A growing number of United Methodist conferences and congregations are partnering with those they serve in an effort to create more vibrant communities and meet other needs.
It is a move from "ministry to …" to "ministry with … ." The preposition makes all the difference as developing relationships is stressed – and those being assisted with material or other needs are recognized as having assets, not the least of which is often knowing what is needed and the causes.
"Ministry with the Poor" is one of The United Methodist Church's Four Areas of Focus. Since 2008, leadership for the emphasis has rested with the General Board of Global Ministries but is shifting to the General Board of Church and Society. The goal for 2017-2020 is to grow partnerships that will build 400 vibrant, faith-filled communities to address the issues of poverty.
As the website (www.zipcodeconnection.org) for the Zip Code Connection in the North Texas Conference says: "Poverty is … a complicated set of interdependent variables that we must attack more or less simultaneously. Communities that have been in poverty for multiple generations frequently have absent or broken infrastructure that is necessary to support hope and healthy connections to God, to neighbors and to resources for all community members."
A key strategy in the coming quadrennium will be "Ministry With*" training for people interested in transformational, relationship-based ministries with people living in poverty, ministries that work to eliminate "we" and "they" thinking and language and recognize "giver" and "receiver" as roles that are shared as relationships develop.
Lynn Parsons directs The Zip Code Connection. "'Ministry with' is about mutually transformative connections," she says. "It is a relationship, or a series of relationships, in which each partner grows and is transformed as a result."
Zip Code Connection began in 2013 by identifying 140 churches in the South Dallas/Fair Park zip code and inviting them to participate in work around community engagement, education, health and wellness and economic development.
The Pajarito Mesa is home to hundreds of people living on 18,000 acres in the New Mexico desert. Residents there have no electricity, sewer service, roads or street markings. They share a water fill station. Pajarito is 15 miles from downtown Albuquerque – but a world away.
Many Pajarito residents don't speak English and some are in the United States illegally, said Cheryl Hicks who leads the United Methodist ministry there with her husband, Don.
The couple drives 50 minutes each way to volunteer at Pajarito. They took over leadership of United Methodist ministries there nearly two years ago when the Rev. Lourdes Calderon (former pastor of St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Albuquerque) received another appointment. Calderon started the ministry more than 10 years ago.
"What is different about our ministry is that we are a church inside the prison," said the Rev. Lee Schott.
Women at the Well is a United Methodist congregation inside the walls of the Iowa Correctional Institute for Women in Mitchellville, Iowa. Inmates are members and leaders, deciding what projects to take on and how offerings will be spent. Schott estimates at any given time the church affects about 100 to 150 women, 20 percent of the prison population.
Before Women at the Well, many of the women had never been affirmed as people of worth. "They gain a sense of self that they never had," Schott said.
Erin Edgemon is a reporter and freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama.
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