When Haley Jones first arrived at First United Methodist Church in downtown Little Rock more than a year ago, she felt like she didn’t have the appropriate space to meet the needs of the community.
“Our neighbors would come in and share the problems they may be facing, such as utilities or transportation, but it would be in and out, and see you later,” Jones said. “We wanted to slow down the process and get to know people, and we couldn’t do that upstairs in my office.
“Now, people come in downstairs, and they spread out in the café, and I can make the rounds and check in on people and find out who they are. This café has allowed us to have more of a community feel, and build better relationships, instead of a big scary red building.”
Jones, who serves as the pastor of community engagement for FUMC, said the church can assist with utilities for those in need, despite only having a certain amount of money. They can also help with birth certificates, prescriptions and the café offers coffee and snacks.
“We opened the café as a community experiment at our church,” Jones said. “We wanted to have a welcoming space, for guests to get out of the elements and enjoy a hot drink or a snack. We wanted a comfortable place to do that and for them to rest for a while.
“We had pretty good success with it, and we decided to keep it open longer. We offer a space where people are more willing to engage in conversation.”
Currently, the café doesn’t charge for any of the food, including the pastries and coffee. Jones said for those below the poverty line or those who are experiencing homelessness, “we ask that you take what you need and you leave the rest in love.”
“We can make some noodles for you or make some soup, but the rule is, you take only what you need, and you begin to care for each other,” Jones said.
“First Cup Community Café has cultivated relationships beyond our wildest dreams.
“Conversation has slowed, stories have been told, and needs have been met,” Jones said. “We are experiencing church in its fullest form.
“We have problem solved life situations, prayed together, battled the demons of mental health, and wiped away tears that we thought would never stop.”
First Cup Community Café is open Monday through Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and is located right in the heart of downtown Little Rock at 723 Center St., between the Simmons Bank building and Center Street.
“We offer a space for people who are willing to engage in conversation,” Jones said. “Our ultimate intention is to be able to swing open our doors and be a little more radical than in the past.”
In a statement, David Freeman, the lead pastor at First United Methodist Church, said the church is very excited about the café.
“Being in downtown is very important to us and being good neighbors is as well,” Freeman said. “We’ve always searched for ways to engage with our downtown neighbors and the café provides an easy way to meet our neighbors, build relationships, and provide a warm or cool spot to rest a while.
“It has been fun to have so much activity in our building in the afternoons and know that people feel welcome here.”
Freeman said the café allows the church to get to know their neighbors, learn their names and hear their stories.
“Jesus teaches us that loving God and loving our neighbors are inextricably tied together,” he said. “Yet, when your neighbors are experiencing homelessness or hungry, it can seem difficult.
“Sometimes, as churches, we try to be service providers that ‘fix’ their problem and send them on their way… (The café) is a way for us not just to serve our neighbors, but love them. And hopefully, as those relationships grow, we quit thinking of each other as ‘us’ or ‘them’ but true neighbors.”
Kyle Hendricks has been serving as a volunteer for the café since it opened.
“I enjoy the satisfaction of being able to help people get off the street and in where it is warm,” Hendricks said. “To sit and relax and have a conversation and not be hassled by a lot of other people.
“It is an opportunity to get to know the homeless community with a little more depth, and I think that is always helpful.”
Hendricks, who is a retired minister from Oklahoma, moved to Arkansas four years ago. He began volunteering while visiting his now wife, starting with The Van, a mobile aid center for unsheltered homeless people, and then Lucie’s Place, a shelter for young LGBTQ adults experiencing homelessness.
“When I was a pastor at First Christian Church, we had a program there that helped a population of people who had specific needs,” he said. “We would help with rent, clothing, food, anything like that.
“So I have been doing this kind of thing for years.”
As a volunteer at the café, Hendricks helps serve the coffee and sandwiches. He said he makes sure everything is stocked, including socks and toothbrushes.
“We have a few of those items that we can give to them, as well as cloth bags for them to carry items in,” Hendricks said. “Haley works with people for their other needs including transportation, help with utilities or food.
“(Me and the other volunteers) just kind of man the café for them.”
Kathy Blair, a member at FUMC, has been volunteering for a little over a year. She said she primarily helps to get the coffee going and greeting the folks when they come in.
“I think I enjoy being able to be there with the people,” she said. “And give them a smile and some words of encouragement.
“I’ll cook them some ramen noodles and serve them a glass of lemonade – wait on them a little and make them feel like they have a place to be and that somebody cares.”
Jones said First Cup Community Café is transitioning into a community space and is partnering with other programs within the church, including starting a kids’ day on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. for parents with kids at home to have coffee and pastries as well as connection and prayer.
“The gym will also be open,” Jones said. “We are looking at it from a wide angle, where anybody and everybody can get a little bit of something, or extra attention and care.
“This is the place, where our neighbors can feel comfortable to come to. That’s the general idea.”
She said the church does not set out for the café to serve as a witness ministry, but she said they did recently have a unique experience.
“One guy came in, desperate for a birth certificate because he was looking for housing, and he joined the church a couple of weeks ago,” Jones said. “I met him through the café. And we have some who come to the 11 a.m. service, who have also come to the café.
“We have built relationships with them, joked with them, which we weren’t able to do otherwise.”
When the Rev. Bryan Diffee arrived at First United Methodist Church in Crossett in the summer of 2017, part of the church was closed off and was mainly used for storage.
“There was a whole wing of the church that was built and housed a daycare,” Diffee, senior pastor at First UMC Crossett, said. “But when I got here, it was filled up with furniture and things like that.
“We had a sale, and we sold some of it off, but it was still mostly used for storage. We knew we wanted to use it for something, and we had lots of ideas around, but we didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do. It was something we were praying about, but there wasn’t really anything concrete.”
That’s when Diffee received a phone call from Amy Howard, the director of the Southeast Arkansas Community Action Corporation. She asked him what he thought of the idea of having the local Head Start program renting or leasing the space.
“She said, ‘We want to move away from our current location because it costs a lot of money, and we would like to grow,’” Diffee said. “She said our facility would be a great place to move into.”
Diffee said it was a smooth transition, as God seemed to be in the mix.
“We figured out our square footage, and what a reasonable amount to charge would be for rent,” Diffee said. “We started negotiations with them, and it lasted through the summer. The contract was signed, and they moved in the week prior to school starting before this school year.”
The daycare closed in 2016, after being operational for 50 years, but the church was built in 1949 and then added on. Diffee said the original church dates back to the 1800s. He said as long as anybody can remember, there has been some facility or daycare here.
Head Start is a government-funded program that partners with the local school district, and it helps kids prepare for kindergarten. Diffee said it works much like a preschool, but it is free for underprivileged kids and those that might be a little bit behind in some areas. He said if a child has some sort of delay, the program has a place set up for an occupational therapist to come in to help the kids. The Head Start program in Crossett has 34 kids, ages three to five.
“It helps the kids that may be behind, so once they enter the school system, they can succeed,” he said.
Marquisha Bridges, the Crossett Head Start center director, said the church is “really helping us a lot with the program.”
“It was a blessing, and we had been looking for a place to move into for a long time,” Bridges said. “To find it, within a church, and our with our community stepping forward and helping us out – it has been a complete blessing.”
Diffee said the last thing they wanted to do was be a landlord. He said they are continually looking for ways to partner with Head Start.
“We kind of came up with ideas and activities for us to be involved in and we came alongside and helped them out,” he said. “They hosted Donuts for Dad, and because a lot of kids’ grandparents or parents may work, a group of our men went down and hung around them for a little bit.”
He said women of the church would help provide the refreshments for any of the parties they have including Christmas parties or a Valentine’s Day party.
“The funding they have is for educational purposes, and so anything else has to come out of the pockets of the teachers, and they don’t make very much,” Diffee said.
Diffee said it has become an excellent chance to minister to the neighborhood and he said as the story unfolds and “they get to know us a little better, hopefully, we can make an impact.”
“It has been a real partnership,” Bridges said. “If there is anything we are in need of, if we call them, they come and help.
“It has been an absolute blessing.”
Children and adults from the Head Start program. Photo provided by Bryan Diffee
Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock will present the 2019 Raney Lecture Series, beginning Friday. It will feature the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, Vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, from London, England.
“I’ve never wanted or needed to make a distinction between pastoral and academic, or between personal and political,” Wells said. “My sermons are always about now and forever, daily worries and eternal truths.”
Wells has served as a Church of England parish priest for 20 years. He also spent seven years in North Carolina, where he was Dean of Duke University Chapel. But this is his first time in the state of Arkansas.
“I like to face up to the biggest questions and try to find Christian ways to address them,” Wells said. “I’ve had a lot of experience on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Saturday’s and Sunday’s events will feature live performances from St. Martin’s Voices, which is made up of past and present choral scholars. Recent performances have included Mozart Requiem and Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and Beethoven Mass in C with Southbank Sinfonia.
St. Martin’s Voices will perform a concert on Saturday and Sunday at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church
Andrew Earis is the director of music at St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
“I hope (first-time guests) find insight and inspiration around some of the most important and difficult things in our lives,” Wells said. “They’ll also hear the glorious choral music of St. Martin’s Voices interweaving with what I have to say.”
On Saturday, there will be a luncheon following the 11 a.m. worship service in Wesley Hall as well as a concert later that evening, beginning at 7 p.m. with the St. Martin’s Voices. Both events are free to the public, but FUMC senior pastor Britt Skarda said guests must register for the luncheon. Deadline to register is Thursday. For more information, contact the church at (501) 664-3600 or online at phumc.com/raney. Skarda said there were already more than 200 guests registered for the luncheon.
“This is one of our oldest lecture series, I believe it began in 1951 and has been an annual event,” Skarda said.
Wells said he got into ministry because he wanted to be with people as they faced the most difficult things in their lives in the light of faith.
“I don’t want to save those moments for evenings and weekends,” Wells said. “I wanted to be doing that all the time, building congregations that are what one theologian calls, ‘communities of character.’”
Raney Lecture Series Schedule
Friday sermon: “Be Angry but Do Not Sin” Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
7:00 p.m. Worship, Sanctuary 8:00 p.m. Reception in Gathering Hall
Saturday presentation: “Perspectives on the Family”
11:00 a.m. Worship, Sanctuary
12:00 p.m. Laity/Clergy Luncheon, Wesley Hall
7:00 p.m. Choral Concert, Sanctuary
“If Ye Love Me: An hour-long concert of words and music exploring the theme of love” including works by Thomas Tallis, Ola Gjeilo, Gerald Finzi and Moses Hogan with Revd Dr Sam Wells and St Martin’s Voices, directed by Andrew Earis from St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London
8:00 p.m. Reception in Gathering Hall
Sunday: “Three Ways to Pray”
RCL readings for Transfiguration
9:00 a.m. First worship service, Sanctuary
10:00 a.m. Reception, Gathering Hall
11:00 a.m. Second worship service, Sanctuary
“There is an idea among people,” according to LaNita Daniels, “that one person cannot make a difference.
“Any little thing we do affects someone; any small action we do or do not do affects somebody else whether we realize it or not.”
“We need to remember that God has called each one of us to do something special in our lives and we can make a huge difference in someone else’s life.”
Daniels, who also serves as the pastor at North Pulaski United Methodist Church, is the first female chaplain for the Sherwood Police Department. She has served as the chaplain for nearly five months now.
“I think it gives a new dimension to the chaplaincy,” Daniels said. “I’m coming from a different perspective.”
“…I’ve always thought the police department was overlooked, in a way, for needing someone to talk with and needing someone to be present and possibly represent spiritually in a hard world where police officers, and the department as a whole, meet evil head-on every day.”
Daniels said, by being the first woman chaplain, she feels like she is representing the changing paradigm in which chaplains are viewed.
“When we are called out on the scene,” Daniels said. “hopefully, we can give the care that is needed.”
Tim McMinn, the pastor at Sylvan Hills Community Church in Sherwood for the past 26 years, started the chaplain program in 1996 and for many years he was by himself.
Eventually, he partnered with Hugh Yarbrough, the pastor at Christian Assembly of God in Sherwood. Yarbrough is also the chaplain at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock.
“We noticed an influx of female officers and African-American officers, and we decided we needed to add diversity in our chaplain program,” McMinn said.
“So, we added Marion Butler, an African-American, but we still needed a female.”
Rev. LaNita Daniels, pastor at North Pulaski UMC and Sherwood Police Department chaplain.
“LaNita and I had a discussion a couple of months back, and she is a pastor in this community and lives in the community and has done excellent things. She was an excellent choice to be a chaplain for our department.”
McMinn said Daniels has a great personality.” He said bringing Daniels aboard was an easy decision because it brings a sense of comfort to the female officers.
“I’ve learned through the years, female officers don’t mind talking to you in a problem situation, but other times in their lives with more personal issues, they prefer a female than a male,” McMinn said. “So, we had a desire to get a female on board, someone they can relate to.”
He said, when searching for a chaplain, he always looks for people that are very outward and have a great personality.
“LaNita has never met a stranger and she has a compassionate heart,” McMinn said. “When we are called into a crime scene, we are meeting people who are having one of the worst days of their lives.
“We have to have someone who understands the complexity of the situation.”
Daniels said chaplains act as a sense of comfort, but also a sense of control, to a degree.
“It allows the officers to do their job and concentrate on the crime scene itself.” Daniels said. “It makes a difference for the officers because they don’t have to split their attention.
“I also ride with the officers, so I can get to know them, and they can get to know me. I’m not there to get in the way of their duties, but for them to know I’m there if they need me,” Daniels said. “If they would like to bounce something off me or anything like that.”
“The more of a relationship I can have with the officers, the more comfortable they are when they call me to a scene.”
Daniels said she tries to be at roll call as much as she can for all three shifts and do a devotional before the officers leave for duty. She also spends time with the dispatchers and eventually plans to spend time with every department.
Lieutenant Jamie Michaels and Daniels ride together, and Michaels said while it was difficult at times to talk due to the high amount of calls at night, she said they still spend a good amount of time chatting and “got to know each other on a personal level, which was great.”
“I’m a female who works in a male-dominated field anyway,” Michaels said. “I have had to find ways to relate to people regardless of their background, their orientation, male or female – whatever.
“But one thing I can appreciate with her, it does make it easier to relate to her on a great number of things, not just faith-based, but just life in general.”
McMinn, who also serves as an alderman for the city of Sherwood, said the department has been very receptive of Daniels.
“She’s just been accepted and received by both male and female officers,” McMinn said. “Everyone seems to like her.”
Sherwood Police Chief Jim Bedwell said Daniels is a unique person.
“Usually, chaplains are just called out to the scene when needed,” Bedwell said. “(LaNita) is trying to change that. She is interacting with our officers, letting them know her and getting to know them.
“…From the few officers that I have talked to, it has been nice and a good thing, having LaNita on board.”
Bedwell estimates of the 81 officers on staff, there are six or seven officers who are female. Michaels, who has been an officer for 15 years, said Daniels makes herself available to everyone.
“I think (LaNita) is a very loving, genuine person,” Michaels said. “She wants to get to know everybody on a personal level and takes a genuine interest in our officers in the police department.
Rev. LaNita Daniels and SPD Officer Cherry ride together in a police department patrol car. Daniels often goes along with the officers when she is needed at a crime scene.
“She really does care, and she makes it evident in what she does and the message she brings. She wants us to know God’s message, and she is not pushy with it. She just wants us to know God’s love, and I can appreciate that.”
Daniels, who is originally from Antioch, which is just outside Beebe, said she has wanted to become a chaplain for years.
“I feel like I am making a positive difference in people’s lives,” Daniels said.
“The ripples we make, can be good. But if we don’t act intentionally and don’t do what God calls us to do, we have lost an opportunity and so do all the people who would be affected.”
Daniels, who has been the pastor at North Pulaski for four years, said she has opened North Pulaski United Methodist Church facility to several groups (e.g., Scouts, Gravel Ridge Improvement Team community meeting, North Central Clergy Partnership Community Action Board, Veterans Happy Hour Social Club, Crafter’s Club) and is working towards hosting several new support groups for the community.
She holds several credentials (e.g., FEMA Master Professional Continuity Practitioner, Licensed Federal Acquisition Institute Program Manager, Licensed Federal Acquisition Institute Project Manager, Licensed Federal Government Contracting Officer’s Representative, Federal Leadership Development Institute Mentor) and participates in many additional activities (e.g., Chairperson for Interfaith Arkansas Disaster Emotional and Spiritual Care Team, Interfaith Arkansas Representative to Arkansas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster).
“I don’t think the general public realizes the stress that police officers and their families are under,” Daniels said. “I don’t think they realize officers need a presence, a Godly presence.
“They go out and do more than give traffic tickets. They are there to face pure evil, and they are the ones that show up to fight it. They need a Godly presence.
“…The fear and concern of their families is a huge weight on their shoulders.”
Michaels said just as those in faith-based work, she sees this as a calling.
“I don’t think I could stay in this as long as I have, especially with the way things are now, without knowing I was doing this for a greater purpose,” Michaels said. “This is a thankless job.”
She said having Daniels at the department brings a sense of comfort.
“It is very comforting to listen to her message and the quick prayer she does; I take it to heart,” Michaels said. “After we say, ‘Amen,’ I’m ready to go to work and get after it.
“I hope that my officers take the same comfort that I do.”
Amboy United Methodist Church in North Little Rock was searching for a way to reach its Hispanic community. The Rev. Candace Barron, who is also the senior pastor at Gardner Memorial United Methodist Church, said in November they came up with the idea for broadcasting their sermons through Facebook.
“We started to reach the Hispanic community, people we haven’t actually seen here for church services,” Barron said.
Stephen Copley, the executive director of Interfaith Arkansas and one of the pastors at Amboy, said Facebook might reach those who aren’t coming into the building.
“We thought it might be a good way to get out into the community,” Copley said. “The genesis of how it started was really an attempt to reach people and use our technology to – first of all – share the good news of God’s grace and create a fiscal worship experience.”
The Monday Night Live at Amboy UMC is held every Monday at 6:30 p.m. for 30 minutes of prayer, Bible study and a thought-provoking meditation on life.
The event is geared towards the Hispanic community, but it also for those who have a difficult time getting to church on Sunday mornings due to disabilities, work or other reasons.
“We wanted to expand our footprint in a different way and be accessible to those who can’t physically make it to church,” Barron said. “This is a way to reach them, where they felt safe and not have to worry about being picked up by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”
Copley said, initially, they had hoped to start in mid-September, but they didn’t get rolling until late October. He said they are looking to boost it again this month in hopes of getting the word out and hopefully increase the number of views. He said it is still kind of early to tell just how many people the Facebook Live ministry is reaching.
On Nov. 26, the service reached 84 people, and there were 41 video views, six likes and multiple comments, according to Copley. He said he is pleased with those numbers.
“The hardest thing is, we don’t know who they are and how consistently they are watching,” Copley said. “The main idea behind it is that folks are busy and life gets chaotic, but somehow they can still build a relationship with God.”
He said it is difficult to build a relationship compared to those who actually come into the building, but at least in this way, they have some kind of connection with people.
“To me, it’s exciting,” Copley said. “It is a real contemporary way to reach people. Even in the early church, even Jesus proclaimed the gospel in different ways, and that is the driving force in what we are doing.
“We are planting seeds, some of those we may never know, but someone’s life could be changed,” Copley said. “And that’s the heart of the good news, and that is what is exciting about it.”
Amboy UMC has a membership count of 200 to 250, but worship attendance is usually about 20. Copley said the Facebook ministry might assist the church in growing.
“We have been here since the 1950s, and this is just another way to engage a community by adding a different kind of worship service,” he said.
Barron, who has been with Amboy UMC for four years, said they recently contacted every person on their membership and a lot of their members have moved out state but want to keep their membership. She also said some aren’t really “church people anymore, but they don’t want to drop their membership.”
“Most of them wouldn’t budge, even though they lived in Dallas, Memphis or some other place,” Barron said. “Some still send in checks for their tithe.
“This (ministry) is an experiment we are trying. The Spanish service uploads to the other website in the Spanish community and we have been at it a lot longer. We are trying to build up the Spanish service.”
The Spanish service is held on Sundays at 4 p.m.
In December, Amboy hosted a toy drive for people in the community, where they met residents and gave away toys and let them know “coming into a church isn’t a scary thing.”
They also recently visited the local Veterans Affairs hospital for caroling, and the church works closely with the neighborhood association. Barron said she wants people to be aware of all their services.
“In the spring, our thoughts and plans are to try to create a service in the building (on Mondays) and use that as a springboard to invite folks,” Copley said.
“We will continue to do the Facebook live, but we also want to meet in the building and have a service and see if folks respond to that.
“That might give us the first indication of this ministry’s impact.”