First United Methodist Church in Omaha is working to develop city housing policies that support racial equity. Their partners include the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Omaha Together One Community, and Claire United Methodist Church.
Strong race relations requires a commitment to engage in sacred conversations so that civil rights can become a reality for the next generation. To empower the residents of North Omaha to improve their quality of life, they begin by get acquainted. They meet in one-on-one conversations with individuals and house meetings with neighbors to build trusting relationships with residents in North Omaha.
Together, they hope to influence the city council to change specific housing policies that are perpetuating poverty in North Omaha. They encourage members and other supporters of this initiative to live their faith in mission and service fueled with the spirit of God’s love. “We have a diversity of ways that we work to make the world a better place,” their website on ministries of mercy and justice says.
The congregation’s efforts are being supported with a $34,575 grant from the General Commission on Religion and Race. The Iowa Conference contributes gifts from United Methodist churches throughout the state to support these efforts through our General Church apportionments.
Okitakoyi “Michel” Lundula, the pastor of the United Methodist Church of Le Mars, is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has served three other churches in Iowa communities, including Nashua, Ionia and Dubuque. His passion for ministry is “to proclaim Christ to all God’s people, meet people in their context of life, celebrate with those who celebrate and cry with those who cry.”
Before completing his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and Natural Resources from Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
The United Methodist churches of the Iowa Conference are supporting Africa University in 2018 with a $38,195 general church apportionment gift. This helps the university pursue its mission “to provide quality education within a Pan-African context through which persons can acquire general and professional knowledge and skills, grow in spiritual maturity, develop sound moral values, ethics and leadership qualities.”
Another Iowa connection to Africa University is Larry Kies, a United Methodist missionary supported by many of our churches, who is serving as technical advisor to the Africa University Farm. The farm operation recently made news with an upgraded water system that minimizes water loses from irregular and inefficient methods of irrigation.
“If you have something new you want to try,” says Pam Kranzler, the pastor at the Wapello United Methodist Church, “find two or three other people and let’s talk.”
The church has been cultivating a spirit of ministry experimentation since their involvement in a Healthy Church Initiative study group in 2014. During that time, they learned about a community meal that the neighboring Letts United Methodist Church had started. The Wapello church had recently built a new social hall that was ideal for starting a similar ministry. Now several other groups in town participate as hosts and sponsors of the monthly meals.
Soul Sisters is another example of this spirit of experimentation. A group of working women began meeting out of a need for fellowship. They couldn’t meet during the day with other groups, said Crystal Wiley, so they started meeting on Monday evenings for about an hour to “chat about life.”
The group’s ministry to each other has grown to include a shared devotional life together and community service projects. This experiment in ministry has blossomed. “We’ve become a tight-knit group,” said Katie Walker.
The Iowa Conference is investing $70,000 in the Healthy Church Initiative in 2018. These funds are made possible from the apportionment gifts of United Methodist churches across the state.
“There is a message in our bricks,” declares Wesley United Methodist Church in Mason City. “They aren’t your usual bricks. They are rejected bricks—the ones that had flaws and imperfections, the ones who had been judged to be ‘not good enough.’ ”
This understanding of themselves has helped them embrace ministry to care for persons struggling with mental health issues. Their Wesley Family Outreach Ministry offers free, informal consultations with a trained and experienced clinical social worker at no cost to anyone in the community.
Ken Zimmerman, a licensed independent social work with forty years of experience who serves as the ministry’s director, is a difference maker. “Life isn’t easy,” he explains. “A lot of us struggle and have questions.” When individuals are feeling overwhelmed with worries or hang-ups, he is available to talk.
The Wesley Family Outreach Ministry has been supported in part by a Matthew 25 grant of $3,000 from the North Central District, which is made possible with apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches across the state of Iowa. “If you are looking for a church of people just like you who want to experience God’s love and be transformed by that love,” their website boldly states, “welcome to Wesley United Methodist Church!”
Diana is a high school junior from Osceola and a member of El Pueblo de Dios United Methodist Church who is teaching nutrition classes to elementary students in her area. She learned that her county has one of the highest rates of overweight children in the state of Iowa, and she wanted to address the problem.
She has been participating in the Simpson Youth Academy at Simpson College. The program challenges students to design and implement a project to make a difference in their communities as an expression of their faith.
Diana’s project also includes connecting members of her community to an immigration lawyer so they can have access to the resources that they need. “I want to take action and advocate for things that really matter,” Diana says.
“Everything that we have learned and discussed in the program has unleashed in me a deeper desire to follow Christ.”
El Pueblo de Dios works in partnership with the Osceola United Methodist Church. Members are working with their pastor, Rosa María Rodríguez, to develop new communities of faith among Hispanic residents of the South Central District. The Iowa Conference has committed $84,500 to this ministry in 2017 with apportionment gifts from United Methodist churches throughout the state.
St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Iowa City has just completed a series of workshops as participants in the Healthy Church Initiative. They received support for this purpose from the East Central District, which has earmarked funds in their annual budget to purchase books for such studies.
The congregation’s leaders have committed to continuing their monthly studies together as they pursue God’s mission in their community. Now they are offering their gently used books to other potential HCI groups as a way of paying the ministry of their district forward.
The East Central District is pleased to have piloted HCI in the Iowa Conference. They are seeing the fruits of their labors as congregations and individuals are enlivened for Christ and engaging their communities and growing disciples.
District leaders are also working together to strengthen a variety of ethnic communities of faith in their area and to guide new and existing churches towards health and vitality through spiritual leadership and organizational transformation. They are encouraging all clergy and laity to practice healthful leadership through fellowship, spiritual guidance and attention to self-care.
The Iowa Conference has earmarked $19,500 for the ministries of the East Central District in 2017. These funds are made possible through the apportionment gifts of the United Methodist churches across the state.
This fall the Northwest District churches are handling their annual charge conferences in a new way. Their district superintendent, Tom Carver, says that “charge conferences are one of the ways we support the mission and vision of the local church.”
However, the business of the charge conference can be handled rather briefly during the course of congregation’s regular church council meeting. Elders in the area, therefore, have been asked to preside over these events, which frees up the superintendent to pursue a more intentional focus on future plans for ministry with each local church.
Working with Ryan Christenson, the field outreach minister in the northwest part of Iowa, the superintendent is encouraging each local church to answer one question: What is God asking of us now? The discussion that emerges from this question helps the leaders in each congregation address for themselves how they are “helping each other seek Jesus and become more like him.”
The Northwest District website has an archive of the training videos they have used to prepare their leaders for this charge conference season. The effort is underwritten in part with a district ministry budget of $8,100 for 2017. These funds are provided through the apportionment gifts of the United Methodist churches of Iowa.