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

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

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Momma’s Kitchen Table

Momma’s Kitchen Table

By Rev. Mark Norman

General Conference Clergy Delegate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Struggling Into Love

Struggling Into Love

By Rev. Michael Roberts

General Conference Clergy Delegate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central UMC Rogers Operates Largest Faith-Based Childcare in Northwest Arkansas

Central UMC Rogers Operates Largest Faith-Based Childcare in Northwest Arkansas

By Sam Pierce

Featured Contributor

The job of Kris Mickna, the executive director of child development at Central United Methodist Church in Rogers, is all about priceless opportunities and awesome responsibilities.

“Connect with each child and working together for the betterment of this next generation, that’s what we’re here for,” Mickna said. “You often hear the words, ‘it has to be your passion’ to work in this field with all the rules and regulations, the low pay, etc. Some days I truly know and feel that!

“And oftentimes, it is difficult to take my heart out of the equation. But then there are other days, I also know it’s my obligation, as just a person in this sometimes crazy world.”

Mickna has been the executive director for 13 years but has been involved with the church since 1997 when it first moved to its current location. She oversees the largest faith-based childcare program in Northwest Arkansas.

She said of the three programs combined — including Mother’s Day Out, Tiny Tots Preschool and the Central Child Care Center — there are currently 309 children enrolled. However, it should be noted that some of those are duplicated numbers because there are some families that choose to utilize two programs simultaneously. Of the 309, 55 of those students are enrolled in more than one program.

“We do a lot of family events throughout the year to help us make and foster true relationships with the families that we serve,” Mickna said.

She said they host events such as Muffins with Mom, Donuts with Dad, Goodies with Grandparents, Arkansas Children’s Week family picnic, a summer luau or end of school year parties. She said they also have Breakfast with Santa, Thanksgiving Family Potluck, a Fall Festival, and other Christmas and holiday programs.

“We also do quite a bit with our community, such as having food drives and delivering all of it to our local food pantry are our sister church or visits to the nursing homes for things like trick-or-treating or Christmas caroling for the residents there,” she said. “Of course, all of this doesn’t replace simply greeting parents as they arrive with their children each morning, calling them by name, and wishing them a good evening when they pick up their kiddos at the end of their day.

“One-on-one conversations are just as vital and always welcomed by having an open-door policy. I know I spoke about being ‘hands-on’ administratively and that in itself also helps to make a lot of personal connections.”

Mickna said she and her directors are not the kind of people to sit in their offices and not be involved. She said they are constantly in the hallways and classroom, and talk with parents throughout the day because of their mobile app.

“I think it would be really hard to not make connections,” she said. “We spend more time seeing these kids in activities than their parents do because we have them up to 11 hours a day, so we see them awake more than they do.

“We are constantly sharing pictures back and forth with their parents. We are very hands-on and I think if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t enjoy my job as much. It is about making those connections.”

Through the Central Child Care Center, the children participate in chapel time, library time, art, music, science, math, learning centers, and imaginative play.

“Right before I was hired, the pastor at the time, Biff Averitt, saw a need for her position. She said prior to her coming, each ministry had its own board and “they all ran pretty independently from each other.”

“So they created this position, created just one board that governs over all three programs,” she said. “I have a total of 40 staff members including 35 for the Central Child Care and the Mother’s Day Out Program and five for Tiny Tots.”

She said she also has a bookkeeper that works part-time but does the books for both programs.

She said the childcare field as a whole is not a lucrative place to work, “but our board has worked really hard to create a new pay structure so that we can be competitive in the field.”

“I have a lot of staff that has been here a long time, so that is a definite plus,” she said.

Mickna said most of the new families come to the program through word of mouth, with a waiting list for every age group. She said she loves her staff and her teachers and said her directors are phenomenal and “truly do love the kids.”

“I love that we have the versatility and can provide a lot of options under one roof,” Mickna said. “We take up three wings of the church on the bottom floor.

“It also gives parents options, because our programs complement each other. We have students in Mothers Day Out and Tiny Tots simultaneous, because parents may need a longer day.

“It does get a little tricky because we are providing so many options for parents versus a set schedule. … But we are trying to fill a need that everyone wants.”

“It’s not me, it’s not one person, it is the team that we have built here,” Mickna said. “The vast majority of our families are not church members.

“And we take that in the light, as an awesome opportunity. Because they may never step in the doors of the church, but they will come in through one of our programs and that’s amazing.

“To be able to share the love of Christ every day and let our families see Christ through you.”

For more information, visit cumcrogers.com.

Wrestling With the Bible

Wrestling With the Bible

By Miller Wilbourn

General Conference Lay Delegate

My relationship with the Bible has not always been a comfortable one, but it has shaped me at every stage of my life. When I first started reading, the Bible felt like a straightforward manual on how to be a good Christian—it seemed that if I could only read constantly and keep its words on my heart and lips, I would always know how to please God and love my neighbor. I glossed over contradictions, rules that not even my pastors seemed to follow, and disturbing passages, and trusted that everything would make sense in time. As I grew older I found—much to my dismay—that the words I read only became more complicated. It began to seem that memorizing verses, wearing them on T-shirts, or sharing them on social media was less important than trying to understand them. I began to wrestle, to pray, to question and struggle my way through the Bible, and my relationship to God became both more difficult and more personal.

Today I still struggle with the Bible—I struggle to understand how I and others whom I love and respect find such disparate truths within the same pages, and often even within the same verses. I struggle to understand what the words say about my own life and the lives of those I love. I’ve come to respect the ways that others read the Bible, but I also believe that to truly love others and honor God, I am called to push back against readings that contradict the laws which Jesus says are at the heart of scripture: to love God with everything you are, and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

As I keep reading, I find myself asking new questions. A verse that never made sense suddenly yields a new meaning, and that meaning, in turn, illuminates other verses. Sometimes a parable that I’ve highlighted and underlined and studied extensively seems strange and unfamiliar. So I read again. And sometimes, God speaks again.

I don’t think that the Bible is meant to be simple or easy to understand. I think that I honor God by wrestling with it. I think we honor God through honest, loving conversation about the different ways we read and the alternate sources of direction we find. I think that this complicated, frustrating, holy book challenges me to be more humble and more loving with every new question it raises, and I suspect that this is the point. But I’m still learning!

Hope Village Gives Homeless in Conway a New Lease on Life

Hope Village Gives Homeless in Conway a New Lease on Life

By Sam Pierce

Featured Contributor

Samantha Hewett was raised in southeastern Detroit by a homeless heroin addict.

“I’ve been a child in those circumstances,” Hewett said. “And for children, it is a situation they can’t help, and 588 of the 964 homeless individuals in Faulkner County are minors.

“There is a misconception about why people become homeless, and for the most part, it is not true. Having been through that experience as a child and as an adult, I know first hand.”

Hewett, her husband, and her children were homeless for a month after her husband lost his job and wasn’t able to obtain employment again.

Hewett said most people believe homeless people have either mismanaged money or got into an addiction habit. She said the truth of the matter is that most people are hoping they don’t get sick or lose their job unexpectedly.

“I try to remind everybody that it could happen to anybody,” she said. “I remind people, they are one sickness, or major illness or accident, from being in the situation.”

Hewett is the director of Hope Village, a nonprofit that seeks to address homelessness in Conway. “Hope Village is a little different because it helps provide for an immediate need and is intended to totally transition human beings and be productive members of society,” Hewett said. “It helps them earn the skills needed to become members of society again.”

Hope Village recently received a check for $29,800 from a pair of fundraisers through First UMC Conway and Wesley UMC in Conway. She said they also have an ongoing fundraiser for bricks that will be placed on the walkways of the home, for $100 each. She said they get a few of those each month.

It takes approximately $30,000 to $40,000 to build one of the homes.

First UMC in Conway presents a check to Dr. Phil Fletcher, founder of CoHO, and Sam Hewett, director of Hope Village. || Photo provided by CoHO

“It will cost about $100 per square foot and each lot is somewhere between 400 to 600 square feet,” she said. “That will probably be edited as we meet with contractors and construction workers who are able to donate time and resources, and learn the land and lay foundation.”

The land for Hope Village was purchased back in 2018.

Hewett said the budget has been broken up into phases with Phase II being some of the most expensive work. She said as time goes on, and the word gets out and they meet with more people, it will bring the final cost down.

“It will be a mix income community that will serve both income families or individuals, not necessarily just those who are homeless,” she said. “It will help those individuals establish a new income, and get a job.

“It is very difficult to get work without their own physical address. We can help them with those resources and a percentage of their income will help cover rental cost.”

The Rev. JJ Whitney serves on the steering committee and assists with the fundraising effort and assists in getting the word out. She said Hope Village, once built, will follow the same kind of example as the Hope Home, which is already built but is for men only.

“The Hope Home is for men who are experiencing homelessness,” she said. “Someone handles their case and the men commit to certain things such as caring for the house and saving money and learning life skills to help them transition from living on the streets to having full-time employment.

“It’s a model that Phil (Fletcher) would like to try in the Hope Village. People can think about transitioning and also be in a place that forms communities for folks. It’s more than just finding housing for people, it’s creating a community.”

She said it takes quite a bit of money to build one of the model homes, so there are several fundraising events planned in Conway throughout the year.

“The city has been really receptive, honestly,” Whitney said. “A lot of people are upset that folks are experiencing homelessness … There are some that are very willing to give money, it is just going to take time.”

Wesley UMC in Conway presents a check to Dr. Phil Fletcher, founder of CoHO. || Photo provided by CoHO

Whitney said Hewett has quite a vision on how to raise money for the village.

Phillip Fletcher is the executive director of the City of Hope Outreach, or CoHO, which will oversee Hope Village. He said the goal is to build 10 homes in Conway that will serve homeless individuals, veterans and low-income families. He said there will be five one-bedroom homes and five two-bedroom homes, and the village will be built near the current existing houses on East Robins Street.

“I have two motivations for this project,” Fletcher said. “Back in 2015, I lost a friend to a fire at the Oakwood trailer park, so part of my motivation is to provide stable housing here in Conway and to provide quality housing for people with limited needs.”

Fletcher said CoHO focuses on three primary areas for community renewal including education, housing and community development.

The Hope Home is a three-bedroom, two-bath house that is able to house six men with an overnight and day staff. It provides housing for up to 18 months and assists the men with finding employment opportunities and financial development. Once they are finished with the program, they are able to graduate to their own housing.

John Leland is the Hope Home Director, which helps men transition out of homelessness or jail time and be reoriented into society by establishing a job and managing income.

“It teaches them responsibility and helps them get back on their feet,” Hewett said. “We want to take that program and apply it to more people.”

Hewett said for the Hope Village, there is going to be at least two homes for veterans and two homes for low-income families.

“There will be an application process for Hope Village, which will be a lot like what they are doing at the Hope Home,” Hewett said. “We are currently developing a program to determine what the eligibility might be.”

Fletcher said right now he is focused on sharing his plan with individuals and organizations and “persuading them that this is an effort worth investing in with both money and time.”

“We are thankful for the Methodist churches in town, who rallied together to provide a significant boost,” Fletcher said. “God has always been providing financial resources and volunteers — people with a passion to help other people.

“There are tons of stories of people being helped in a multitude of ways and God has opened the doors with financial resources and the opportunity to advocate what a person in poverty faces on a daily basis.”

For more information, visit hopevillagecoho.org or email cohoconway@gmail.com.