1:00 P.M. EST May 31, 2011 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
New home page of Ministry with the Poor website. A web-only
screen-save image courtesy of Ministry with the Poor.
After staff and customers at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger confronted empty shelves at the food pantry as demand rose in February, they worked jointly to do something about it.
Together, customers and staff members organized a May 24 “Fill Our Shelves” luncheon. Donors sipped maple-syrup mint lemonade among now-full shelves, then moved to the main fellowship hall of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, which houses the ministry, for a lunch prepared and served by “customer chefs.”
As the donors ate, another customer spoke about how the anti-hunger group was helping him navigate the transition from prison to the outside world.
Started in 1979 by a variety of faith groups, the Manhattan-based food program is a prime illustration of the commitment by The United Methodist Church to engage in “Ministry With the Poor.”
A new interactive website, www.ministryWITH.org, highlighting that commitment was launched May 31 by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, in partnership with a denominational interagency task force and the Council of Bishops.
The With* educational campaign also is being introduced throughout the connection at annual (regional) conference celebrations of mission and ministry.
‘A connectional tool’
The idea for a website grew out of a desire by staff of church agencies to develop “a connectional tool” available to the whole denomination, explained Mary Ellen Kris, a consultant for the mission agency. “Part of it is to challenge our own assumptions about what we think of poverty and the poor,” she said.
“Customer chefs” prepared a special “Fill our Shelves” luncheon for donors to the West Side Campaign Against Hunger in New York. The food organization is associated with the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, United Methodist. A UMNS photo by the
Rev. James “K” Karpen.
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“Ministry with the poor is at the heart of our faith,” explained Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. “It is where we combine mercy and justice and put our faith into action. Thanks be to God, it is one of the focus areas of ministry for our church. Should it ever cease to be so, that would be a clear sign we have renounced our Wesleyan heritage.”
To facilitate putting “faith into action,” the website is designed for “ease of use” with search functions as a key element, says Ibrahim Dabo, web team leader for the Board of Global Ministries.
The site offers opportunities for viewers to post their own stories, photos and videos relating to experiences with ministry for the poor. Another section allows viewers to make a prayer request or leave a comment on a prayer. Such interaction “keeps the site vibrant,” he added.
Information about poverty, downloadable resources for individual and congregational use, blog posts by a variety of writers, a calendar of events and opportunities to donate money or “your time” will be updated on a regular basis.
The point is to educate, inspire, mobilize and connect, Kris said, as well as allow people “to share best practices and learn from each other.”
Thomas Kemper, the mission agency’s top executive, noted that the concept of “with” rather than “to” implies mutual partnership and empowerment. “From a practical standpoint, ministry with the poor involves listening to, empowering and training to create sustainable change,” he said.
Empowerment is a key concept at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, where the 20,000 annual hours of volunteer time donated by customers keep things running smoothly. It costs the supermarket-style food program, which assists some 200 households a day, about $10,000 a week to fill the shelves.
Emanuel Granthan, standing, tells donors how staff at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger helped him adjust to life after his release from an upstate New York prison in January. A UMNS photo by the Rev. James “K” Karpen.
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The campaign’s commitment to tending to the whole person – through innovations such as the "customer chef" program and associations with about 20 other social-service agencies – has contributed to its success.
The key to ministering with rather than to the poor is “getting past our perceptions of who the poor are,” said Steve Rogers, a member of St. Paul and St. Andrew and chairperson of the campaign’s board of directors.
“A lot of small churches have food pantries,” he noted. “But it tends to be members packing up paper bags and handing them out.”
The food program’s diverse array of customers arrives with needs, but they also bring strengths to contribute, Rogers said. “Frankly, from just a dollars-and-cents standpoint, if they didn’t do it (volunteer), we’d need to hire 10 more people.”
During the lunch, Emanuel Granthan, 48, told donors of his desperation after he was released from an upstate prison with only $40, a train ticket and a sneering retort: “See you when you get back.”
He faced many obstacles, not the least of which was finding large enough clothes and shoes to wear, since, at the time, he weighed 300 pounds. Frustrated, he said he was literally ready to commit robbery by the time he was referred to the Upper West Side program. But the staff worked patiently with him. “When I left here, I was encouraged,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I can do this.’”
Now, less than six months after his release from prison, Granthan has a part-time job in the theater district and is proud to be trusted enough by his boss to carry around office keys.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.