NASHVILLE (Tennessee, US) – Tears ran down “Samuel’s” hollow cheeks as he held the chalice and served Holy Communion to his congregation. The 52-year-old homeless man with five teeth, a beard that looks like steel wool and tangled blond hair, suﬀers with poor physical and mental health.
He wept as he oﬀered “the blood of Jesus Christ” because someone invited him to serve. “No one has ever asked, ever trusted me at the table of grace,” he told the Rev Brian Combs, pastor of a United Methodist congregation in Asheville, North Carolina, that serves “the homeless and the housed” side-by-side.
For the congregation, the focus has always been on ministry with the poor. “Each person is of sacred worth; God doesn’t play favourites,” the Rev Combs said.
The theme for Heritage Sunday on May 22 was ministry with the poor. The annual observance is on May 24 or the Sunday preceding it because May 24, 1738, is the date of John Wesley’s “heart-warming experience” in a Moravian meeting house on Aldersgate Street in London.
The Asheville congregation bridges the gap between privilege and poverty. Said the Rev Combs: “We intentionally integrate the houseless and housed in volunteering and worship, blending the population to glimpse the kingdom to come.”
From crowded urban cities to sparsely populated rural country-sides, United Methodists are finding ways to serve their neighbours.
The Upper Sand Mountain Parish, a co-operative ministry of eight United Methodist churches in one of the poorest areas in Alabama, is another living, breathing example of being in ministry “with” the poor. The poverty rate in the Sand Mountain Parish climbs as high as 70 per cent in some of the rural towns, which range in size from about 400 to 3,000 residents. Operating since 1969, the ministry provides for its neighbours.
The small churches in the area realised that they could not meet all of the needs in the community alone, so they formed the parish to help people in need – from providing food and money for rent or electric bills to transportation, clothes and school supplies.
Wesley’s passion for the poor
John Wesley also encouraged his followers to provide soup kitchens, clothing and blankets, medical clinics and literacy classes; visit prisoners; and establish homes for orphans, unwed mothers and the aged.
Mr Kenneth E. Rowe, long-time Methodist librarian at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and a leading scholar and bibliographer on Methodist history, writes that Wesley longed for a church that would oﬀer “charity in all its forms”.
“Labor of Love: Wesley’s Passion for ‘Christ’s Poor’” by Mr Rowe, featured on e United Methodist Commission on Archives and History’s website, chronicles how Wesley’s ministry with the poor began.
According to Mr Rowe, Wesley’s convictions were not the normal mindset of an 18th-century Oxford professor, especially for someone who was raised in a posh Church of England rectory by parents with a scholarly bent, schooled in one of the finest boarding schools in the country and educated at Oxford College.
The simple answer to why Wesley worked with the poor is because Jesus did. He knew he was following Jesus when he served the poor, and he believed Jesus would help him do so.
Changing the world
Recently, the denomination was challenged to “Change the World” in a weekend of simple acts of kindness. Churches across the connection chose to do that by serving the needs of the poor in their communities. Ms Renee Teel, Director of Missions at Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, Texas, said her church has a long history of reaching out to those in need.
As part of their participation in “Change the World”, the church repaired homes in their county, turned Sunday School rooms into a bed and breakfast for the homeless and helped restore a hospital wing in Dabou, Côte d’Ivoire. More than 100 members placed a bean in a bowl and committed to fast and donate.
In a recent blog entry written by the Rev Combs, he speaks of meeting “Michael,” a homeless man who was sleeping outside the church. Michael was from New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina had displaced him, and he had bounced around the country looking for a respite. The man said he had learned not to expect much from Christians.
“I’ve come to expect that most Christians just look down on the homeless, refuse to even acknowledge a common humanity,” he said.“(They) assume that I’m smoking crack or boozing or loitering about for another handout. Shut the doors of hospitality before I even walk up to see if they are open.”
However, he said he always believed God created everyone equal. “In the midst of the hypocrisy, while still sleeping on another bed of cold concrete, I have faith that church can be diﬀerent.” – United Methodist News Service.
Kathy L. Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications.
Worship & Song’ blends old and new tunes
NASHVILLE (Tennessee) – From the rousing “Jesus, Jesus, Oh, What a Wonderful Child” to the prayerful “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, the newly-released “Worship & Song” collection oﬀers something for just about everyone.
Jointly developed by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship and the United Methodist Publishing House, “Worship & Song,” contains 190 hymns and worship songs, including old-time Gospel favourites and popular contemporary praise songs. New worship-planning resources in the collection supplement The United Methodist Hymnal and other songbooks.
“There is always good, new congregational music being written,” said Mr Gary Alan Smith, Senior Music Editor at Abingdon Press and project director for “Worship & Song.”
“Worship & Song” is actually two publications in one – a songbook and a collection of prayers, litanies, liturgies and short items for worship planners, pastors, leaders and musicians.
Musician Bryan R. Dunn, 30, said: “I like that ‘Worship & Song’ takes some of the old hymns from Cokesbury and puts a new twist on them. is new book has a very eclectic variety of musical styles so it can be used in any church service at any church.” One of the most popular Charles Wesley hymns is “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” which he wrote in 1738 to celebrate his conversion. That classic– with few exceptions – has been the opening hymn of every Methodist song collection worldwide. It opens “Worship & Song” as well. But contemporary composer Mark Miller’s rendition gives the song a contemporary, “can’t-get-the-tune-out-of-one’s-head” flavour while retaining the grandeur and beauty of the original hymn.
The Rev Delores J. Williamston of the First United Methodist Church in Independence, Kansas, said the songbook breathes new life into worship by blending old favourites with newer, less familiar songs.
“This is a great tool for a more multicultural … as well as multigenerational worship experience,” she added. – United Methodist News Service.