Historic Oak Forest United Methodist in Little Rock, Arkansas believes in recycling, not retiring, people. Making the most of their members' gifts has helped this tiny church do big things, and become a vital congregation.
(Little Rock, Arkansas)
Dr. Jerry Shue: "We see glaucoma, lots of eye infections..."
Optometrist Jerry Shue donates his time as part of a very big outreach program created by a very small church, Oak Forest United Methodist, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The ministry provides 400 pairs of new glasses a year; 2500 doctor visits annually; and feeds 25 families a week.
The Rev. Russ Breshears: "We try to advocate. We try to empower. We try to teach people to fish. But sometimes we just have to catch that first fish for them and show 'em how it's done."
The driving force behind all this can be found right here in these pews.
The Rev. Russ Breshears: "I just really want to challenge those pastors that are in declining congregations and with just a few old people on Sunday morning, 'Use those old people. Get those old ladies to make peanut butter sandwiches and start an afterschool program.'"
Many members of Oak Forest are in their golden years but that's not stopping them from creating a legacy. They're partnering with other churches, Oak Forest started a food pantry, a counseling center, and free medical, dental, and vision clinics.
(Volunteer does medical exam) "I think you can see from here to here, the skin is different."
The Rev. Russ Breshears, Oak Forest United Methodist Church: "We do not believe that you retire. It's not a Biblical concept. We recycle people. So, when you are too old to run the youth group, you know, come and work in the food pantry. And when you're too old to do anything but pray, pray for us. Encourage us. Encourage other people."
Gloria Minor has been a member at Oak Forest for 56 years. Minor updates charts for the eye clinic.
Gloria Minor, Oak Forest United Methodist Church: "We feel good about ourselves. I think we feel that we're all contributing in some way. And I'm 85 years old, as are many other members of our congregation."
Nearly all of Oak Forest's 70 active members volunteer for the ministries. 88-year-old Harry Dinsmore and his wife work the food pantry.
Harry Dinsmore, Oak Forest United Methodist Church: "I started out during the early Depression and I know what it's like not to have a lot of money that we take for granted today."
Donna & Erica McPhearson: "They're nice people, really welcoming."
Donna McPhearson and her daughter say some food pantries can rush you through, but they've never had that experience at Oak Forest.
Food pantry volunteer: "How about iced tea mix?"
Erica McPhearson, Food Pantry Client: "I got chicken, steaks, vegetables."
Linda J. Pringle, Oak Forest United Methodist Church: "I invite every single person that I talk to to come worship with us if they don't have a home church. And we have gotten 2 members, I think, through that. And we have gotten some visitors."
(Pastor at church service) "Let's welcome our new acolytes."
The vibrant outreach has drawn some younger families to Oak Forest. EMT Jonathan Cupples joined the church and volunteers in the medical clinic.
Jonathan Cupples, Oak Forest United Methodist Church: "I love Oak Forest because they offer just a little bit of everything. I like the traditional style. Actually, my mother goes to a very contemporary church. You'd think it would be the other way around. I'm 27 and I attend a very, you know, traditional church. But I think it's just the feeling of home."
Longtime members credit pastor Russ Breshears for bringing new life to an aging church.
(Breshears speaking to patient): "Cuantos hijos? ...Fifteen grandchildren?"
Breshears charts Oak Forest's progress with a tool on the Vital Congregations website.
The Rev. Russ Breshears: "I enter those dashboard statistics. And it usually will be 64 people and $2000 offering. But in that bottom of the dashboard I say, 'This week we provided 12 people who needed eyeglasses, eyeglasses.' And so every week I try to put something to tell the rest of the story."
Thanks to these ministries, members of Oak Forest are excited about new chapters in their church's story.
Gloria Minor: "Our little church was kinda going downhill. And we have done all this mission work. And if it hadn't been for Russ, I don't know where our little church would have been."
For more information on the Shepherd's Hope clinic or other ministries, contact Oak Forest United Methodist Church at 501-663-9407.
For more information on Vital Congregations, go to UMVitalCongregations.org
Posted: September 20, 2013