Arkansas Conference Receives Faith Based Group of the Year AwardAnnual Award Given by Arkansas Foodbank

Arkansas Conference Receives Faith Based Group of the Year Award
Annual Award Given by Arkansas Foodbank

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Brenda Norwood, left, and Mary Lewis Dassinger, right, accept the award for Faith Based Group of the Year from the Arkansas Foodbank.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church is humbled and grateful to receive the Faith-Based Group of the Year Award from the Arkansas Foodbank for the 2019 year.

The Arkansas Conference was selected as this year’s recipient thanks to its annual Ingathering hunger relief event, which has been hosted at the Arkansas Foodbank for the past three years.

This year’s Ingathering event hosted 275 volunteers who helped pack 40,000 pounds of sweet potatoes — which were donated by a local farmer who attends an Arkansas United Methodist Church — and 22,000 pounds of dry beans.

The Arkansas Conference was also recognized at the event for its COVID-19 response in 2020. Thanks to a grant provided by the Methodist Foundation of Arkansas, the Arkansas Conference Delta Project has been able to close the gap for those facing food insecurity during the pandemic through mobile food distributions.

The Delta Project mobile distributions have been able to feed approximately 2,658 families with 17,600 pounds of produce and 111,080 pounds of food since April 2020.

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200,000 More Reasons Project Coordinator Mary Lewis Dassinger along with Brenda Norwood, chairperson of the Conference Board of Global Ministries, were present at the ceremony to accept the award on behalf of the Arkansas Conference.

“I was proud to receive this award along with Brenda Norwood on behalf of the Arkansas United Methodist Church. Our commitment to feed the insecure speaks to the power of the Methodist connection and gives glory to God. Being united together with our community is a powerful witness to the ‘Acts’ church we are called to be,” Dassinger said.

Bishop Gary Mueller added, “As Christians, we are called to serve the needy when they are hungry. The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church is grateful for this recognition and to work alongside the Arkansas Food Bank in ministry.”

This year’s Ingathering will be different than in year’s past due to the ongoing pandemic. Instead of a centralized gathering at the Arkansas Foodbank, each district will participate in their own local Ingathering event. To find more information on what your district will be doing for Ingathering 2020, visit arumc.org/ingathering/.

Understanding Our Implicit Bias is the First Step Toward Vital Conversations

Understanding Our Implicit Bias is the First Step Toward Vital Conversations

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By Rev. Rashim Merriwether

Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives

“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts… “

-Nikki Giovanni

As we begin to remove bricks from the wall of racism, we are finding that this process is not an easy one, nor is it for the faint of heart. Every brick is mired in over 400 years of slavery, 12 years of reconstruction, 100 years of ‘Jim Crow’ laws, 86 years of redlining, and countless actions of hate that have never been reported. It has been only 39 years since the lynching of Michael Donald, by Klansmen on March 21, 1981 in Mobile, Alabama and 18 years since the racist sundowner signs were removed from 71 North in Rogers, or Hwy 10 in Booneville, Arkansas respectively. 

To pull at each brick, is to reveal the pain, the suffering, the undeniable testimony of victim’s loss. Up until this point, it has all been abstract thoughts, passion-filled comments, and the occasional uncomfortable moment. But now we are taking part in studies, prayer groups, book studies and conversations meant to begin this work at dismantling systemic and systematic racism and people are feeling the pains of growth and understanding.

 The General Commission on Race and Religion (GCORR), was created in 1968, to begin the conversation on systemic and systematic racism, develop and provide resources to equip leadership, clergy and congregations with tools to address the different forms of racism. One of the recent studies offered has been a study on “Implicit Bias, what we don’t think we think.”

Implicit Bias is a study developed through a Harvard initiative; Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility,” is a contributor. Its premise is to begin a conversation in recognizing implicit bias, questioning implicit bias and transforming implicit bias. 

Understanding our individual implicit bias is the beginning of having vital conversations regarding cultural differences and finding intercultural competency, to dismantle policies and practices that prevent conversations and actions focused on institutional, and cultural equity. It is a first step to having deeper discussions on how cultural diversity, ethnic issues and implicit biases translate into words, thoughts, impressions, and belief systems, which leads to actions, and structures. This ultimately forms larger issues such as systemic and systematic racism. As the group collectively immersed itself in varying degrees, one thing became clear, “We were no longer in Kansas anymore.”

With each brick, a new bias is revealed. With each revelation comes the uncomfortability of ownership and responsibility. The weight of history, self-identity, confidence, entitlement, questioning and faith, all align into a perfect wave of anguish, guilt, anxiety and expectation. The knee-jerk reaction is to deflect, deny, minimize or even run from the raw reality of these difficult conversations and the impact of its effects on people of color either known or unknown. Others have become stymied in their actions, petrified over saying the wrong words or making a mistake. Still others will venture into this moment, trying to figure out how or what to do, and in doing so stumble, fumble and sometimes say the wrong words. Feeling the awkwardness of questions relating to the process of self-awareness which has taken hold of the moment, who honestly are concerned about doing the work. To those, I share the words of Nikki Giovanni, who said, 

“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts.” 

In other words, as the bricks of racism are removed, there will be some hard and difficult times ahead. Instead of thinking about the strain and tension you face, lean into this moment of vulnerability, and embrace this transforming moment. God does not move within the parameter of our assured actions, or expectations, but in our lack of, so that we and others know that it is by God’s grace, authority, power and love we are transformed. 

Remember God’s word, in John 3:16 which says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

To all who are seizing this moment to lean into the space of vulnerability, I say keep up the good fight. To everyone else, I say, “Heaven is watching…”

Parks, Porches, Parking Lots, and Breezeways!How Children's Ministers Have Stepped Up During COVID

Parks, Porches, Parking Lots, and Breezeways!
How Children's Ministers Have Stepped Up During COVID

By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

Have you seen pictures on social media? Have you received text reminders? Opened emails with an announcement of what we can do safely together? Have you received a hand-written note from someone in Children’s Ministry?

Even if you don’t have kids in the children’s program at church, I bet you have seen some type of outreach to children and their families. Volunteers and staff in Children’s Ministry have a servant’s heart when it comes to their job. They are in that position because they feel so-called to serve children and their families that they will not let even a global pandemic stop ministry from happening!

As the Conference Children’s Ministry Coordinator, I am lucky because I get to witness their miraculous, creative, energy-filled, Spirit-led work.

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Thanks to technology, I get to see around 50 or more posts on social media a day from different churches in our state. I get invited to Zoom meetings with passionate children’s ministers whose hearts are aching to be with their church family. I receive text messages sharing how they just had the most amazing porch visit with a family. I get emails telling me that they just tried storytime in the park with parents and toddlers on physically spaced blankets. I see video footage of teams handing out the next four-week activity packets in the church breezeway. My phone blinks on Wednesday and Sundays with a Facebook Live alert that another exciting Bible story is about to be shared for anyone to listen to. I get e-vites to parking lot fellowship events or, better yet, how a family can pull up and get a backpack of blessings placed in their car during a Unity in the Community outreach.

I have been in awe of their creativity to still be connectional in a time in our lives where we must have separation in order to stay safe.

The ARUMC Conference has been blessed by God with such outstanding ministry to children and their families. If there was a time to read professional books, clean cabinets, and wait for this all to pass so that we could bring everyone back in the building, this would have been the approved time.

However, I have witnessed great ministry to families that involved parks, porches, parking lots, and breezeways. As Jesus has taught them, children’s ministers have gone to the people and created space for all to hear the love of God.

5 Ways You Can Feed Your Community During Hunger Action Month

5 Ways You Can Feed Your Community During Hunger Action Month

By Rev. Sam Meadors

Community Coordinator, The Delta Project - 200K More Reasons

September is Hunger Action Month. People all across the country are invited to stand with Feeding America and its network of food banks to fight hunger in our communities.

Taking action against hunger is more important in 2020 than ever before. Early reports estimate that the impact of coronavirus in the last six months has reversed the progress that churches and communities have made in the last six years toward eliminating childhood hunger. In Arkansas, we have moved from 200,000 children facing food insecurity in 2014 to 164,000 in 2019. The initial projection for 2020 is that over 200,000 children will again be going hungry.

So, what can you do? Here are some ideas for your congregation, small group, or family for Hunger Action Month and leading into a reimagined Ingathering 2020.

Learn about hunger in Arkansas
Hunger cuts across every age, race, gender, and background. Dispel the myths about hunger and learn the facts by visiting feedingamerica.org or your regional food bank’s website.

Host a food drive
Churches, groups, and individuals are invited to host a food drive leading up to Ingathering in each district in November. Make sure your church is involved by speaking to your pastor or missions committee. Promote your event by inviting competition or having an awesome or even a silly prize if a certain amount of food is raised. Visit arumc.org/ingathering for more information about what your district has planned this year.

Raise funds to fight hunger
Did you know that as little as $1 can provide up to five meals for Arkansas families? Challenge your Sunday School class, small group, or whole congregation to a fundraising goal. Ask a local business or bank to match any funds you raise.

Volunteer with your local feeding ministry
Many food pantries and feeding ministries are struggling to develop a new volunteer base in light of COVID. Many volunteers have had to cut back because of the pandemic, which has put a strain on pantries facing increased demand. Call your local pantry and ask how you can volunteer. Short on time? Purchase extra nonperishable items on your next trip to the grocery store to stock up your local blessing box.

Share what you’re doing to take action on social media
Tell your friends on social media about the food fact you learned, how to donate to their regional food bank, or even a story about your experience with hunger. What you share might ignite someone else to take action in the fight against hunger!

We can all do something to take action against hunger. There is no reason why any Arkansan should not have enough to eat. If we all work together, we can make a difference.

Q&A w/ Emily Autry2020 Global Mission Fellow from the Arkansas Conference

Q&A w/ Emily Autry
2020 Global Mission Fellow from the Arkansas Conference

Emily Autry

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

How were you selected as a Global Mission Fellow?

The short answer: I applied. The long answer: I graduated college in May of 2019 from the University of the Ozarks. I hold a bachelor of arts degree in religion and political science. I originally had the goal to attend seminary following graduation, however, I decided to take a year off from school, move back home, and spend time discerning my call in ministry. While attending a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic conference for my home church, Fort Smith First United Methodist Church, I felt God calling me to mission. This is when I decided to apply to be a Global Mission Fellow. I sent in my application in December of 2019, interviewed in January and early February, and by March, we were in a global pandemic and I was quarantined in Mexico totally unsure if the program would still go on. However, I got the call and was asked to serve during a pandemic in Miami, Florida, and I said yes!

Where will you be serving? What kind of needs are in the area where you’re serving?

I am serving the Florida Annual Conference as a Coordinator for the Fill the Table Initiative. Fill the Table is a year-long initiative whose goal is to engage 100,000 Florida United Methodist in feeding 3 million meals to alleviate hunger due to Covid-19, racial injustice, and aims to implement asset-based community problem-solving. There are 3 million people that suffer from food insecurity in Florida. This number is on the rise due to Covid-19 and the economic stress and unrest in our country right now. Although social distancing and safety precautions are important, and are being followed, food banks, food pantries, and feeding programs need volunteers and donations more than ever. Our churches are being asked to take part in feeding Florida right now!

What are your responsibilities as a Global Mission Fellow?

My responsibility as a GMF is to engage in my new local community of Miami, Florida. I am here to serve with the Florida Annual Conference to learn ways that God is already at work in this place. I have committed to living simply in order that I might better understand and witness to systemic injustices of the community and country. I also connect the church in mission. I get the chance to tell stories to the local churches about this experience of God’s gracious love. It’s also my responsibility to advocate for social change, and testify about hope in the face of injustice. I invite churches to participate in mission through prayer, financial support, emotional care, and common action. Lastly, this program gives me space and tools to grow personal and social holiness in order to better love God, myself, my call, and my neighbor.

What is your personal goal while serving in this role?

My personal goal while serving is to surrender wholeheartedly to God and this calling to mission that God has called me to. I want to learn and engage in every way possible in order to grow in my faith and my calling. By the end of these two years of service, I hope to have a deeper understanding of my calling to ministry and to be ready to attend seminary.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse or story that you’d like to share?

My favorite Bible story is Luke 4:14-30. Jesus uses Isaiah 61:1-2 to announce the nature of his own ministry – “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed…” This story sets up the idea that Jesus was sent to tell everyone, not just the Jews, of the Good News. I am called to do the same. I am called to go out of the church and live in the world as a disciple of Jesus Christ to proclaim the Good News to everyone that I meet.

Who is the person who has influenced your life the most?

My Mom, Rev. DeeDee Autry, has influenced me the most in my calling and in my faith. My mom has always given me space to ask hard questions, be curious, and wrestle with God about our life in ministry. Being a Preacher’s Kid is really hard at times because our whole lives revolve around the church. Church work is hard work. Thankfully, my parents were so intentional about creating space for life outside of the church. My mom is one of the most faithful and spiritually driven people that I know. She is always listening to God and doing what God is calling her to do. She is a true example of what it means to live as a disciple of God. I pray to be as deeply grounded and driven as her one day.

How can we stay in touch and support you in your time of mission?

Email me at eautry@umcmission.org, Follow me on Facebook and Instagram where I regularly post updates on my week. My Instagram is @em_grace1 or Emily Autry. I also have a blog: https://emilyautry.wixsite.com/surrenderjournal. I would please ask if you would give to my advance account. This financial support ensures that I am able to continue my work in mission as well as future missionaries to come. My Advance #3022615. Thank you so much!

Ordination Service Takes Place in Scaled Down, Online Version

Ordination Service Takes Place in Scaled Down, Online Version

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This year’s ordination service for full elders, associate, and provisional members of the Arkansas Annual Conference took place in a very scaled-down, but no less meaningful ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 30 at St. James United Methodist Church in Little Rock.

Rather than a room full of hundreds of fellow clergy, family members, and friends, the 2020 Ordination Service was limited to no more than 50 people in St. James’ sanctuary and was live-streamed for the rest of the Arkansas Conference to view at a safe distance.

This year’s ordinands were Andrea Cummings, Daniel Read, Doug Phillips, Jonathon Bevil, Matthew Carter, Taylor Loy, and Brad Moore. Kenny Lee was ordained as an associate member, and Lyn Poplin and Chase Burns were commissioned as provisional members.

You can view photos of the service below as well as a slide show video. To rewatch the Ordination Service, visit https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=639499993437724&extid=xKyfWRuYRXqxiWhh.