"I would like to think 'Open Hearts' reflects our grace-based theology," says the Rev. David Collum, pastor of Open Hearts Bolivar (Missouri) United Methodist Church.
"We've always had a lot of members who deeply care for each other and deeply care for people in the community," adds church Lay Leader Ed Kurtz. "I think [the church's name] is an opportunity for us to make a display of that."
Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors.
Since 2001, our brand promise, "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." has been featured on billboards, television ads, and computer banners promoting The United Methodist Church. Congregations like Open Hearts Bolivar UMC, use those words for their ministries.
The word open describes the state of our hearts, minds, and doors. Sometimes we put it this way, "Our hearts, our minds, and our doors are always open." It is a symbol of welcome.
Kurtz credits the name "Open Hearts" as part of the reason some newer members initially connected with the congregation. "It really has drawn them into a deeper ministry through our church."
In Naperville, Illinois, Grace United Methodist Church has a ministry called "Open Doors." Director Nicole Zaccaria says that in the beginning, "We were eliminating barriers."
The Open Doors Ministry began as a way to help a mom and dad participate more fully in the life of the church. Members of the congregation cared for the family's child with special needs during worship and special events.
Soon, the welcome was expanding. "They were opening the doors of the church to all children and their families," Zaccaria explains.
United Methodist Urban Ministry in Wichita, Kansas, recognized in the early 2000s that the name adopted at their founding in 1965 no longer described who they are.
"One of our food programs goes into 11 counties in south central Kansas," Executive Director, the Rev. Deann Smith explains. "We're much more than urban, so we wanted to get away from that name."
In an effort "to exude hospitality, and welcome-ness," the board of directors selected "The United Methodist Open Door."
Through food programs, a free "Klothes Kloset," a homeless resource center, and the Family Rapid Re-housing program that helps families find clean, safe places to live, The United Methodist Open Door extends a welcome and assistance to neighbors in need.
When Cheryl Myers heard a new United Methodist church was being planted near her home, she was excited. "I was intrigued by the mission of the church," she says. "It was focused on diversity."
Myers found a home at the United Methodist Church of the Open Door in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. The name "seemed to meld with the vision of the church which was to be intentionally diverse."
In Kiester, Minnesota, Grace United Methodist Church "had been struggling with an aging, shrinking congregation," explains the Rev. Paul Woolverton Jr. who was pastoring nearby Wells United Methodist Church at that time. "They were looking at ways to rescue their church."
Woolverton and the leadership of the Minnesota Annual Conference talked about merging the two congregations. When the union became official in January 2017, the new multi-site congregation adopted the name "Open Doors United Methodist Church."
"While we always considered ourselves a church of open doors—and minds and hearts too," Woolverton shares, "our new name is now more a symbol of open doors leading out to serve others, instead of just open to receive people."
A new perspective
Open doors welcome people in, but they also invite us out of our buildings.
Beginning in 2009, United Methodists were encouraged to "rethink church" as more than our Sunday gatherings. We started to talk about how "church can happen anywhere," because we are the church wherever we gather to worship God and love and serve others.
"We are very social justice oriented and very community oriented," Myers enthusiastically shares about Church of the Open Door. It is an experience she finds transformational.
"When we first started out, clearly race and ethnic diversity were at the forefront," she remembers. "But as we explored the topic of diversity it was very clear that it is much broader than that. There's economic and class diversity. There is the diversity among people who are physically, mentally, and emotionally well and those who have various kinds of disabilities. There is the diversity of sex and gender. As you start exploring what it means to be a diverse church, you have to confront all of those topics."
Addressing the underlying causes of division and suffering is part of the ministry of The United Methodist Open Door also. In addition to ministries that meet the needs of individuals, they work to address social justice issues that create poverty, homelessness and food insecurity.
The Open Doors Ministry at Grace United Methodist Church, has also seen lives transformed, and not just those they directly serve.
"The thought was that it was a ministry for children and their families," Zaccaria reflects on the early days of the ministry. "But now we realize this ministry is for everyone, helping us all increase our abilities for love and acceptance."
Kurtz has seen people grow in their faith at Open Hearts Bolivar United Methodist Church also.
"We have a lot of people here who are focused on what's going on outside the church in our community," he shares. "I think that 'open hearts' philosophy really stimulated them to reach out where they can."
"We are serious about meeting people at their point of greatest need," Collum reflects. "That's what it means to me theologically. I think it gives us something to live up to. I think it's part of our distinctive."
This story posted October 26, 2018.