serves on the board of directors for the Mabelvale Youth Association, which is working towards restoring the Little Oaks Ballpark.

“We are trying to give the kids a place that is safe and a family atmosphere,” Ragsdale said. “We want to see the community kids be involved in something that is healthy and it motivates them to be a better family — better parents.”

She said there are quite a few children in the area that need help, desperately.

“The family situation is not good in our area. Our goal is to get a safe place, somewhere close, where they can go and play ball and have an area to play,” Ragsdale said.

She said a local group donated 18 acres that are adjacent to the ball fields, and eventually, the goal is to put in soccer fields and have a sports complex for this area near Little Rock. Ragsdale said, right now, children have to travel 30 miles to play ball, in any direction.

“There isn’t any place close for these children,” she said. “Hopefully, we can get the ball fields up and going, even if it is just for day games.

“We have been working on this for about two years now. The church has held fundraisers, but it is going to take time and effort to get this ballpark open. It is going to take a lot of help and prayers.

“Hopefully, we can get one or two fields where the kids can play during the day.”

Ragsdale is also a member of Mabelvale United Methodist Church, which sits across the street from the ball fields.

“This is a community-owned park, it is not owned by the city,” Ragsdale said. “We want to get some community interest in getting it going, and we need help with some of the projects.

“We have to repair fences, and the bleachers all need to be painted and done. We are in desperate need of finances and volunteers — of course, that is probably everybody these days.”

Mabelvale UMC pastor Bob Marble remembers standing out in front of the church a while back surveying the demographics, and there, two blocks from the east parking lot, stood Little Oaks Ball Park, in “dire need of being brought back to life.”

“I had a meeting with our director of outreach, Blair, and we discussed the possibilities of it being a place that is safe for our community’s children and families,” he said. “I then met with our city director, Joan Adcock, and when I told her our church’s plan to revitalize the park, she became excited.

“It continues to be a work in progress. It isn’t where I would have it wanted it to be. I wanted us to have teams in place and playing this past summer. But I have learned to be patient and God does things in his time.”

He said when he and Ragsdale told the congregation about their idea of revitalizing it for children and their families, the congregation jumped right in.

“Our children that live in our community have no place to play,” he said. “They have our playground at the church, but our children need avenues on which to spend their energies and a safe place to do it. The park is necessary.”

She said the church has partnered with the city and hosted community workdays and spent a whole day cleaning and mowing the grass in an effort to beautify the park once more.

“Our biggest goal is to get lights for the fields,” she said. “Our lighting is not safe for the children, but to put lights on those fields, is going to cost $350,000 — which is a goal we may or may not hit.”

Mabelvale Baseball League was founded in 1956 and began with one field. A second field was constructed in 1958 and a third was constructed in 1965. In 1994, the concession stand was vandalized and was reconstructed to its current design.

She said in 2001, the Little League field was renovated by Billy Smith and in appreciation of his contributions, the field was renamed as Billy Smith Field.

“Originally, Mabelvale Youth Association, the governing board, was established to start and oversee the park,” Ragsdale said. “A separate board, Little Oaks Ballpark board, was established under that board to manage the day-to-day park activities.

“This worked well for more than 50 years, then the establishing board members aged, moved or passed away, therefore there was no oversight of the Little Oaks Ballpark board.”

She said the Little Oaks Ballpark board eventually disbanded, leaving one person and that person left without naming anyone in charge — leaving the ballpark vacant.

“We have begun talks with the city in hopes of utilizing the park for game day picnics for our families,” she said. “A local electrical company has offered to hang lighting and move existing light poles for our evening games.”

In September of 2017, more than 100 volunteers, including former players at the park, came and assisted with the clean up of the park.

“We haven’t branched out real big,” she said. “But, when we do ask, we get quite a bit of response — it is kind of surreal.

“The stuff we need to do is large, but all the same things that can be done, the community has really pitched in.”

Marble said one member has come forward and said, once the park is fully functional, he will buy all the balls, bats, and gloves for children whose families can’t afford to buy them.

“If a family cannot afford a glove, we want to be able to provide it for them,” Ragsdale said. “These ball fields are designed for any child to play ball.

“We wanted it to be a true community, neighborhood-type ballpark.”

Ragsdale said when they first started on this project, they organized a ball camp and got one field playable for children in the community.

“Our church donated bats, balls, and gloves and we had them at the park every Saturday, instructing them on how to play ball,” Ragsdale said. “We had a little bit of a summer camp last year.”

She said Mabelvale UMC is really community-oriented and she works really close with the elementary children.

“It just seemed right, because these kids don’t have anywhere else to go,” she said. “My son played out here, my husband played out there growing up. It has always been a part of the community.

“We want to have that community feel, that they can have fun, play ball and have the families together. We are trying to get everybody to sit down, have dinner together and be involved in the community.”

Bishop Cynthia Harvey elected president of United Methodist Council of Bishops

Bishop Cynthia Harvey elected president of United Methodist Council of Bishops

LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C.  – Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, the area bishop of Louisiana Conference, was today elected president of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church during the bishops’ meeting at Lake Junaluska Assembly.

Also elected were:

  • President-Designate: Bishop Thomas Bickerton
  • Secretary: Bishop Tracy Malone
  • Executive Secretary: Bishop Bruce Ough
  • Ecumenical Officer: Bishop Sally Dyck
  • Past President: Bishop Ken Carter

The current officer holders are Bishop Carter, president; Bishop Harvey, president-designate; and Bishop Mande Muyombo as secretary. The new officers will take office at the end of the May 2020 General Conference.

Outgoing Secretary Bishop Mande Muyombo was elected chair of the Connectional Table Chair.

The executive secretary serves as the operations officer of the Council and works closely with the Secretary to monitor actions of the Council and Executive Committee. The ecumenical officer is responsible for relationships with other Churches and/or ecclesial bodies. Both serve four-year terms and take office on September 1, 2020. Bishop Marcus Matthews and Bishop B. Michael Watson are the current holders of the positions.


Media Contact: Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

Advent Sparks Light at Methodist Family Health

By Amy Shores

Director of Pastoral Care, Methodist Family Health

I have a pretty unpopular opinion. Unlike what feels like 95% of the population, Christmas is not my favorite holiday. I’m more of an Easter kind of girl. Give me spring, give me pastels and coconut candy and dyed eggs, not to mention the joyous and triumphant celebrations that happen in churches on Easter Sunday morning, and I’m happy. However, that being said, my affinity for Advent has started to grow during my time with Methodist Family Health.

I’m beginning to like Christmas more and more because of the amazing things that I am able to experience each year during the season. In October, we start looking for families, individuals, Sunday School classes and youth groups to “adopt a wish list.” Those in our care all have the chance to create a Christmas wish list, so we need donors and shoppers who are willing to turn those wishes into realities. Between our residential treatment facilities, our hospital in Maumelle, our day schools, our CARES program, our group homes, and a few of our outpatient clinics, we provided Christmas wish lists for more than 200 individuals last year. So, beginning in October, I have the chance to start talking with all of the wonderful donors who make this happen.

Once donors are in place, I get to move on to collecting wish lists! It’s so fun listening to kids’ dreams and getting excited about gifts—more than once I’ve had kids tell me this is the first time they’ve been able to have a list like this. Once lists are done, I pass them on to donors who shop and then drop-off gifts, and then myself and other volunteers process them with a giant two-day wrapping extravaganza. My last step in our gift process is delivering the gifts to our facilities, where they are opened on Christmas morning!

Along with all of the gifts, we also have a variety of parties and programs at all of our different facilities, and I make it my goal to be at as many of them as I can! I have to admit, though, that I have a favorite Christmas activity when it comes to Methodist Family Health. Our CARES moms, who are our ladies in treatment for mental illness and addiction, create not only a wish list for themselves, but they also make a list for each of their children. Instead of wrapping their kids’ gifts at our big volunteer wrapping event, we set the CARES kids’ gifts aside and they get to have their own party, where we have snacks, listen to Christmas music, and the moms set to work preparing gifts for their children. I will never forget walking into the wrapping room last year to find a mom sitting in the middle of a stack of presents, sobbing. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me that she had never had this many gifts for her children and that she had never once wrapped them. Her recovery was giving her the chance to provide something for her kids (and honestly, for herself) that she had always wanted.

It was more than just her recovery that provided this chance, however. It was the UMW group that provided the party, it was the donors who bought the gifts, and it was the continued generosity of Arkansas United Methodists that help our programs continue to exist. If you are interested in adopting a wish-list, in helping wrap gifts, in providing a Christmas party, or in some other way helping volunteer and bring Christmas to the kids at Methodist Family Health, we would love to have your participation.

Please contact Amy Shores at ashores@methodistfamily.org. Wish lists will be ready before Black Friday, and we need all gifts back by Dec. 13, in order to get them wrapped and delivered!

Conference Hopes to Launch Leaders Forward in Vision, Action

Conference Hopes to Launch Leaders Forward in Vision, Action

Arkansas Launch 2.0 attendees (L to R): Rev. J. Wayne Clark, Emily Autry, Rev. Patti Butler, Kay Kotan, Rev. Jana Green, Rev. Roy Beth Kelley, Trevor Hardcastle, Rev. Natasha Murray, Rev. Annie Lankford, Rev. Andrea Cummings, David Martin, Rev. Will Choate, Rev. JJ Whitney, Rev. DeeDee Autry, Rev. David Freeman, Rev. Lynn Kilbourne, Rev. Brittany Watson, Michelle Moore, Rev Mary Jane Cole, Rev. Mackey Yokem. (Not pictured: Rev. Eva Englert-Jessen, Rev. Haley Jones, Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow, Rev. Katie Pearce, Rev. Susan Ledbetter, and Bishop Gary Mueller.)

By Haley Walker-Klein

UMFA Contributor

The city of Little Rock played host to more than 80 attendees at the Launch 2.0 experience in early October. Launch 2.0 is the second step of the Courageous Leadership Imperative (CLI), the brainchild of the late Jim Argue, past President and CEO of The United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, and Tom Locke, President of the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF). With support from the Lilly Endowment, TMF’s Leadership Ministry team offers the CLI, a learning network for courageous leaders.

The first Launch conference, version 1.0, was held last year in St. Louis and offered a large group experience designed to create a network for dynamic leaders, expand imagination for what’s possible, and embolden courage during times of change. The Launch 1.0 program was attended by 130 clergy members, including nine from Arkansas.

“When the organizers set out to plan Launch 2.0, they had learned from pastors that it would be helpful to have some of their team from their church with them,” said the Rev. Lynn Kilbourne, senior pastor at FUMC North Little Rock and Launch 2.0 Design Team Leader. “Launch 2.0 participants were encouraged to bring two other people from their church with them. Ideally, the ‘triads’ would have a dreamer, influencer, and implementer. I was excited to bring two folks from my church with me- Rev. Annie Lankford, our Associate Pastor; and David Martin, Lay Leader.”

“We Are Curio”- a design-centered innovation group from Florida- led the triads through their four-step innovation process called “IEDA.” The four steps of IEDA are: Immerse, Expand, Design, Act, explained Kilbourne, “having my team together for the event allowed us to better ground our visioning and work with IEDA. It wasn’t just an exercise in visioning, our time at Launch 2.0 has laid the groundwork for visioning that can happen in our local church. Together we learned that courageous leadership includes risky ideas and projects like transforming spaces and creating new ministries, but it also includes the work of creating a shared vision for a congregation.”

“It was inspiring to learn from courageous leaders from Little Rock, including Skip Rutherford, Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, and Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton, a higher education administrator and philanthropist, said Kilbourne. “We were able to hear the exciting ministries happening in other churches, and be reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us to be courageous in our leadership and ministries.” The Arkansas Conference Launch 2.0 attendees will meet in early November to discuss their program’s next steps.