The Afton, Arispe, and Lorimor United Methodist churches are transforming their normal fifth Sunday combined worship service into a day of service. Their pastor, Joel Sutton, wrote, that they will “go out into the community and clean up the park, paint a basketball court, plant some flowers, and help some folks who need work done around the house.”
The combined services have not had strong attendance, but they anticipate that “participation will be up this time.” Even more exciting, “this new Community Service Sunday will be kicking off a monthly community service day that connects needs in the community with youth who need community service hours to graduate from high school.”
A part of the inspiration for this experiment has come from their church leaders participating in a new Healthy Church Initiative study track designed specifically for parishes to explore shared ministries. Jaye Johnson, the Field Outreach Minister serving the South Central District, has been facilitating the workshops.
The Healthy Church Initiative (HCI), which is supported in part through apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches across the state of Iowa, is an intentional leadership development process designed to enhance the skills of pastors and laity to lead growing, vibrant, spirit-filled congregations.
A message of acceptance from the Wesley Foundation at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls helped to nurture a student’s faith. He wrote the following testimony:
“I started attending worship on Wednesday nights at the Wesley Center on campus towards the beginning of this year. I grew up in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church which, being gay, was not the healthiest of experiences. I never considered myself very close to God and when I came out my freshman year of college, I questioned many things about my faith. My family was not supportive of my lifestyle because of their faith, which made it even more difficult to sort out my relationship with God. Throughout college I did not attend a church regularly until I started coming to the Wesley Center my junior year. . . .
“One Wednesday night service at the Wesley Center I had what I could only describe as an epiphany. I had never before in my life heard God speak to me so clearly. I realized that God did not make me gay to make me happier or for any other self-fulfilling reason. . . . God blessed me with an inner peace of who I am and I want to help others find that same peace within them.”
Third- through sixth-graders have been enjoying M&Ms regularly, courtesy of First United Methodist Church in Audubon. The Methodist Maniacs (sorry, it’s not the chocolate candy) is a Christian education ministry for older elementary students.
These young people are discovering “Christ in our hearts, Christ in our families, Christ in our lives.” They have been meeting from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays during the school year for food, fun, and faith formation.
A Matthew 25 grant from the Southwest District had provided some of the financial support for M&Ms. These funds are made possible with apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches across the state of Iowa.
The congregation recently launched an updated webpage to enhance its outreach to the community. Visitors will find recent pictures of the M&Ms activities on their sleeker, more efficient site. In addition, they are introducing live streaming of Sunday morning worship. A calendar of upcoming events and their most recent church newsletter are also found there. As Pastor Jud Stover writes in his greeting, “With Jesus as our Savior and guide we can transform the world by living a life of faith and fellowship that will help other seekers find the same peace-of-heart, and purpose we all search for in life.”
Attendance at the St. Paul’s United Methodist Church youth group in La Porte City has grown from three or four kids per week to almost twenty in the last two years. Their ministry includes a weekly meeting on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. for middle school students and 7 p.m. for high schoolers. The youth group is planning a mission trip this summer to Chicago, and they are inviting the church’s support through t-shirt sales.
The majority of the young people in the program are from families that are economically at risk. Their pastor, Mike Gudka, said, “Many of them are hearing about Christ for the first time and learning what it means to be loved unconditionally.” The church set a goal to hire an experienced youth director, and that accomplishment has been an important aspect of the growth of the ministry. Now the church is training young adult mentors to be a part of the program.
They are exploring ways to build on this ministry to focus on family needs more broadly in the future. A Matthew 25 grant from the Northeast District has helped to support their efforts. These funds are made possible from apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches throughout the state of Iowa.