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.”
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