My Journey

My Journey

journey

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

calendar

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

Vaccines for Food Ministry Workers Essential for Gathering at the Table Again

Vaccines for Food Ministry Workers Essential for Gathering at the Table Again

food bank volunteers

Volunteers at the Arkansas Food Bank collect food during Ingathering 2020 | File Photo

By Rev. Sam Meadors

Community Coordinator, The Delta Project - 200K More Reasons

One of the things I am looking forward to as we see COVID come to an end is gathering around the table. With masks and distancing, gathering in person for a meal- be it communion, a potluck, or a spaghetti supper- has gone by the wayside. Food is an integral part of sharing our faith. If hashbrown casseroles are any indication, then there is a direct line connecting our stomachs to our souls.

Even though we have been unable to gather at tables, that does NOT mean that food has stopped being an instrument for ministry in our churches. Our work to increase food security in our communities is more important now than ever. Which is why food pantry volunteers have been deemed essential workers and are eligible to receive vaccines in Group 1-B.

Currently, vaccines are available for Group 1-B members who are over 70 or working in education. However, this group will expand to include others of Group 1-B in the future. At present, food pantry volunteers are not eligible for vaccination, however, pantries and meal programs should take steps to prepare for when they might be able to receive their vaccines.

Feeding ministries like food pantries, meal programs, and summer feeding opportunities will need to be currently serving their community to be eligible. Pastors and food pantry directors are charged with identifying those who are not in other priority groups but are working with the food ministry and therefore would qualify to receive the vaccine under Group 1-B. Pastors and directors will provide letters and work with their local pharmacy to let volunteers know steps to take in receiving vaccinations.

200K More Reasons has provided pastors with example letters for pharmacies and other directions. Those instructions can be found on the ARUMC YouTube channel.

As we approach the one-year mark of responding to the Coronavirus pandemic, it is easy to look back and see where God has been at work in our communities through our feeding ministries. The people called Methodists stepped up to walk alongside families struggling in the midst of this global health crisis. Many feeding ministries saw an increase of 40% or more in the number of families and households they served in 2020. Some of our churches have forged new partnerships like the Southeast District congregations working with the Arkansas Foodbank to provide volunteer support for mobile distributions. Our faith has continued to lead us into the community to love our neighbors.

Everyone has adapted to a new way of doing ministry. Pantries around the state have shifted their methods to drive-up and drive-thru services in light of the pandemic. Volunteers have donned masks and gloves to continue to serve their neighbors. Pastors and pantry leaders have made difficult decisions to close, even temporarily, in order to keep their communities safe. Despite the hardships and challenges, Arkansas’ United Methodist Churches have continued to show love for their neighbors through blessing boxes, backpacks, pantries, meals, and more.

Vaccinations will not cause any changes in the day-to-day operations of food ministries at first. Volunteers are highly encouraged to receive vaccines but can continue to serve without vaccinations. Even if all volunteers are vaccinated, the recommendation is to continue social distancing, wearing masks and gloves, and following all COVID safety protocols. Current CDC guidelines do state that vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine after exposure unless they exhibit symptoms of COVID. This will help many pantries to remain in operation on a more consistent basis.

It has been a long year, friends. The inclusion of food ministries in the essential worker category is a spot of light; a hope for all of us. The time is coming when we can again gather safely around tables to share a meal. I, for one, cannot wait to do so.

Hot Springs First Opens Gym for People Seeking Shelter from Cold

Hot Springs First Opens Gym for People Seeking Shelter from Cold

gym

The gym inside Hot Spring First’s Christian Life Center has been setup as a temporary refuge for those seeking shelter from the frigid temperatures this week. Photo courtesy of Cindy English and Hot Springs First UMC.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Arkansas is experiencing the biggest winter weather event in years, with snow accumulations topping 12 inches in some areas, and temperatures dropping into the negative digits. With the harsh winter weather comes an increased risk for people without a home or without a sufficient way to warm their homes, but Hot Springs First United Methodist Church has opened up a warming center to make sure those who need hot food and a warm shelter are taken care of this week.

The Rev. Bill Sardin, associate pastor at Hot Springs First, said that his church was contacted by the American Red Cross of Hot Springs early last week about opening up their church building to shelter people from the frigid weather.

The gym in the church’s Christian Life Center is functioning as the temporary shelter and warming center.

The Rev. JJ Galloway, senior pastor at Hot Springs First, said that the Red Cross is providing much of the supplies needed.

“The Red Cross provides cots, blankets, food and water, crates for small animals, wonderful volunteers to stay with the guests, along with security for the church,” Galloway said.

Hot meals at breakfast and dinner time have been offered to guests, and volunteers from both Hot Springs First UMC and St. James Episcopal Church are working to make sure guests are fed and clothed.

Additionally, shower facilities and snacks are available to everyone. Sardin said that guests are welcome to come and go as they please, and many choose to leave during the day and come back at night.

They’ve also found time to make the shelter not just a safe place for people, but an inviting and comfortable environment as well.

“In the evening time, we turn on the projectors and play movies to provide some entertainment,” Sardin said.

On Sunday, Feb. 14, the church also had the opportunity to share their worship service with the people gathered in the gym.

“Our guests were invited to stay for the livestream broadcast of our contemporary worship service which is held in our Christian Life Center each Sunday at 10:45 a.m. All guests stayed, some reclining on their cots, and others intently listening,” Galloway said.

“Not long into the service, the WiFi went out, but Rev. Bill Sardin continued to preach and interact with our guests, along with our ConneXion Praise and Worship Band. At the end of the service, Holy Communion was offered to each person. Several special prayers were shared with our guests, including a prayer for the Red Cross team. It was truly a holy morning in an ordinary worship setting that turned out to be anything but ordinary.”

Sardin said they plan on continuing to provide a place for people to stay until the weather warms up above freezing temperature, which according to local weather reports, may not happen until the weekend on Feb. 20 or 21.

“The first two general rules are: Do no harm and Do all the good you can whenever and wherever you can. We have a facility that can offer warmth and safety. If we did not offer this shelter not only would we be failing to do good but we would also be doing harm,” Sardin said.

Rev. Galloway added that the church’s prime location, at the intersection of Grand and Central Avenues, makes it vital for them to continue this mission during the frigid weather.

“In opening our Christian Life Center this week to our friends and neighbors, we open our hands to be the hands of Christ during this dangerous time of sub-zero temperatures. First United Methodist Church is truly blessed to be a blessing and we look forward to living out that blessing in our community now and in the years to come,” Galloway said.

If you are seeking shelter from the cold weather this week, Hot Springs First UMC is located at 2350 Central Ave in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Churches Move Ash Wednesday Services OnlineAsh Packs and Lent Kits are the norm in ongoing pandemic

Churches Move Ash Wednesday Services Online
Ash Packs and Lent Kits are the norm in ongoing pandemic

lent kit

Lent Kit from Elm Springs UMC.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Ash Wednesday is the annual day of remembrance that kicks off the Lenten season, and while many churches are celebrating the traditional imposition of ashes differently this year, churches around the Arkansas Conference have not slowed down their commitment to recognizing this important day.

Traditionally, Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent and the six weeks before Easter. It’s a time of repentance and moderation.

According to UMC.org, Ash Wednesday asks Christians to reflect on two themes, “our sinfulness before God and our human mortality,” and the way that Christ has conquered both for us through his death and resurrection.

Churches from every corner of the Arkansas Conference are taking more precautions this year in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, while still emphasizing the importance of this centuries-old day of self-reflection.

“Normally, an Ash Wednesday service is conducted in which participants receive the ashes. However, in the interest of safety, we opted to prepare ashes to be provided to families on Sunday, the 14th, just ahead of Ash Wednesday,” said the Rev. Jemmie Reynolds, senior pastor at Mayflower UMC.

Mayflower is including a daily devotional book called “The Sanctuary for Lent 2021” in their take-home kits, as well as instructions and information on the Lenten season.

At Elm Springs UMC, the Rev. Jennie Williams is taking a similar approach with her church’s own take-home Lent Kit.

The kits will include ashes for self-imposition (the traditional placing of ashes on the forehead), as well as a weekly devotional book, “Lent in Plain Sight” by Jill Duffield.

“In light of COVID, we are taking the first rule of Methodism, Do No Harm, very seriously, so we have chosen to alter our Ash Wednesday plans to make a way to observe the beginning of Lent in a safe and meaningful way,” Williams said.

They will also have a virtual service on their Facebook Page at 7 a.m. on Facebook and YouTube.

devotional guide

A devotional guide from Mayflower UMC, part of their Lent Kit.

Reynolds said the decision to move Mayflower’s Ash Wednesday service to a safe, at-home experience was made for the wellbeing of the congregation.

“I have personally conducted one funeral for a dear friend who was infected. The threat is very real. Members and families of members have been affected … There are so just too many unanswered questions to ignore the situation. In the words of a wise man, ‘Do no harm. Do good. And stay in love with God.’”

The Center for Disease Control and Arkansas Conference guidelines for COVID-19 have led churches to conduct alternative worship services throughout the pandemic, with many choosing virtual or parking lot worship services instead of in-person gatherings. But for a service that requires more physical contact and close proximity than guidelines allow, churches needed to shift to a more individualized approach to Ash Wednesday.

St. Jame United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff decided to create take-home kits as well, but have also made the decision to take their service virtual this year.

“Rev. Samantha Meadors and I wanted to create a service that would be meaningful and contemplative,” said the Rev. Natasha Murray, senior pastor at St. James. “We will gather for our Ash Wednesday observance on Zoom that evening and go through the items that create a kind of sensory station that will connect us during our time together as we contemplate the meaning of Lent.”

St. James’s Ash Wednesday boxes will include a burlap cross that participants will use as a reminder of their journey during the 40 days of Lent. It will also contain crackers, a nail, and ashes mixed with oil for them to place on themselves and their loved ones in their bubble. Clay and frankincense resin that congregants can burn are also included in the boxes.

The Rev. Russell Hull, senior pastor at Star City First UMC, is also conducting a virtual service on Ash Wednesday, but will also have a variety of events to serve every comfort level.

“At 6 a.m. I will lead a Facebook Live option. People can either make their own ashes or pick up an ash-pack at Worship on Sunday morning or at the office Monday or Tuesday. From 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. we will offer a drive-through option at the church. The ash-packs will be available but will include a printed devotion. And at 6 p.m. we will offer a more traditional style in-person gathering. The ash-packs will be used here as well, with self-imposition of ashes,” Hull said.

burlap cross

A burlap cross, one of the items included in St. James UMC Pine Bluff’s Ash Wednesday box.

For each of these pastors, reflection and repentance, as well as the hope for a better future, is at the forefront of their minds.

“Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular, is an opportunity for each of us to confront our own mortality and brokenness, while still remembering that we bear the Imago Dei, the image of God,” said Williams. “My prayer is that we spend this Lent in self-denial and in reflection on the journey of Christ to the cross, and on our own journeys of faith.”

Reynolds said that he has seen the challenges of the pandemic firsthand, but also knows that there is a lot to learn from the struggles.

“This pandemic has created challenges to normal in house worship. But isolation has also pushed families together … The Lord has always had a way of using the most difficult situations to create new life. We are beginning to see how risk may have opened a window for revival. We are praying for revival.”

Ash Wednesday is Feb. 17, and the Arkansas Conference is also offering a virtual worship service for any clergy member that wants to join. Bishop Gary Mueller will lead the service on Facebook, starting at 8 a.m. More details can be found on our Facebook Page.