First UMC Crossett uses VBS to gather donations for hungry children

First United Methodist of Crossett has a long history of feeding children in need, but when Autumn Smith came to work there, the program had run its course and lost its momentum for a couple of years.

The VBS group at First UMC Crossett filled a canoe with food for hungry children after Autumn Smith asked the children to fill it with healthy snacks.
|| Photo provided by Autumn Croswell

Autumn was hired as the new Children’s and Youth Minister in 2016 and saw a need in the community. Children in public schools still faced food insecurity. The schools still needed help with sending food home in backpacks for children over weekends and holiday breaks.

She began gathering resources to help the school. FUMC of Crossett had memorial funds that they were willing to put toward food purchases. Autumn made a call to the president of the Delta Xi Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi in Crossett to see if they would be able to offer help of any kind and collaboration. The chapter was more than willing to offer volunteers as well as money to purchase the reusable backpacks. They purchased 78 backpacks for the church to fill with snacks and make quick meals.

Autumn worked with the UMW who continued to purchase and organize more food. As space became needed, she looked for a place to keep the donated food before it was bagged up and taken to the schools. The Board of Stewards voted that they could change the church library into the food pantry for the gifted food. With organized storage space, Autumn could quickly know the supplies and communicate with the primary, intermediate, middle and high school counselors about what she and her volunteers could prepare and drop off to the school once a month. The Junior Auxiliary donates large flats of food for the long holiday breaks. Depending on supplies and food gifts, they can offer food pick-ups in the summer by students or their parents.

First UMC Crossett’s backpack ministry volunteers fill bags with food for hungry children. From left to right: Ann West, Reba Gray, Annie Ruth Pitzer, Autumn Croswell, and Sylvia White.
|| Photo provided by Autumn Croswell

Those low supplies in the summer led Autumn to think about how she could fill those shelves, so she decided to make it her Vacation Bible School mission project instead of the assigned mission in the curriculum. FUMC Crossett had planned a three-day Vacation Bible School.

The first day, Autumn shared the story of how many children needed food in their community. She was doing the Raging River themed VBS, so she pulled a large canoe into the sanctuary and asked the children to fill it with the healthy snacks needed for the school backpack ministry. At the end of the last day of Vacation Bible School, the canoe had been filled, and they had raised $198 in cash to add to the food pantry.

Autumn had an excellent idea for making her VBS mission very local and real for her congregation. You can take her excellent idea and make your own service project, VBS mission, or multi-generational service project. 200,000 Reasons has partnered with the Rice Depot and Children’s Ministry to create an easy-to-use lesson plan that you can use in your Vacation Bible School.

You can download the FREE sample lesson plans for Pre-K – second grade, third – sixth grade and a congregation presentation from or If you don’t have a food pantry like Autumn, do not fear; Mary Lewis Dassinger,, can work with you on where those needs may be closest to your location.

Scout’s HonorAll-girl Scout troop makes history in Arkansas

Scout’s Honor
All-girl Scout troop makes history in Arkansas

Tim McEuen never thought he would be leading a Scout BSA troop, let alone the first all-girl Scout troop in the state of Arkansas.
McEuen’s youngest daughter, Emily, became interested in joining the Cub Scouts after seeing the group visit her school multiple times throughout the year.

Tim and Emily decided to visit one of the Cub Scouts sign-up nights, and it’s there where they were introduced to the exciting world of Scouting.
“The first night we went, she tied a square knot. I’ve never even tied a square knot before, and I tied one too. But when we both finished our knots at the same time, we looked at each other and said ‘we love this!’ It was so much fun.”

After that first meeting with the Cub Scouts, Emily and Tim were hooked. Emily wanted to know how she could join the Scouts, and Tim was wondering as most dads do, who would be watching over his daughter and making sure she was taken care of in the group.

He was also wondering how all of this would work for Emily’s future in the Scouts, considering the Boy Scouts were just that; a boys-only group that taught survival and camping skills to young men.

It just so happened that Tim and Emily were looking to join at one of the most pivotal times in the more than 100-year-old organization’s history.
Big Changes for the Boy Scouts

In 2017, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors voted unanimously to welcome girls into both the Cub Scouts program and the older-aged Scouting program.

At the time that Emily sought to join, 2018, the Cub Scouts were the only group that allowed girls into the organization. Scouts BSA, which is now the official name, opened the Cub Scouts to girls in 2018 and then opened up the Scouts BSA to boys and girls – 11 to 17 years old – in February 2019.

Scoutmaster Tim McEuen and the initial members of Troop 19. || Photo provided by Tim McEuen

The Scouts received pushback for this decision, but according to Michael Surbaugh, the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive, the decision was undoubtedly the right one to make.

“This decision is true to the BSA’s mission and core values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women,” said Surbaugh, in a press release regarding the 2017 decision. “We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children.”

The Scouts BSA made it clear that much of the way the group operates will not change with the inclusion of girls. Activities, uniforms, rank advancement requirements, and Youth Protection policies would remain the same. For the first time in history, however, 11 to 17-year-old boys and girl scouts would have the opportunity to earn the Scouts highest honor, the Eagle Scout Award.

Joining the Scouts BSA

For Tim, his interest in getting his two daughters involved in Scouts BSA came from two friends that were in charge of Troop 17, Monica and Alan Saffle. Alan is the scoutmaster for Troop 17, an all-boys troop chartered by the Quapaw Area Council of the Boy Scouts. His wife, Monica, is the committee chairman for Troop 17.

“I’ve known Monica for 30 years; I went to school with her. So, I asked her one night at a Cub Scouts’ meeting, ‘Who’s going to be running this new all-girls troop?’ She said that they didn’t have anyone just yet.”

The next week, at their regular Tuesday night meeting, Tim and Alan met one-on-one and discussed the possibility of Tim becoming the Scoutmaster for Troop 19, the new all-girls troop set to begin in 2019.

“I said I’m flattered, but I don’t have any Scout experience. He told me neither did he until he became a Scoutmaster,” Tim said. “So, after a few weeks of talking to my family and praying about it to make sure I was the right person to lead these young ladies, I decided to do it.”

Now the Scoutmaster for Troop 19, Tim leads and teaches a group of girls ranging from 10 to 17 years old, including his two daughters, Emily, 11, and Mackenzie, 13.

Scout’s Oath

The Scouts of Troop 19 cook food during a fundraising event. || Photo provided by Tim McEuen

The official charting of the troop happened at a February ceremony in the First United Methodist Church of Bryant.

The Rev. Susan Ledbetter, the senior pastor at First UMC Bryant, said she’s excited that this new experience for girls has taken off at her church and in Central Arkansas.

“It’s been great to be able to extend the scouts to include an all-girls troop because it gives more opportunities for young people.”

Ledbetter said she has also incorporated some of the Scout’s Oath into preaching series at her church because the Scouts teach essential values to kids.

“[The Scouts] is still such an important citizenship and leadership building organization. The Scouts that are in our church are some of the kids that I can count on the most. They’re the most respectful, helpful and responsible kids.”

Tim said that seeing the growth that the girls in his troop have made since officially starting on Feb. 1 has been amazing to see. After starting with eight girls, the troop has grown to 17 members in less than three months.

“All I can say is wow, it’s been an awesome experience!

“These girls learn unity – because we’re a sisterhood – confidence, and preparedness of any situation. These girls can learn everything that the boys have been learning for the past 100 years in the Boy Scouts.”

Hope for the Future

Although the troop has faced some backlash locally from people who don’t agree with the Scouts BSA’s decision to allow girls into the organization, Tim said that he and the young ladies of Troop 19 don’t let that kind of negativity affect them.

Troop 19 participate in many different outings and community events. These events build confidence, leadership skills, and camaraderie. || Photo provided by Tim McEuen

“When we hear those kinds of things from people, my girls just say ‘well, thank you, ma’am, or thank you, sir. Have a good day.’ We know what we’re doing is right.”

Tim has also made it a point to make sure the girls in Troop 19 know about influential female leaders throughout history as a way to empower the girls and introduce them to powerful role models. Most of the women Tim shows the girls come from eras where women’s rights were still a struggle and men were viewed as superior leaders.

“These were women who weren’t accepted as anything other than a woman, but they still were great leaders, and they still made their mark in history. And that’s what I tell my girls we’re doing here; we’re making history. You’ll face ridicule, and you’ll face belittling, but the number one thing to remember is that you do belong here.”

Ledbetter also stressed the importance of strong female representation in leadership. She hopes that the girls of Troop 19 see their worth in everything they do.

“I hope the girls in this troop will be able to realize their potential and their ability for leadership. That they can do anything that is set before them. And that they know that this church is a place that welcomes them to explore and grow in the direction that they would like to,” Ledbetter said.

Camp Tanako Summer 2019 Schedule

Camp Tanako provides a time and place for children and youth to retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, reconnect with old friends, make new friends, open themselves to God in new ways through community with nature and others, and have the time of their lives. We emphasize extending Christian hospitality to each other and practice living in accordance with the Fruits of the Spirit. This year, Peace Works is the theme for each week. We worship and discuss in small groups around this topic, but we also look for teachable moments throughout the day to incorporate lessons learned from stories in the theme.

Peace Works

Peace Works is about welcoming campers in the hospitable spirit of aloha and invites them to find their place at the table of the parable of the Great Banquet. Then we celebrate our covenant community by exploring ubuntu and what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.

As the community grows closer, they will name the reality of conflict, as stories of Jacob and Esau remind us of our ability to contribute both to conflict and peacemaking. Shalom calls us out of conflict, to find peace with God and each other. Jesus shows us what God’s agape love looks like and how it reconciles us to God, even when we are unaware or do not fully understand. We try to model the vulnerable love and humble service of Jesus, demonstrated in washing the disciples’ feet, as we seek peace with others.

The Japanese concept of heiwa invites us to also look within as we work for peace, putting harmony over competition to find peace within our own hearts. Balancing our love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self is not easy, but it is at the core of Christian living. As we prepare to leave camp, we revisit the concept of aloha, and receive Jesus’ benediction and promise of peace that will remain with us always. We remember that the same Spirit that welcomed us, has dwelt with us, and now sends and accompanies us in our peace works at home.

Mini Camp

Mini camp is a perfect chance for young elementary campers to try their first overnight experience. This 2-night / 3-day camp is designed for rising 1st-3rd graders. From the time they arrive until they are picked up, there is a whirlwind of camp activities, fun, and new things to try that help them develop and build self-confidence. And most importantly, camp gives children time to experience God through nature, worship together, and practice living in Christian community.

Adventure Camp

Arkansas is an amazingly beautiful place. Adventure camp serves to showcase some spectacular chapters of creation while giving campers an opportunity to be adventurous and try something new and challenging.
This year, we will be going on a Wild Cave tour at Blanchard Springs Cavern near Mountain View. The cave tour lasts about 3-4 hours and is fairly strenuous, but amazing cave formations and other wonders make it worthwhile. When we’re above ground, we’ll camp in the park, hike some of the trails, and fish for trout in Mirror Lake. This camp is for 7th-9th graders.

Discovery Camp

Discovery camp is a 3 day/4 night camp designed for campers going into 1st-4th grades. It’s perfect for younger campers who are ready to spend an extra night at camp, but also for campers old enough for elementary camp who may not be ready to spend a week away from home. Each day campers will participate in worship, games, family group activities like daily Bible studies, archery, kayaking, nature hikes, and more.

Jr. High

Jr. High camp is a 6 day/5 night camp for raising 7th-9th graders. Jr. High camp is structured similarly to Elementary, but with a few different challenging, age-appropriate activities. Jr. High also has the option for Outpost and horseback riding.

Sr. High

Hammett Evans from Monticello is writing the curriculum for Sr. High camp themed around Stranger Things.

MAD Camp

This is a camp designed for campers interested in music, theater, and the arts. Campers will work all week putting together an original production, building sets, and performing for parents and staff at the end of the camp session.

Fishing Camp

We fish most weeks during the summer, but this weekend camp is all about fishing. The Arkansas Game and Fish stocks hundreds of catchable catfish into an enclosed area on our part of Lake Catherine. Campers will need to bring a quality fishing pole and reel, tackle and bait will be provided. After fishing camp, the catfish are released into Lake Catherine.

Elementary Camp

Elementary Camp is a 6 day/5 night camp for raising 3rd – 6th graders. Campers spend the week in family groups worshiping, doing daily Bible studies, and participating in all the favorite games and activities. Elementary campers also have the options to cook dinner over a campfire and sleep in a hammock for one night at Outpost and/or go horseback riding one afternoon. The emphasis remains on experiencing God through nature and community while practicing faithful living.

St. James Celebrates 50 Years in Ministry

St. James Celebrates 50 Years in Ministry

By Kim Anderson

In April 2018, St. James United Methodist Church of Little Rock began a year-long celebration of 50 years in ministry for Christ. As the planning for this anniversary began, the committee wanted to honor the past and look forward to the future. Four large events were held throughout the year along with numerous other projects to help accomplish this goal.

St. James began a year-long celebration of its 50th Anniversary with a Handbell Concert on April 15, 2018 in honor of Martha Lynn and Felix Thompson. Words cannot express the appreciation and respect we have for Martha Lynn and Felix. They were instrumental in starting the music program at St. James. In addition, Martha Lynn developed a system of teaching handbells so that even those with no music reading ability could share their love of Christ through music. For more than 30 years, the Thompsons saw at least two generations of St. James members grow, learn, have fun, and become family together.

The Rev. Carness Vaughn (left), senior pastor of St. James UMC and Bishop Gary Mueller (right) at the April 7, 2019 worship service at St. James. || Photo provided by St. James UMC

Through bell choir trips, musical recordings, publishing of music, and their love of God, children, youth and adults have come to know Christ and appreciate music. At the concert, each of the current handbell choirs performed at least two pieces of music that were arranged either by Martha Lynn Thompson or Frances Callahan. A special commissioned piece, “What Gift Can We Bring,” was played by the Canticle Ringers, and was written by Jane Marshall and arranged by Hart Morris. One of the biggest joys of the afternoon was to see the Alumni Ringers. Thirteen individuals came together to ring once again in honor and appreciation of Martha Lynn and Felix. Another joy of the day was to see the Rev. Greg Schick interview the Thompsons.
The second large event was a 50th Anniversary Homecoming Lunch on July 8. Charter members and former pastors were invited to join us for special worship services. Following the worship services, a lunch and program was held in the Christian Life Center. The Praises Band, Chancel Choir, and St. James Ringers provided the music. We had a wonderful time looking back at St. James through the decades. Members who joined St. James in each decade shared memories and highlights of their years at St. James.

Thursday, August 9 St. James members joined together to provide the children at Methodist Children’s Home the Best Day Ever! The residents at Methodist Family Health came to St. James to enjoy games, face painting, water games, inflatables and of course lunch. As a special treat, a shaved ice truck was available for all to enjoy. The first worship service of St. James United Methodist was held in the chapel at the Methodist Children’s Home. We share a rich history of mutual support, encouragement, and mission. This was an awesome day enjoyed by the residents, staff, and members of St. James. New connections and opportunities for joint ministry came from this event.

The year-long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of St. James concluded with a special worship service and luncheon on Sunday, April 7. Bishop Gary Mueller preached at the 10:55 a.m. services) along with music from the early days of St. James. Music Director, Kira Keating, went through the archives to find the very first anthems and hymns from St. James’ inception. In the traditional service, there was a combined children’s and youth anthem as well as the brass quartet that accompanied much of the service, all arranged by our own Children’s Music Director, Kyle Blackburn. The bells played the 50th anniversary commissioned piece. A commissioned benediction song in honor of the 50th Anniversary was heard for the first time.

Following the special worship services was a church-family lunch in the Christian Life Center. The theme for this event was Stepping Forward Together in Faith. Young couples shared with us why they are excited about the future of St. James and their dreams for their church in the future.

Throughout the year, other activities and project were undertaken. One was a second-mile Anniversary Gift campaign. In March of 2018 & 2019, members were invited to give $50 plus $5 a year for every year of membership at St. James. This second-mile gift would be split evenly between Methodist Family Health Chapel Campaign and retiring the St. James debt. This was done to honor our past (Methodist Children’s Chapel) and prepare for the future. To date, over $115,000 has been donated towards this campaign.

A choir, composed of children and adults, sings during the worship service at St. James on April 7, 2019. || Photo provided by St. James UMC

A timeline of decade highlights from the first 50 years of St. James history has been installed outside the Worship Center. This two-year long project was designed by member Lesley Cooper with the help of the archives committee. Members of the archives committee are Frances Jernigan, Nan Tucker, Evelyn Kiernan, Sandra Karcher, Ferris Garrison, Lou Lane and Mary Epperson. The archives committee gathered and organized the historical data and photos into decades; a lengthy process. The history of St. James is full of big and small moments. The task of distilling those many moments into key highlighted moments and developing the story of St. James fell to Lesley Cooper, who finalized the design and oversaw production of the timeline with Lisa Havniear of LA Designs. “I couldn’t have done any of it without the extraordinary efforts of the archives committee. I can’t thank them enough,” Cooper said. We hope you’ll enjoy this new exhibit brought to you by the 50th Anniversary Committee, and look forward to the next 50 years of St. James history.

Another project of the Anniversary was to renovate Cottey Parlor. This space had not been updated since it was first built in the early 80’s. A 50th Anniversary St. James Cookbook was created to raise money for the renovation. It is filled with special recipes from current members and past members. Proceeds from the sale of the cookbook went to help with the refurbishing of Cottey Parlor.

Through the support of the Board of Trustees, private donations, and proceeds from cookbook sales the parlor has been updated and renovated. It now serves a dual purpose of a parlor and a chapel.

Q&A w/ Clay McCastlain
New Arkansas United Methodist Men President

Tell me about yourself: Where you’re from, where you live now, where you went to school, and your current job.

I grew up in Clarendon, Arkansas. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Hendrix College and then moved to Memphis, Tennessee. I earned a Master of Science degree in cell biology from the University of Memphis. I spent many years working in research labs. I moved to Central Arkansas in 1998. In 2003, I applied for a biology faculty position on the Heber Springs campus of Arkansas State University—Beebe. I got that job and have been there ever since.

How did you get the position as the president of the Arkansas United Methodist Men?

Several years ago, I read the purpose statement for United Methodist Men, “To declare the centrality of Christ in every man’s life. This is expressed as all men engage in daily Bible study, witness to Christ in daily work and relationships, and intentional Christian service to others. We want men to know Christ so others may know Christ.” I didn’t recall ever hearing that. It made me realize there was more to United Methodist Men than a monthly breakfast. I contacted someone in the District office and asked how I could help my local unit pursue that purpose. A few years later, I received an email about how to revive the United Methodist Men in Arkansas. The email had me listed as Central District president. I responded that I had never been elected to that position, but I wanted to help. I struggled with that for about three years. In December of last year, I was contacted by Jim Polk and he asked if I could serve as Arkansas Conference president of the United Methodist Men. I thought about it for a few days and decided to accept the challenge.

Why is it important for churches to have UMM groups?

Our Book of Discipline states men’s ministry leads to the spiritual growth of men and effective discipleship. One of the other purposes is to forge pastoral partnerships by men committed to the effective support and service of clergy and local congregations.

What will people be able to learn if they come to the UMM luncheon at Annual Conference this year?

At the United Methodist Men’s luncheon, our guest speaker will be Steve Nailor and he will share about the actual structure of the United Methodist Men, not what people think it is or does. The UMM mission is to “Help men grow in Christ so that others may know Christ.” This is pretty much what the Discipline says. The Discipline states in paragraph 2303, “UMM exists to declare the centrality of Christ in every man’s life. Men’s ministry leads to the spiritual growth of men and effective discipleship. This purpose is served as men are called to model the servant leadership of Jesus Christ.”
Our speaker will also talk about the importance of having men in the church. David Murrow wrote, “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” He talks about men bringing their families to church. Murrow used the oft-quoted statistic in Men’s Ministry circles: When a mother comes to faith in Christ, the rest of her family follows 17% of the time. But when a father comes to faith in Christ, the rest of the family follows 93% of the time.

What are your plans for UMM in the future?

The immediate plan is to build a leadership team consisting of a president from each district in the state. I am asking men who are willing to serve in this ministry position to respond to the call for leaders. Each district president needs a leadership team. With these teams in place, we can reach out to all the local congregations and help them build their men’s ministries. I would like to see the men of Arkansas growing in their relationships with Christ, their families, and their communities. Out of those relationships come understandings and service to each other.

Who is someone that inspires you in your life and why?

Former president Jimmy Carter. His post-presidency has been a wonderful model of Christian service. His Carter Center works for peace and world health.

MFH Provides Ample Opportunity for Healing After Personal Loss

MFH Provides Ample Opportunity for Healing After Personal Loss

Kaleidoscope Grief Center was another program of Methodist Family Health of which I was unfamiliar upon starting my position, but there is some fantastic ministry and healing taking place here. This program includes therapy and support groups for both parents and children who have lost a family member and helps walk with them through the grieving process. These groups meet twice a month and give parents the chance to talk with other parents, and kids the opportunity to speak to other kids, all of whom are going through similar, though unique, stages of grief.

In addition to the support groups and individual therapy that Kaleidoscope offers, another service (that is my personal favorite) is Camp Healing Hearts. Held at Camp Aldersgate, Camp Healing Hearts is an annual camp, the goal of which is to provide a safe environment where children and their families can develop coping skills, both individually and within a community of others, and can also help lessen the isolation that often comes with grief. Families participate in a variety of typical “camp” activities, including things like archery, fishing, swimming, arts, and crafts, and of course, s’mores around a campfire. However, interspersed between the camp activities are times of processing, sharing, and support as families have the chance to meet and talk with other families living with grief.

Last year was my first Camp Healing Hearts experience, and I’m definitely looking forward to being a part of it again. I had the opportunity to lead a candlelight memorial service on Friday night, during which families get a chance to share a favorite memory or something special about the person they have lost. It was so powerful to see people who came in as strangers so vulnerably express their memories and even their recent difficulties, but knowing that they were in a space surrounded by others with similar feelings gave them a boldness to share. The empathy that is shown through this weekend was truly awe-inspiring, and I feel it’s what draws families back again the following year. We also get to incorporate a service of healing on Sunday morning this year, and I’m truly looking forward to getting the chance to participate with everyone together in worship that day! While the grief process is so different for everyone, the opportunity to reflect, to remember, and to tend to one’s soul is universally healing.

This year we get the chance to expand the camp to two nights, which will give participants even more of an opportunity to decompress and grow closer as a family. Camp is coming up May 17-19, and it is FREE to attend. If you know of a family who could benefit, they can register by contacting Dao Ward at, or by calling 501-537-3991. The deadline to register is May 6. We are also always looking for volunteers, to help with everything from registration to baiting fishing hooks, so if you would like to come to camp with us, please contact Tammy Weaver at