Sirina Robinett said she has never seen a path so clear.
“I used to be sad about the church, not really sure where I belonged, but God put me in the church, the Methodist church, and now it is clear,” Robinett said. “I consider myself Methodist now — this where we need to be.
“It fell into our lap in such an obvious way.”
Robinett said she comes from a Baptist background, and she said right away what stuck out to her when she went to the Methodist church was how family oriented the church was.
“If there was a need, they were pretty much aware of it, and the church was immediately on it,” she said. “The congregation loves helping out those needs.”
Robinett is a member of Morrilton First United Methodist Church and is the founder of the Room 29:11 ministry, which provides supplies for foster care guardians.
“It turned into something we couldn’t have imagined, and we took the concept and ran with it,” Robinett said. “One of my coworkers found herself in a difficult situation with her daughter and was going through some rough times with drug addiction, and her granddaughter ended up in foster care.
“The steps to go through guardianship are almost impossible to do by yourself, and she didn’t have a lot of extra resources,” Robinett said. “Within a few days, they are up for adoption, and you may or may not see your grandchildren again.
“She would have been up for adoption if she had stayed in foster care. The family is united differently now because she has been with grandma.”
Sirina Robinett, middle, receiving a Walmart committee grant for Room 29:11. Robinett was presented the check by Dalton Grimes (left), her son-in-law, and her grandson (right), Hunter Grimes. || Photo provided by Sirina Robinett
When senior pastor Katie Pearce first arrived at Morrilton three years ago, people started talking to her about the house next door and how it was primarily used for storage for Christmas decorations, and other things for the church, but it was mostly filled with a lot of junk.
“We had two groups in the church,” Pearce said. “One side believed the house was worthless and another who saw the potential and an opportunity to use it for something other than a storage shed.
“Once we presented the idea for the promise house, there was almost no discussion. It was very clear this is why we have this house.”
Pearce said the house got started when “we had several families in our church who were foster parents or hoping to adopt.”
“The amount of clothing, diapers, cribs — families are really on their own when they foster, so that is how it started,” Pearce said. “In our upstairs space, we had a Sunday School class that we have never used, but it was mostly focused on clothing and other items.”
Pearce said the house was somewhat modeled after the Joesph’s House of Russellville, which she said has been helpful in getting the Room 29:11 ministry going.
Robinett said it had been an answer to so many prayers and “I was moved to tears when I heard what the church had done for us.”
“We serve DHS as well as the families as a children’s closet and to give children a more home-like environment,” Robinett said. “When children are taken out of their homes, they usually have to sit in the DHS office, while they are making phone calls and finding a placement — it is a horrible, traumatic experience.
“We are not okay with kids sleeping on the floor or the couch. This house will provide clothing and other amenities such as bedrooms for children to go to sleep in the most home-like environment we can provide them.”
Robinett said they just ordered a kitchen nook hutch so the children can have dinner at a table, too.
“We are basically begging overcrowded homes to make room for this child because we are so short on foster homes,” Robinett said. “Often you hear about the negatives of fostering, but if people have the resources they need and support of the community, maybe we can have more foster families in Conway County.
Morgan Zimmerman from Crow Construction helps with the cabinets at Room 29:11. Crow Construction helped to build an enclosed carport that essentially became the outbuilding for Room 29:11. || Photo provided by Sirina Robinett
“Obviously, there is always going to be a challenge, but if the families feel supported, the hope is that it creates more foster families in our county.”
Pearce said they recently held a CALL meeting to try to encourage people who are considering fostering and adopting. She said they are always looking for new ways for people to get involved. One way volunteers can get involved is as a driver that can take foster children to dentists, doctors or court dates.
“We want to try to offer them as much support as possible,” Pearce said.
She said the house also acts as a host to visitations.
“Before, when parents had visitation, one of the places it would happen is in the adult Sunday School class, but this house will offer another place for supervised visits and offer a little more space,” Pearce said. “The goal is to reunite the children with their families in a natural, home-like environment.”
Pearce said they are hoping the house will be ready by July.
“It has been cleared out now,” Robinett said. “We had a lot of work to do with plumbing, air conditioning and the furnace, as well as replacing a few faucets and drains.
“But everything has been inspected and is good to go.”
She said the furnace still needs to be repaired — possibly replaced — but she expects for everything to be moved in by the last week of June. The children’s closet is up and running for immediate placement, as well as visitation.
“The goal is to be ready for back to school time because that is probably our busiest time,” Robinett said.
“We still need to put up wall fixtures and stuff like that, but we are going to make do for right now because we have taken care of the majority.”
“One thing that has been amazing is how all the churches and organizations have been involved,” Pearce said. “From extension homemakers, Farm Bureau — really anyone that has something to offer.”
Robinett said extension homemakers raised $200 from a bake sale and they did a 5K walk at Petit Jean Mountain that brought in $2,300.
“One of the local churches painted the inside for us — literally everything has been coming together because of volunteers,” Robinett said. “Honestly, that’s why it is taking a little bit longer because people are doing it at cost.
“They are doing a great service. I’m so grateful.”
“It has been a very diverse group of people,” she said. “It is neat to watch all of the connections coming from it.
“I just love it when we all come together.”
Left to right: Betty Hix, Michael McLean, Tommy McLean, Rachel Ewing, Caring & Sharing Team Chairperson Nikki Parker, Debby Scoggin, Nancy Smith, Joan Bishop and Rev. Mike Smith. || Photo by Nancy Kossler Smith
When the outreach ministry for Booneville First United Methodist Church first began, one lady showed up during one of the most challenging times in her life.
“She came when we were having the meal on the church,” Mike Smith, the pastor at Booneville FUMC said. “She was walking by because she didn’t have any transportation, and she engaged with us in conversation easily and she started coming to our church.
“As our relationship with her deepened, that’s when we began to discover more about her and her complicated background. We came into her life at a crucial point.”
Smith said the ladies of the church just surrounded her.
“We have helped her financially, got her set up a residential center in Rogers and got her counseling,” Smith said. “She actually told us, she would not be alive if not for this ministry because she considered taking her life.
“This ministry allows us to break through that barrier and it is an opportunity for us to contact people and give them an encouraging word that we would not have had otherwise.”
The Sharing and Caring Ministry, as it has become known, involves members of the church taking meals to certain housing areas, setting up tables, and engaging in conversations with residents of apartment complexes. Nikki Parker, a member at Booneville FUMC, is one of the lead organizers.
“If we only reach one person, that’s one more than we had,” Parker said. “I think anytime, whether it is on the church grounds, or at the apartment complex, or other areas of towns, where we can reach people, especially the kids — because we know they are the future — it is pretty special.
“When things are close to my heart, this is what happens.”
The ministry started with a hot dog type lunch at the church on the lawn, and it had some success. Smith said the church is located at the intersection of the two main highways that run through Booneville, so it was a good location, and they had some activity there. He said it allowed them to engage in conversation outside of the church, just with people walking or driving by.
Smith said they eventually moved out to an apartment complex that “has a lot of children and working families.”
“We knew one of the managers at one of those complexes, so we discussed coming and offering lunch,” Smith said. “We would park our church van near one of their pavilions and serve hot dogs, chips, cookies and drinks.
“It was just a great opportunity to engage in conversation, by talking to the adults there and hopefully encourage them to visit the church because of our ministry.
“Our main objective was to get out to the community and let people know that we care.”
“Our church has always had the reputation of being an open and friendly church, with a very strong prayer ministry that reaches to people outside of our church, when we know about them,” Parker said. “I just felt like we needed to get outside the church and we felt like this was a way to give back and get out into the community.
“We never did it with the anticipation that it would cause people to come to church. That was never the goal. Our goal was just to get out into the community.”
The ministry has now moved from the apartments to a local neighborhood. Smith said one afternoon, they parked the van, and visited with people who were out in their yards. He said they had some great success with that, as people would come and engage in conversation and hang around the van.
“We would talk and pray with some people, and it just became a real time for us to touch base,” Smith said. “We have eight to 10 people that are currently involved that are going out and more than that helping us prepare, or give money to help buy the food.
“We don’t budget the ministry; it is self-sustained. It allows our whole church to be involved.”
Parker said she has several school teachers that are involved in the ministry and a juvenile probation officer that has seen the results of kids not having the support that they needed from their community or family and went down bad paths.
“All these ladies are a big part of our ministry because they want to help,” Parker said. “Our church is very supportive of any ministry that we try to do. Some can’t go out with us, but they can help us at the church as we prepare food, or support us financially.
“I think that’s because they believe in what we are doing. It gives the church body several avenues to support this ministry.”
Parker said they are currently gearing up to start the ministry again, after taking a break this winter. She said they are trying to determine if other areas need to be targeted because they don’t want to be tied at one place all the time.
“There is a possibility for us to do more than we are doing now,” Parker said. “We may need to get a second place and alternate trips.
“I don’t know if we could get a second group together, but our church has always been so supportive, and we have had lots of people that come and help.”
She said they have good fellowship bagging up cookies and putting the drinks on ice.
“That was a good opening to get the kids, and that was the primary target,” Parker said. “But now we are seeing a lot of adults join us as well, so we just keep on trying.”
Betty Hix, center, talks with residents of an apartment complex where Booneville UMC’s outreach ministry team meets. || Photo by Nancy Kossler Smith
Smith said they are hoping to expand the ministry, which will include more nutritious meals such as sandwiches or a hot meal.
“We would fix it at the church, and put into carryout boxes and deliver them to the apartment complexes — something more sustainable,” Smith said. “When we first started, we really didn’t promote it a lot, but we are looking now to have a regular schedule every week.
“So when that day rolls around, people will know we are there. We are meeting within the next few weeks, to get back out there by the time school is out and take the ministry to the next level.”
Smith said one of the reasons they moved away from having it at the church is because people are more comfortable at their own turf.
“It is much easier to have a conversation, and it allowed us to reach more people in a much more relaxed environment,” Smith said. “We go back and see the same people, and we knew them by name and the issues they are having.
“We are taking the church out into the community.”
Smith said one of the main things he has seen through this ministry is “acceptance.”
“We see barriers being broken down,” he said. “Barriers that were put up because of expectations from people that are in the community.
“We had people, who started this, who were a little apprehensive and we saw those barriers being broken down. We are seeing God work and conversations happening.”
He said he had met a lot of people who said they never wanted to go church at Booneville FUMC, and now “they see God in a different way or see the church in a different way.”
“We have seen barriers on both sides of sharing the gospel being broken down in the community, and we see the church being a part of their life,” Smith said.
Kurt Kennedy and his daughter, Tish Davenport, first encountered Tom Trenney at the 2015 Dallas Church Music Workshop at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church in Dallas.
“My dad came up, and he and I attended together, it was really neat to do together,” Davenport said.” We walked out of that first session that we saw him in, and he is just truly special.
“Most of it is concepts you may have heard before, but he brings an extra special level of depth.”
Davenport said they began to keep their eyes open and on Trenney’s schedule so when he came to Little Rock in 2017 at the Fellowship Biennial Convocation, they, of course, had to see him again.
“I came here for that, and we attended that together,” Davenport said. “He had a midday prayer that was just beautiful.”
“He actually travels all over the world, literally something every week,” Kennedy said. “He is a highly sought after person and very inspiring.
“He is very eloquently spoken when he delivers a message.”
Kennedy is the director of music at First United Methodist Church in North Little Rock, and his daughter is the director of music at Searcy First United Methodist Church. Together, they are hosting a Summer Workshop and Hymn Festival from June 13 to June 15 at North Little Rock UMC.
“This is the first time I have ever done this workshop and my first attempt at one that is mostly directed toward musically inclined people,” Kennedy said. “We just felt like Tom Trenney is just so talented that we want to share him with the musicians of Arkansas.”
Kennedy said, during the day, there would be classes for church musicians to work on vocal technique, choral technique, and reading sessions to go through new music and some music of Treeney’s. Kennedy said after the workshops are over, there are rehearsals for anyone that wants to participate.
“We have designed the sessions to really appeal to a variety of people that work in the church,” Davenport said. “We have several sessions that lead church music, and there are sessions on Friday in particular that will work with the festival choir.
“I just know from having experienced him that it will be an educational experience vocally. There will be some sessions that are designed for conducting sessions for a less experienced choir conductor, or to work on our visual means of expressions because we all fall into habits.”
According to the website, workshopandhymnfestivalwithtom.com, the event is a three-day workshop and Hymn Festival with Tom Trenney, pastoral musician, composer and teacher. “Sessions are both inspirational and practical in nature,” the website says. Participants are encouraged to invite friends and family to fill the audience for the free Hymn Festival at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“On Saturday, we will have a couple of sessions for church organists or accompanist and give them an opportunity to work with Tom on Hymn improv and also composition and ranging,” Davenport said. “The reading sessions are based on his music and some of his arrangements of familiar hymns and a few special numbers.”
For more information, visit the website, or call (501) 835-2201.
“So often we are thinking through the whole worship, so for us to have the opportunity to experience worship without having to lead, it is a spiritual refreshment and also further inspiration to take back to our churches,” Davenport said.
The cost for the three-day event is $45, with individual day charges available. Kennedy said there is no cut off date, as people are allowed to walk in the day of the event.
“We believe it is a very reasonable price,” he said. “We aren’t trying to make money, because we understand people are coming in from out of town and have to spend a couple of nights in a hotel and buy their food and other expenses.
“We don’t want to burden them with a huge fee as well.”
Kennedy said he has gotten some response to the event, but not a lot of commitment.
“People are usually slow to respond, but hopefully they will just show up,” Kennedy said. “We will have two reading sessions, so I’m prepared for 100 people.”
Davenport said she has attended several workshops but has never tried to put one together. She said she is thankful for the opportunity to be able to do this with her dad.
“I’m kind of learning as I go,” she said. “It has really been fun, and I am really excited about it — I think we are going to have plenty of people involved.
“Because it is a really great mix of sessions and information. I believe the Hymn Festival, for those that experience it, will be touched and uplifted. I have no doubt.”
For the Hymn Festival, Trenney has created a program featuring hymns for congregational singing woven together with scripture collages and special selections sung by the Festival Choir, according to the website.
“He is very creative with his music,” Kennedy said. “I wouldn’t call it contemporary; I guess you would call it modern. He takes hymn tunes and reworks them with different harmonies and make them interesting for choirs and congregations.
“And of course, he has a lot of original works, too.”
Kennedy said anytime you make a hymn that people already know and make it new and exciting, with different harmonies in different sections, it makes it interesting.
“We wanted to do something for the general public, to educate them and entertain them at the same time; and promote church growth of course,” Kennedy said.
Thursday, June 13, 2019
9:00 – 10:15 Session: And May God Give Us Faith to Sing Always: recommitting to the purpose and vocation of music ministry
10:15-10:30 Refreshment Break (Refreshments located at Welcome Desk in Great Hall)
10:30 – 11:45 Choral Reading Session: Compelling Music for Meaningful Worship
11:45 – 12:15 Midday Prayer Service
12:15 – 2:15 Lunch on your own (Enclosed in your packet is a list of nearby restaurants)
2:15 – 3:15 Session: Getting to Know the Score: strategies and possibilities for score study that prepare us for effective rehearsals and meaningful performances
3:15 – 3:30 Break
3:30 – 4:30 Session: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: building our music ministry communities in the image of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood
4:30 – 6:30 Dinner on your own
6:30 Rehearsal of the Hymn Festival Choir
Friday, June 14, 2019
9:00-9:30 Morning Worship Service
9:30 – 10:30 Then Sings My Soul: getting to the heart of the choir by freeing the voice of the choir
10:30 – 10:45 Break (Refreshments in Great Hall)
10:45 – 12:00 Session: Choral Masterclass: volunteer conductors lead us in familiar hymns and carols to help us all refresh on the fundamentals of expressive conducting
12:00 – 1:45 Lunch on your own
1:45 – 3:00 Choral Reading Session: the music of Tom Trenney
3:00 – 3:15 Break
3:15 – 4:30 Rehearsal of the Hymn Festival Choir
4:30 – 6:30 Dinner on your own
6:30 Warm-up for Hymn Festival Choir
7:00 Hymn Festival
Saturday, June 15, 2019
8:30-9:45 Session: Abracadabra– Discovering the Magic of Hymn Improvisation
9:45-10:30 Composition and Arranging: Question and Answer
Christ called his followers to be his disciples. He called them to follow his example and to do more than just attend church on Sunday.
However, asking someone to “be a disciple” can sometimes be scary or off-putting, but with #Disciple365, the idea is to showcase how even the littlest things can be used to glorify God.
“It doesn’t have to be something difficult or huge, but could be something that is already part of your life,” the Rev. Bill Sardin said. “We can share the gospel with our neighbors, our coworkers or anyone else that we can interact with on a daily basis.
“… It is the small things that you do that can really make a difference.”
First Corinthians 12 discusses how “we are part of the body of Christ, and we each have a little thing that we can do to build the kingdom of God,” Sardin said.
“That is what we are wanting to focus on, is these little things, that anybody can do at any time,” Sardin said.
He said it could be as simple as a hug for someone that is suffering from a loss.
“Maybe their mother or their best friend died, and you are there to hug them,” Sardin said. “We want to start collecting stories of people doing these small things and through video, share the stories with people to inspire others to go out and make a difference.
“We want to do small things to change the world because small things lead to big things.”
Sardin is the associate pastor at Hot Springs First United Methodist Church and is finishing up his second year with the church. In March, he went on a mission trip to Israel.
“I’m taking a group of people — most of them for the first time,” Sardin said. “I want to help our conference as much as possible and share the kingdom of God with Arkansas.
“I feel like #Disciple365 is the most basic stepping stone for offering the kingdom of God to every part of Arkansas because it is on an individual level.”
The idea for #Disciple365 stems from Love 365 and Jen Kramer. Kramer spent a year in 2018 writing letters to friends, family members, and even strangers. She was a guest on Sardin’s podcast, The Happy Hippie Jesus Show.
“I was really interested in publicly taking this on, to alter the way I use social media,” Kramer said on the podcast. “…Very typically, I posted a picture of the person, I wrote anywhere from five to eight sentences, who that person is and why they were important to me.”
“… The irony is when I embarked on this exercise, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a strategy,” Kramer said. “… There were times it was very clear who I was going to write about, but there would be other times where it would be 8 or 9 at night, where I would have to reflect on my day or my interactions and see who would show up.”
Kramer’s message inspired the Rev. DeeDee Autry, who has been the lead for #Disciple365.
“If we are a church-goer or a follower of Christ, it is not something we can just check off this list,” Autry said. “If we claim to be a follower, then we are a disciple — that is part of our identity.
“#Disciple365 is telling those stories and how can we raise up those stories that others may not see as their discipleship, although it very much is.”
Autry said the goal is to kick off the campaign and engage with some people during the Arkansas Annual Conference at the end of May.
“The ultimate goal is to use different platforms for people to share their stories,” Autry said. “In 2020, we would be compiling these stories as a daily devotional, and telling the story of people living out their discipleship.”
Autry said many people don’t consider what they are doing in their everyday life as their identity as a disciple.
“When people volunteer at the clothes closet or food pantry or pick up trash and just numerous things that people do — just being good people — I don’t think we often claim that as our discipleship,” Autry said. “There is some mystery around what being a disciple is, and it is about something bigger than we are, but we don’t recognize it.
“…Nothing is insignificant. It is not always on a big scale, but it is little things that add up. … This is what I believe Jesus calls us to do, is to help the least of these and there are trillions of ways that we can do that.”
Autry said her discipleship starts with her family, and extending grace and love and supporting all of her family.
“If it means I can help them, and support them in whatever they do and walk alongside them, I try to do it,” Autry said. “I see it as my role as a pastor and choose to extend a hand and make sure (my congregation) has everything they need to be the best they are.
“…If I can do that for others, that means a lot to me.”
Autry — who has served local congregations for 28 years — lives in Fort Smith and recently launched her own coaching business, as a lifestyle ministry coach.
“We have to find ways to affirm who people are and help them realize they have great gifts in them and really acknowledge it,” Autry said.
Autry said she has been a part of the Arkansas United Methodist Church for many years and has seen some things come and go, so the challenge or the hope of #Disciple365 is that “it becomes ingrained into us.”
“We are in a time where the world needs to see faith in a positive point of view,” Autry said. “It is not something gimmicky or trying to tout numbers, but it is about changing the culture or claiming who we say we are.
“… When we begin to practice it and make it a part of our culture, it becomes very natural.”
For Andrea Gentry, a former teacher, kids have always been near and dear to her heart.
“I love helping people, and this was a neat and ongoing experience where I could help kids on a regular basis and eventually develop relationships with these kids,” Gentry said.
Gentry, a member of the First United Methodist Church in Wynne, has organized and started a school bus stop ministry for the Wynne School District. She and other volunteers will hand out snacks to kids once they reach their bus stop.
“Honestly, this area of town, (the kids) are just happy to have it and will take anything,” Gentry said. “They are so thankful. I’m hoping to get to know them a little better, build a relationship and eventually be a mentor-type person.
“The kids are very welcoming, and I get hugs every now and then.”
A group of kids from Wynne head home after school. || Photo by Andrea Gentry
Gentry said the idea of the ministry stemmed from 200,000 Reasons initiative by the United Methodists of Arkansas. She said she received a grant of more than $1,000 in October, but thanks to donations and support, has not had to fully dip into the funds for the snacks.
“I have had great community support, and they have provided snacks for me,” she said. “They will buy them and give them to me.
“By sharing it on Facebook, and word of mouth, we have received wonderful community support. People will volunteer their time, or donate money or donate snacks for us to use. We have a closet full of snacks.
“It has really been unbelievable the amount of support we have received. One of our Sunday School classes has committed to helping me on a monthly basis, once the grant money runs out.
“But I’m doing great. The community support we have is just amazing.”
Gentry is from and works in Perkin, which is a part of the Wynne School District. She said Perkin is a high poverty area and she believes “they needed it the most.”
“I see 50 to 60 kids in Perkin every day, and I have been giving snacks to 20 kids at each stop,” Gentry said. “When deciding on where to be, we think about the area and what area of town needs it the most. We also wouldn’t want to post up where only one or two kids get off.”
Casey Shaw, who met Gentry through a Relay for Life volunteer event, said she reached out to Gentry through Facebook after seeing one of her posts about the ministry.
“My mom manages an apartment complex (in Wynne), and it is mostly a low-income apartment complex,” Shaw said. “We just had a feeling like we wanted to do something there and it just kind of went from there.”
School children grab a snack before heading to school. Andrea Gentry, a member of Wynne First United Methodist Church, started a school bus stop snack program for local kids in the Wynne School District. || Photo by Andrea Gentry
Shaw said they serve about 20 kids at Cliffridge Apartments in Wynne and then another 15 at their other stop, closer to her house. Shaw said she has always had an interest in doing volunteer work.
“I like to do anything to help people,” Shaw said. “In this case, a lot of these kids don’t get much when they get home from school. And I’ve got nieces and nephews, and I use this as a teaching tool to help them learn about giving back and helping others.
“You can tell your kids and teach them about (giving back), but until they actually get out and experience it, and see how excited others are for something we are blessed to have every day – you don’t get a better feeling than that.”
Shaw, a member of Calvary Apostolic Church, said it is impossible to know what everybody’s home life is like, and for some, the snacks they give out may be the only thing they’ll have for the night.
“I do see the same kids on a regular basis, and I always talk to them,” Gentry said. “I’ll also give bus drivers a snack, or the parents a snack.
“…I did have a friend, whose son said he was amazed by how excited the children get when they see my car.”
Gentry said Chelsea Brawner, another member of United Methodist Church in Wynne, will begin volunteering for the ministry and will add a third stop.
Gentry said the church has been really supportive.
“The church themselves hasn’t made a donation, yet, but members and classes have stepped up and helped,” Gentry said. “Women from my church have volunteered their time and snacks and will help out regularly.”
“We don’t know their life,” Shaw said. “But to me, it is an easy way to reach out to other people and take a little time to build that trust with every single one of them.”