At 87 years of age, Burt Bennett of Alva (Florida) United Methodist Church doesn’t want to waste a single moment.
As a child, he remembers watching his mother welcome and feed drifters, who would then make a chalk mark in front of their door. That, he later realized, signaled to others in need that, by visiting, they might get fed.
“In looking back, I know God was grooming me then to care,” notes Bennett. “It taught me … to know when someone else is hurting, and realize when someone is troubled.”
Once he was driving home while struggling with conflict in a relationship. He cried out to God to ask why he was going through that situation. “I heard God so clearly say ‘Burt I’ve called you to confrontational ministry so you might as well get used to it,’” he recollects.
At the time he didn’t know what that term meant. Now, he says, “I walk in the difficult places. I’m able to speak truth to people, and by God’s grace, they’re responding.”
A trained substance abuse counselor, he has helped teens struggling with addiction. Upon retirement, he often used his rental property investments as housing for the people he had counseled.
“I worked years with homeless and alcoholics living on the streets and in halfway houses,” says Bennett. “My goal was one day to retire—not to do nothing, but to do what needed to be done for nothing.”
When he decided to find a new church home, he visited Alva United Methodist Church and witnessed a person state they needed eye surgery but didn’t have insurance. “$1,400 later, they had what they needed when leaving church that morning. That’s my kind of church,” Bennett exclaims. Pulling from his childhood experience, he went on to place a chalk mark at the house of worship to indicate that it was a place where people would be “fed.”
A devoted participant in the church body, Bennett actively shares his testimony and invites people to visit his church, with over a dozen new members accredited to these efforts alone in the past three years.
His invitations are at times unspoken. In addition to tipping, he says that “everywhere I go to eat, I leave a two-dollar bill with the name and the address of the church marked on it. I want them to know that someone from that church was here, treated them well, and hopefully will encourage them to want to come.”
Bennett leads a weekly men's prayer fellowship in his home, and has also previously led Sunday school class. Ken DeWalt, a fellow Alva UMC member who has benefited from Bennett’s leadership, declares, “he challenges each of us personally, every day, every time we see him, to be modeling Christ in all we do.”
In 2016 “we made the decision to pay off our $178,000 [church] debt and several things were done to reduce it,” notes Alva UMC’s pastor, Rev. Ralph Cotton. “At one point, Burt purchased 400 two-dollar bills and we distributed them to the congregation, challenging them to see this as their ‘talent’ and to try and multiply it. That was amazing. A few months later, when we were getting near the end of the year, he challenged us to write a ‘blank check’ and that, if we all did it, we would all share the load. More than a dozen people responded. The giving was so great, that each blank check was just around $200.”
Rev. Cotten adds that “I can honestly and humbly say that, in the 38 years of my ministry, Burt has impacted my life, my heart, and my ministry in ways that no other man has. Burt believes that God can be trusted with all things and he surely lives that faith.”
“People pray for blessings and I tell them that if you really want a blessing, obedience is how you access that blessing,” says Bennett. “If you’re obedient you don’t have time to ask for a blessing as you are already blessed. If you’re not being blessed, ask God what He wants.”
Read about more #AmazingUMCHeroes.
*Brenda Smotherman is a senior public relations specialist with United Methodist Communications. She can be reached at 615-742-5488 or [email protected].