Getting Shots Into People’s ArmsOaklawn UMC Assists Its Community with Vaccine Sign-Ups

Getting Shots Into People’s Arms
Oaklawn UMC Assists Its Community with Vaccine Sign-Ups

vaccine

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Vaccines from major manufacturers like Pfizer, Moderna, and, recently, Johnson & Johnson are now making their way into the arms of eligible Arkansans across the state. However, a major hurdle that prevents the elderly population from receiving vaccines is confusion about how to sign up for a shot, as well as limitations with using current technology.

Oaklawn United Methodist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas found a simple way to work around that issue by partnering with a local elderly aid organization and using their church building as a vaccine sign-up hub for their community.

“We contacted the Oaklawn Center on Aging and asked them how we could help get people signed up for the vaccines, and we found that they had been swarmed with more than 2,000 applications from people who wanted the vaccine,” said the Rev. Russell Breshears, senior pastor at Oaklawn UMC.

Breshears said they offered to use their Family Life Center at the church, which has gone mostly unused since the pandemic began, to hold vaccine sign-up clinics for the elderly residents who were interested in getting vaccinated.

Breshears said that a group of about eight volunteers from the church set up tables inside their Family Life Center, and assisted people ranging in age from 70 years old to 94 years old with their vaccine appointments.

At the time of their first few clinics, only adults 70 and older were permitted to receive the vaccine, but recently, Arkansas lowered the age requirement to adults 65 and older.

Word of mouth, as well as posting on social media about sign-up times and putting ads in the local newspaper, helped to inform people in the community of when they would be able to come to the church and get signed up.

Breshears said once people arrive at the church, the process for signing them up to get the vaccine is fairly straightforward.

“We have to get a photocopy of the driver’s license and their Medicare card. And we have to help them fill out some paperwork, and then tell them the appointment time and give them a reminder sticker.”

He mentioned that paper copies work much better for older individuals who might not be as familiar with technology.

“What churches can do is help get them signed up because many senior citizens are not familiar with the Internet. So if they have an online portal like a Walgreens or Baptist Hospital, they lack the skills to enter that online portal.”

volunteers

Kent Bard, Joe Jordan and Diana Breshears, volunteers with the Oaklawn UMC vaccine efforts.

Kathy Packard, Executive Director of the Oaklawn Center on Aging, said Breshears and Oaklawn UMC showed up to help at just the right time.

“God put Russ Breashears in the right place. He called us when he heard we were taking names on a list for a vaccine clinic. We thought maybe 500 people would show up with their consent form to get a place in line for a vaccine. We were wrong! Over 2,000 in two days. We were overwhelmed and I called Russ back and asked for help. Without hesitation, he said of course we will help.”

So far, the vaccine sign-up clinics have been a great success for the Hot Springs community. Packard said that without Oaklawn UMC’s help, many people would have been unable to get signed up to receive a vaccine.

“Together all the organizations involved were able to help over 1,300 people over the age of 70 get a COVID vaccine and bring hope to their lives,” Packard said.

Oaklawn’s participation not only led to signing up people to get vaccinated, but it also led them to assist in a drive-through vaccination clinic that happened in February at the Garland County Fairgrounds.

Breshears said the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management asked Oaklawn, as well as other organizations around the county, to help with an onsite vaccination clinic at the Garland County Fairgrounds rodeo arena. The first one was held on Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, and another one was held on Feb. 23. Breshears said they were able to help more than 1,800 people receive a dose of the vaccine.

Nursing students from National Park College were also part of the group that worked with Oaklawn to assist in vaccinations, said Breshears.

Oaklawn has now been approved to host a vaccination clinic at their Family Life Center, and that clinic will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 9. Advanced registration is required at the Oaklawn Center for Aging.

Breshears said that Oaklawn UMC has been able to help so many people because of the willingness of its members and volunteers to help get people signed up and vaccinated.

The biggest thing that pastors and churches can do to get involved, Breshears said, is to reach out to their local pharmacies and health clinics and ask them how they can help with vaccine sign-ups.

“Most places are desperate for more volunteers because it’s often only a few people who have the job of signing up thousands of patients for appointments. So reaching out to your local sponsoring agency is the best place to get started.”

For Packard, Oaklawn UMC’s willingness to reach out and help their local community is something that she will remember for a long time.

“Oaklawn Center on Aging will continue to partner with Oaklawn UMC for future programs to enhance the quality of life for older adults,” she said.

 

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

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By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

The United Methodist Church has been filled with people who have significant disagreements for decades about how to involve LGBTQIA+ individuals in the life of the church. The first time the denomination addressed the matter was in The 1972 Book of Discipline. Every General Conference since has held contentious debates concerning what action to take.

Not surprisingly, matters have become more polarized in recent years. People on both sides of the issue hoped that a definitive decision would be made at the 2016 General Conference. It wasn’t. Instead, the delegates narrowly voted to ask the Council of Bishops to lead. The Council chose to do so by appointing the Commission on the Way Forward. The Commission faithfully carried out its work and the Council endorsed the One Church Plan but also forwarded the Traditional Plan and Connectional Conference Plan to the 2019 called General Conference. Most people anticipated, or at least hoped, that this special session would settle the matter once and for all. The General Conference adopted the Traditional Plan that enhanced and clarified the church’s existing stance.

Not surprisingly, this action did not settle the matter. The outcome was unacceptable to a portion of the denomination, and organizations were formed and plans made to overturn the changes. At the same time, the Wesleyan Covenant Association began formulating plans for a new Methodist expression that would be more traditional in makeup.

The denomination seemed stymied. That’s why the late Bishop John Yambasu began a series of conversations during the summer of 2019 with leaders of more traditional and progressive groups within the church. In the fall of that year, a diverse group was formed from this group and an internationally acclaimed mediator, Kenneth Feinberg, facilitated a process that resulted in the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation that was released in January 2020. It provided a means for Annual Conferences and congregations to join a new Methodist expression, committed significant United Methodist financial resources to address racism, and offered financial support for the starting of new Methodist denominations. While not formally a part of the legislation, the assumption was that the post-separation United Methodist Church would be centrist and progressive in its theology and practice.

Legislation to implement the proposal was submitted and, at the time, many assumed that this was the pathway the United Methodist Church delegates would embrace at the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis.

Then COVID-19 struck and an unexpected pause ensued. The 2020 General Conference was postponed. The United States experienced a spring and summer of killings of Black citizens by police. The pandemic spread, shuttering normal life and inflicting hardship on billions of people globally.

Attention shifted from human sexuality to COVID, racism and colonialism. Churches were forced to adapt to a virtual world of worship, discipling, fellowship and mission. And in the process, something unexpected happened. Many United Methodists discovered a new appreciation for connectionalism and forged deeper relationships with those with whom they disagreed about a variety of issues, including exactly how the church should include LGBTQIA+ persons. During this period a number of new ideas were floated as alternatives or enhancements to the Protocol: The Christmas Covenant, a proposal from the Alaska General Conference Delegation, and the Overlapping Regional Conference Plan to name a few. Just a couple of days ago, the Global Methodist Church formally announced that it will be a new expression of Methodism in the coming years.

The Commission on the General Conference announced on February 25 that the General Conference has been postponed and rescheduled for August 29 – September 6, 2022. At the same time, the Council of Bishops announced that a called session of General Conference will be held virtually on May 8, 2021, to address 12 amendments to the Book of Discipline that will enable the denomination to carry out some basic responsibilities in the midst of the COVID pandemic and other future possible disruptions. The actual vote will be taken by delegates using paper ballots to ensure that all persons can participate equally in a fair way that allows their voices to be heard. The results of the vote will be announced on July 13, 2021.

So where does all of this leave you?

Some of you are frustrated by yet another delay of General Conference because things have been unsettled for too long and you are ready to get it done and just move on. I understand this and respect your feelings. In fact, I feel that way myself some days.

However, I am seeing increasing numbers of signs that God is at work in the midst of this unexpectedly prolonged pause giving the people called Methodists around the world a new vision of what it means to be a spiritually revived and missionally alive global United Methodist church. In other words, God is doing something in God’s own time, which means I need to be patient enough to wait for it because God’s timing is always better than my timing.

Everything has been turned upside down in the world, in your life and even in your church during the past year. We now seem to be turning the corner and will soon begin to find our way to the new normal that awaits us. Much will be the same because we are still called to share Jesus’ love, help people accept him as Lord and Savior, walk with them as they grow in discipleship, and equip and send them to bring God’s transformation to lives, communities and the world. However, we will have to find new ways to carry out this Gospel work.

Our work is quite simple. Pray for our world and beloved church. Keep the main thing the main thing by focusing on Jesus and his mission. Listen carefully to the voice of God about new possibilities for our denomination. And do everything with joy, passion and hope because God is still God, Jesus is still Lord and the Holy Spirit is still at work.

Women Have Shaped My Life

Women Have Shaped My Life

mother child

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

This month, people from all over the world are celebrating the many inspirational and powerful women who have shaped their lives.

March is Women’s History Month, and just like Black History Month before it, we shouldn’t only celebrate it once a year. However, it is certainly nice to have a whole month dedicated to groups that don’t always receive the attention they undoubtedly deserve.

The first Women’s History event happened in 1982 as Women’s History Week. It later expanded to include the entire month of March in 1987 after the United States Congress passed a resolution declaring it a national month-long celebration.

If many of us sit and think about it, it’s easy to recall names of women who have impacted our lives in profound and immeasurable ways. It could be a famous “first,” like the first woman in space, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize or the first woman Vice President of the United States. It could also be someone much closer to our hearts, like our mother, grandmother, aunt, or guardian.

As I think about the women who have impacted and shaped my own life, I realize that the women I admire the most come from both historical figures and the women closest to me in my family.

I think about my grandmothers, on both sides of the family, who have taught me about the importance of having a strong and steady faith, as well as the value of being an independent thinker.

I think about my mother, who always encouraged me to pursue the things that made me happy and recognized early on that writing was not only something I was good at but something I could turn into a fulfilling career as well.

Powerful women throughout history also come to mind, like Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights activist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Through the power of pen and paper, she exposed the horrors of Jim Crow-era lynchings across the American South, and went on to be one of the co-founders of the NAACP in 1909. Her investigative journalism work inspires me to always seek out the truth, even if that truth makes some people uncomfortable.

I also think of Christian writers, like Rachel Held Evans, whose raw and vulnerable accounts of her faith transformation have taught me to explore my faith in new and different ways. Evans tragically died in 2019, but her books are ones that I’m sure I will return to time and time again throughout my life.

And I of course cannot ignore the impact of seeing Vice President Kamala Harris become the first female vice president in U.S. history, and knowing that many little girls will grow up understanding that it’s possible — and not only that, necessary — for them to do great things as well.

Women’s History Month is about celebrating powerful, courageous women who have impacted not only our lives but the lives of countless people across the globe.

Remember to celebrate the important women in your life, not just in March, but every day of the year.

Following in Your Children’s FootstepsDeLano family pursues pastoring from different pathways

Following in Your Children’s Footsteps
DeLano family pursues pastoring from different pathways

kris, lauren, steve

Left to right: Kris, Lauren and Steve DeLano at Lauren’s ordination in 2016.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Legacy clergy families are something that we’re quite used to in the church. There are countless examples of the children of clergy, or their children’s children, deciding to enter into the family trade and become the pastor of a church, just like generations of family members before them.

It’s not often that you hear about the parent of a clergy member deciding to follow in the footsteps of their child, but for Steve and Lauren DeLano, that’s exactly what happened.

The Rev. Lauren DeLano has been a pastor in the Arkansas Conference since 2016, serving her first appointment as the associate pastor at First United Methodist Church Conway, before moving to a senior pastor appointment in the summer of 2020 at Vilonia United Methodist Church.

“I grew up going to Central United Methodist in Fayetteville and I was always looking for opportunities to be in leadership and serve. So as soon as I could be a Vacation Bible School leader in middle school, I was doing that. That later led me to lead a small group of 7th-grade girls when I was a senior in high school,” Lauren said.

Lauren said she never thought about life as a pastor leading a church until she attended her higher education at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. There, she met two people who influenced her life and led her on the path to becoming an ordained elder in the church.

“I met Rev. J.J. Whitney and Rev. Wayne Clark, who were the associate chaplain and chaplain at the time. I was at Hendrix, and we were having a lot of conversations about vocation and calling,” Lauren said. “It had never occurred to me to think about being a pastor or how people became pastors. I’d never seen a female pastor in leadership in the church until J.J., so she was super influential in my call story.”

Conversations with Whitney lead Lauren to answer a call to ministry and attend her seminary education at Boston University, where she graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2016.

Lauren said she originally went to seminary to become a youth pastor but decided quickly to change that path when she realized she didn’t have the patience for youth ministry.

“So I moved beyond being a youth pastor and began to love sacraments and love serving people of all ages. And my ministry wouldn’t be as full as it was without people of all ages.”

lauren delano

Like most seminary educations, Lauren’s studies at Boston University involved numerous research projects and papers, and she found herself turning to the best editor she’s ever had to proofread her papers, her father.

“I was really proud when I found out that Lauren wanted to pursue ministry. I remember being very humbled because God was calling my daughter to serve Him,” Steve said. “And then when she started asking me to help her proofread her papers, that’s where my interest in ministry really grew.”

Steve and Lauren said that through Lauren’s seminary work, they were able to have conversations on theological and social justice issues that they had never discussed in detail before then.

“And then my son, Matt DeLano, ended up deciding to go to seminary as well and is now a pastor in the Church of Christ church. So I had something like six straight years of having a child in divinity school and assisting them in their work how I could,” Steve said.

Steve said that his wife, Kris, sometimes looks like the odd one out in the family now, since she’s the only one in the DeLano family he hasn’t pursued a career in ministry.

“But a big part of this story is her mother — and my wife, Kris — who has been an encourager and supporter of all of us throughout.”

steve delano

Lauren said that by having her father proofread her papers, she was able to see new perspectives and ideas that she wouldn’t have otherwise considered. And now, as a pastor, Lauren continues to have her dad proofread her work, but this time it’s for Sunday morning sermons.

“That, I think, has been really helpful because he and I vary on our beliefs theologically, socially, and politically. And so it’s helpful for me to have a different lens reading my sermon so that when I’m preaching to my congregation, who’s not all like me, who might be more like my dad, that I get a different perspective. He’ll point out things like ‘you know, you said this thing here, but that might not be true for all people or some people might hear that in a way you’re not intending.’ And so it’s really helpful to have his lens, to give me more to think about and to challenge me when I’m preaching,” Lauren said.

Steve’s journey to the pulpit happened not only because of his conversations with his daughter and his son but through circumstances in his line of work that were outside of his control

Steve and his wife, Kris, moved from Arkansas to Wisconsin in 2015. The company that Steve worked for provided a great opportunity for him in the Midwest and Steve said he couldn’t turn down the offer.

However, in 2019, Steve’s position was eliminated at his job, and it appeared he was at a crossroads in life.

“I took that as a sign that it was time to move on and pursue a career of discernment, whatever that meant, and it eventually led me to pursue a career in serving others and God. It led me to be a licensed local pastor,” Steve said.

lauren steve football

Lauren and Steve attending a college football game together.

The Rev. Steve DeLano became a licensed local pastor in the Wisconsin Annual Conference and currently serves as the pastor at Mayville UMC in Mayville, Wisconsin, where he was appointed in July 2020.

Steve said that all the years of reading Lauren’s papers and sermons really helped him to strengthen his theology and sort of get a head start when it came to receiving his local pastor license.

He also credits Lauren’s sermons as a reason that his perspective on certain issues has changed, specifically when it came to social justice issues.

“Probably the biggest impact that Lauren has made on me, though, is really on social justice issues, because I grew up as a conservative Kansan, and now I’m much more moderate in my thinking. She’s been able to share experiences with me that I haven’t had, and that’s really been able to shape me,” Steve said. “And it’s really fun to be able to look to her as my friend and colleague, not just my daughter because usually, it’s the other way around where you’re calling up your parents for advice.”

Steve said that although he really loves being a pastor at his church, he doesn’t think full-time ministry as an elder is in the future for him. He eventually wants to be able to retire with his wife, and settle someplace warm, like Arkansas or Texas.

Lauren, on the other hand, is now approaching her first year as the senior pastor at Vilonia UMC. There are many more years ahead for her career as a pastor, but she’s certain that she’ll continue to reach out to her dad for advice on a new sermon she’s writing or to get a new perspective on an idea that’s floating around in her head.

“I don’t think we’re really that different from each other. Ultimately, our goal is the same: finding the best way to love and care for people.”

My Journey

My Journey

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By Rev. Nathaniel Thomas Grady, Sr.

Pastor Emeritus, Faith United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas

As we pause to review black history, let us remember the contribution that the Black church has made and is still making in our society. The Black church has always been the underpinning of our community. Out of our historical struggle for freedom and equality emerged Bishop James Varick, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Bishop Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Bishop William H. Miles, founder of the Cristian Methodist Episcopal Church. These three men of faith are part of our Pan Methodist heritage.

The story of my spiritual journey began when my mother Allene Carter Johnson Grady took her twins, Nat and Judy, to the Lord’s House at an early age. I recall the Sunday school song “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I grew up in public housing in South Jamaica Queens, New York. My mother was a nurse and my father was a shipping clerk at a large baking company.

I experienced the effects of racism and segregation when my mother gave our grandmother’s address so her children could attend “better” schools in a predominately white district.  Redlining was a reality of life in the 1940s. I lived in two different worlds: living and going to church in my black community and getting my formal education in a white environment.  Beyond my own personal experiences, my awareness of the vulnerabilities of being a black man was intensified by the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till in Mississippi. I attended my first civil rights rally in Harlem to commemorate his death.

In my community, I was known as the “boy preacher.”  I received my license to preach at the age of 16 and was the youngest person admitted to the New York Conference of the AME Zion church. I was ordained a deacon at age 19. I was shaped and nurtured in African Methodism.

My first pastoral appointment was in Louisville, Kentucky in 1957. I remember vividly there was only one restaurant where I could eat. How strange it seemed to me, having just come from New York City. The people that I served at Walter‘s Memorial AME Zion Church were kind and supportive of a young rookie pastor.

After serving in Kentucky, I returned to New York and continued to serve in the AME Zion Church. In 1967  Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke, a major architect of the Church Union and the abolishment of the Central Jurisdiction in 1968, invited me to join The New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.

I was appointed as pastor to the Church of Our Saviour in Yonkers, New York, a multi-racial congregation. It was there that I cultivated and expanded my commitment to issues that affected the lives and livelihoods of persons in our community. At the church, we established a Head Start Program and a Day Care Center that employed 23 full-time staff members who nurtured more than 100 children annually for 25 years.  

Deeply committed to community service, I became the first Protestant member, and eventually chairman, of the Board of Trustees at St. Joseph Medical Center in Yonkers and participated in civil rights activism in support of equitable hiring of firemen, police, and educators. Notable among these activities were efforts to change educational practices. There were no Black administrators and Black history was not included in the curriculum. In support of the Youth Council of the NAACP, we marched, protested, and boycotted until we achieved our goal.

During my 18-year tenure as Police Chaplain, I developed programs for community policing and police ethics. In 1972, I was honored by the House of Representatives of the 92nd Congress for contributions to the community and offered the prayer at the opening session.   

How grateful I am for the consciousness evoked by participating in the 1963 March on Washington, 1965 Voters Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, and the 1968 Sanitation Workers’ rally in Memphis.

There is a price you pay when you take on the giants of racism and injustice. As it was with the Apostle Paul, Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, my journey has included incarceration. This experience rocked my world but not my soul. The abiding support of The United Methodist Church and the ecumenical community sustained my endurance. I never forgot that Jesus loves me and the promise of Joel 2:25 – “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten…”

God provided a pathway for me to become an assistant to the Presiding Bishop of the New York Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church. Significant among my responsibilities was facilitating ecumenical and Pan-Methodist initiatives and coordinating an Ex-offender Program that assigned released prisoners and their families to local churches that mentored them.

After serving 10 pastoral appointments for more than 50 years, I retired in 2008 but continued to serve interim appointments until moving to Arkansas in 2012.

Unexpectedly, my pastoral ministry was revived by interim appointments and circuit elder responsibility in the Arkansas Conference Central District. I currently enjoy the honor of serving as Pastor Emeritus of Faith United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Thanks be to God for guiding my feet in peaceful ways and turning my midnights into days.

Lenten Faith Formation at your Fingertips

Lenten Faith Formation at your Fingertips

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By Melinda Shunk

Children's Ministry Coordinator

During the last year, we have worked hard to try new things and reach out to families in new and safe ways, during the pandemic.

Thanks to technology, we have some new tools to do just that. I am not talking about a video or social media live. I am not talking about a bag of goodies that appear on a doorstep or gets picked up. Those are all wonderful new approaches, but what I would like to share with you is an online calendar called www.myadvent.net.

I know you hear Advent and you think we have moved past it and are heading into the new season of Lent. Exactly! This is a website that lets anyone create a countdown that is customized to whatever you are preparing to celebrate. So even though its original creation was for Advent and Christmas, I have customized the countdown that allows parents and their children to take a small moment each day to click the numbered door and look behind the Lenten Countdown door to experience just a few minutes of faith formation.

The UMC Lenten Countdown calendar is an easy way for parents along with their children to learn just a “spoonful.” I use the word spoonful to convey the image of spoon-feeding just a little bit of faith formation each day. This is nothing tasking, nor does it give a parent another to-do task, unless they want to make it bigger.

The link created allows the family to access it on their personal electronic device whenever it works for their family. That time could be while sitting in a drive-through waiting for their carry-out dinner. It is really that simple.

The calendar starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. The first four doors explain common Lenten spiritual practices. The second week shares different approaches to prayer. The third week teaches parents and children how important play is when we learn stories from the Bible. In the fourth week, families are given simple opportunities to create together. The fifth week brings light to Jesus’ teaching about how to serve others. The sixth week is a week of listening for God’s love. Holy Week is a combination of all six weeks.

Of course, you can go to the link above and create your very own countdown for Lent/Easter or any other fun event in the life of the church. I could even see this being used during the week of Vacation Bible School as a way for families to review what was learned each day.

You may be thinking, “I’m currently overwhelmed and think this sounds great for another time but yesterday was Ash Wednesday so I don’t have time!” Don’t lament; the Lenten Calendar is here for you to use.

Just copy and paste the link below into any email or text group for your church members. You can also include a quick note that describes its purpose, such as “This is a Lenten Countdown Calendar link for your family. You click on the link and it takes you to numbered doors. Click on the doors in numerical order with your child each day from your device. You will receive a quick and easy faith formation opportunity in less than three minutes.”

https://calendar.myadvent.net/?id=459a2747b3924f1d4123d4c942fdc1cd