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Stories of Faith

JUNE 2019


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ALL NATIONS UMC PHOTO BY ALBERT DULIN

CROSSROADS BOONE UMC PHOTO BY ADAM COLLINS

CULLOWHEE UMC PHOTO BY PAUL HECKERT

JORDAN MEMORIAL UMC PHOTO BY ROBERT ROSS

SAINT MARK'S UMC PHOTO BY ALBERT DULIN

WEST MARKET STREET UMC PHOTO BY ROBERT ROSS

FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM @WNCCUMC FOR MORE SNAPS LIKE THIS.

FRONT COVER:

BACK COVER:

HAYWOOD STREET CONGREGATION PHOTO BY MAUREEN SIMON STORY ON PAGE 12

SAINT MATTHEWS UMC PHOTO BY MARCI BRUNO STORY ON PAGE 8


Stories of Faith ARE IMPORTANT

A NOTE FROM MELISSA MCGILL, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR THE WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

I love the local church — the communities of faith, taking care of each other, growing in discipleship together, serving as the hands and feet of Jesus in their communities. Enclosed here is just a glimpse of what God is doing, through all of you in Western North Carolina. A few years ago, I came across Hebrews 11 and it has since become what I consider my calling. This short chapter of Hebrews is basically a list of Biblical heavy hitters – names you’ll recognize from Noah to Abraham and Sarah to Rahab. It tells the stories of what these heroes of our Faith accomplished by theirs.

It goes on to say that their faith, their stories are incomplete without ours. It’s important to learn about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through the Biblical accounts of their lives. But I deeply believe that we also need to learn about what the God of Riley, Eric and Paulette is doing today. You’ll meet them and hear their stories in the pages that follow, along with many more. God is still at work, still calling ordinary people, like me and you, to act by faith. May the sharing of these stories encourage you, challenge you and renew your faith as they have mine.

GOD HAD A BETTER PLAN FOR US: THAT THEIR FAITH AND OUR FAITH WOULD COME TOGETHER TO MAKE ONE COMPLETED WHOLE, THEIR LIVES OF FAITH NOT COMPLETE APART FROM OURS. HEBREWS 11:39-40 (THE MESSAGE)


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RILEY HOWELL: "A BEAUTIFUL SPIRIT"

BY KEN GARFIELD PHOTOS SHARED BY THE FAMILY


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ON APRIL 30, 2019, A GUNMAN OPENED FIRE IN A CLASSROOM AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA-CHARLOTTE. TWO STUDENTS, RILEY HOWELL AND ELLIS "REED" PARLIER, WERE KILLED AND FOUR OTHER STUDENTS WERE WOUNDED. WE SHARE HERE A GLIMPSE OF RILEY'S STORY THROUGH THE WORDS OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM AND NURTURED HIM IN A LIFE OF FAITH.

RILEY AS A CHILD

When Riley Howell’s youth director at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville heard the news, his first reaction was heartbreak. But then, as the details began to emerge, Michael Blackburn came to a deeper realization: “That was Riley.” The world now knows what Riley did on April 30, running toward the student who opened fire in a UNCC classroom, tackling him in hopes of ending the bloodshed. Riley, 21, a junior in environmental studies, was shot dead. So was fellow student Ellis Parlier, 19, of Midland, N.C. Four other students were wounded. Riley has been hailed a hero by the likes of The New York Times, his act rising above the numbing reality that the UNCC mass shooting will command our attention until the next mass shooting. But those who know Riley best know he was more than a hero for the moment. Back home in Waynesville, in the N.C. mountains,

he’s the kid with the mop of blond hair and square jaw whose heart to help was shaped by The United Methodist Church. “What he did goes deeper than him having instincts,” said Rev. Becky Brown, associate pastor of First Waynesville. “That’s who he was, to protect and serve and put others first. That was something deep within him.” Riley loved his family, longtime girlfriend/soulmate Lauren Westmoreland and her family, the outdoors, his dogs, all things Star Wars, and extra-large pizzas. What tied it all together for Riley – his exuberance and curiosity – was a heart for people inspired by a heart of God. Brown remembers the pig pickin’ that First Waynesville held on the Howells’ property, and how Riley jumped, CONTINUED ON THE NEXT PAGE...


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unplanned and joyful, into the pond. He had charisma, she said, and a gift for drawing people to him in a positive way. At the funeral attended by more than 1,000 in Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska, Riley’s friend, Lucas Tate, said he finally came to understand why Riley would leave his keys in an unlocked car. “He didn’t look for the bad in people. He only saw the good.” Blackburn, the church’s youth director when Riley was growing up, recalls the backpacking trips where Riley would be the youngest kid in the group. But that didn’t keep him from

valued. An illustration shared at the funeral: Riley learned sign language at age three so he could converse with his Uncle Matt, who is deaf. “That quality is fundamentally gifted by God,” Pritchard said. Pritchard, who attends Central United Methodist Church in Asheville, said Riley was toying with the idea of going into the military after college. Or maybe becoming a firefighter. Wherever life would lead, everyone who knew him agreed: Riley would serve others. In that spirit, the family has launched a foundation to help families and communities affected by gun violence. The need is obvious: Since 1970, 1.45 million Americans have died from guns in suicides, murders and accidents. The foundation is looking at providing grief counseling, helping with funeral and other expenses, or simply expressing condolences to another mother or father whose child fell victim to a gun in the wrong hands. Plans will take shape as the Howells’ grief evolves into determination. Keep an eye on www.rileyhowellfoundation.org for how to help.

"HE LOVED BEING A PART OF SOMETHING BIGGER." getting to know the bigger kids, and fitting in among them. “He loved being a part of something bigger,” Blackburn said. Riley was outgoing, a born leader, mature beyond his years, his faith blossoming in a torrent of questions that reflected a young man coming of age. “Riley was always curious,” Blackburn said. “Even at Confirmation in seventh grade, he’d say he had more questions than answers.” Scott Pritchard said his nephew, Riley, had a way of making people feel

Riley’s not done with us yet. “He had a beautiful spirit,” Pritchard said. “And a beautiful story to tell.”


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NO STRINGS MICRO-GRANTS AS INCARNATIONAL MINISTRY BY REV. SARAH HOWELL-MILLER PHOTOS BY MARCI BRUNO


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ATTACHED REV. DONNELL FITZJEFFRIES WITH A YOUNG CONGREGATION MEMBER DURING WORSHIP.

When a tornado with winds of 135 mph ripped through Greensboro in April 2018, it destroyed homes, businesses and schools, and left one person dead. St. Matthews United Methodist Church did what many churches do in the wake of a natural disaster — they started a relief fund. When the congregation at St. Matthews collected more money than they expected, they started to think outside the box. Some of their church members had lost homes or were hit hard otherwise, so Rev. Donnell FitzJeffries and his congregation gave out micro-grants to some of those members. These micro-grants, of up to $1,000 each, had an immediate impact on the individuals and families who received them.

As FitzJeffries and St. Matthews looked beyond care for their own congregation and saw how the broader community and schools around them had been affected as well, they decided to expand the reach of the micro-grant program. A member of St. Matthews was the principal of Hampton Elementary School, which was destroyed by the tornado and is now closed. Social workers at the school helped pinpoint students in need, and these children and their families became some of the next recipients of the St. Matthews micro-grants. This different form of giving affected the church as well, and they decided to keep a line item in their budget for disaster response of this kind.

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THEIR GOAL IS TO BE PEOPLE WHO KNOW PEOPLE, TO CONNECT TO THEIR COMMUNITY AND THEN CONNECT THEM TO SOMETHING GREATER — RECOGNIZING THAT THIS RELATIONAL MINISTRY REFLECTS GOD’S VERY NATURE.

FitzJeffries notes that with climate change creating increasingly unpredictable weather, we can expect more storms like this in the future. St. Matthews is prepared to meet the need when the time comes. While some congregants wanted to give to organizations and nonprofits, others supported expanding direct giving to families in need — as FitzJeffries put it, flesh-to-flesh* outreach. These grants were no-stringsattached, for whatever the families needed. The idea is that they see a need and follow the lead of the people experiencing it — so in some cases, that meant giving gift cards instead of cash, since not everyone has a bank account. St. Matthews is in a lower-income area of Greensboro, and their response to the need around them shows respect for the wisdom and experience of those who have the need, rather than a preconceived notion of what would be most helpful. This kind of flexible, contextual response is only possible through authentic

relationships, which FitzJeffries says is the most important part of what they are doing at St. Matthews. The church’s disaster response fund isn’t just about the dollars given — it’s about the lives touched and the relationships built. Their goal is to be people who know people, to connect to their community and then connect them to something greater — recognizing that this relational ministry reflects God’s very nature. Rather than insulating within the walls of their church, the congregation of St. Matthews is going outside and joining with God at work in the world. As FitzJeffries put it, the church is a gathering place, not a locked-in place — and that gathering should, as our United Methodist mission statement says, create disciples for the transformation of the world, not just the transformation of the church. May we all be so transformed to engage in incarnational ministry both within the walls of the church and outside of them.

*Incarnation means made flesh!


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THE LIGHT WITHIN YOU BY MELISSA MCGILL PHOTOS BY MAUREEN SIMON


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LEFT: ROBERT PREPARES VASES OF FLOWERS FOR LUNCH AT THE DOWNTOWN WELCOME TABLE.

RIGHT: REV. BRIAN COMBS CELEBRATES HOLY COMMUNION WITH THE HAYWOOD STREET CONGREGATION.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I put my camera down and turned toward the voice. A man sat in the grass, with an old bicycle propped up next to him. He gestured toward the brick church building housing the Haywood Street Congregation and repeated his words. “This place is beautiful. This is my family.” As we settled in for a chat, I learned that his name is Eric and that he’s been on and off the streets for years. He now has an apartment nearby but found a home at Haywood Street long before that. He grew up in Charlotte, rattling off the names of the same streets I wander every day back home. He asked where I go to church, and while he hasn’t been in the sanctuary of my home United Methodist Church, he has been to an AA meeting there. As we continued

to find commonalities, I commented on how small the world is. Eric looked in my eyes and said with a slight smile, “No. It’s not.” He’s right – we found ourselves at this divine intersection on purpose. I came here to explore the intentional community of Haywood Street, a little out of my comfort zone but hopeful to encounter God. And I did – in Eric’s story, in his hospitality, in his love for this church family, in his grief for a beloved friend and even literally, in the tattoo of a weeping Jesus on his forearm.

The Haywood Street Congregation is the juxtaposition of God’s extravagant grace in the midst of poverty and the dehumanization it causes. A far cry from a typical soup kitchen with rushed lines and Styrofoam, the Downtown Welcome Table is a multi-course lunch with stoneware plates, waiters and white-cloth tables adorned by vases of flowers. The homemade food is prepared by volunteers from one of Haywood Street’s 50 partner restaurants, led by Cúrate, an acclaimed darling of the Asheville food scene.

“We do Church in all kinds of ways here, worship is just one of them,” says Executive Director Laura Kirby. A typical Wednesday at Haywood Street includes things like yoga, acupuncture, a story circle, a clothing closet, a Narcan clinic, prayer chapel and free haircuts, in addition to their popular community lunch and participatory worship service.

It’s intentional, backed by sound theology. Founding Pastor Brian Combs is very clear that Haywood Street Congregation is a church, not a social services agency concerned with the maximum output, sometimes at the cost of the individual’s sacred worth.

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He explains, “Often, you’ll find old leftover food being served to this population but we do the exact opposite. If food represents Communion, which in the Christian tradition we believe, God’s grace is a banquet.” Likewise, food here is wellprepared, all-you-can-eat, and served family style. Haywood Street’s latest project is a fresco based on The Beatitudes in the gospel of Matthew. Portraits of community members will be woven into the art which will be 28.5 feet wide by 11 feet tall on the central wall of Haywood Street’s sanctuary. The project has been five years in the making and painting will begin this summer, taking around 60 days to complete. The fresco will be opened to the public this fall. It would be easy to romanticize this mission and “the poor” it serves. But at Haywood Street, the truth is the most beautiful part, if you look close enough. Real relationship is messy, it is hard and it can often be ugly. But it is also holy. That’s what Haywood Street is about — seeing the humanity and honoring the dignity of each person who walks onto their campus, whether they are unhoused or they are shooting up in the bathroom or even if they are privileged, coming face-

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to-face with their own poverty perhaps for the first time. My day at Haywood Street began with yoga in the sanctuary. The instructor, Annie Hammer, has been a companion, what the church calls volunteers, since last year. The gentle yoga class for the community launched in early May and Annie offers chair variations and modifications for newcomers or those dealing with injury or illness. As our group of four moved through the series of yoga poses, the noise and chaos of Haywood Street surrounded us in that sacred space. Most yoga classes end with the word Namaste, a Sanskrit word roughly translated to “the light within me honors the light within you.” And I can’t think of a more apt phrase for this embodiment of the Gospel in the heart of Asheville. LEFT: THE DOWNTOWN WELCOME TABLE IN FULL SWING .

BELOW: YOGA INSTRUCTOR ANNIE HAMMER LEADS A CLASS.


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"DIVERSITY IS OUR STRENGTH" BY MELISSA MCGILL

PHOTOS BY ROBERT ROSS

IN 1963, DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. FAMOUSLY SAID THAT 11:00 A.M. ON SUNDAY IS THE MOST SEGREGATED HOUR IN AMERICA. OFTEN, THOSE WORDS STILL RING TRUE IN 2019. BUT NOT IN JONESVILLE AT NEW BEGINNINGS UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, WHERE A DIVERSE CONGREGATION IS TRYING, AS THEIR NAME SUGGESTS, SOMETHING NEW — WORSHIPPING TOGETHER. Three dwindling churches — the historically black Wesley Chapel and Piney Grove and the white First Jonesville — merged in July 2018. At the time, each averaged around 25 in worship. Several options were floated, including combining the black churches for a contemporary worship service before First Jonesville’s more traditional service.


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For the majority who stayed though, it has been worth it. In the midst of adding three churches together and subtracting a few members, evidence of God’s mysterious multiplication is showing up. “Just seeing those first two or three rows of kids brings me hope. For so long, I didn’t hear babies crying, it was a dying church. Each of us had dying churches,” said Richy Lomax, who serves on the transition team. “Last Sunday for Youth Sunday, we stopped counting at 125. ” “However, as the church leaders and planning team began to interact more with one another, they decided that it would be more reflective of the kingdom of God to become one united, inclusive church,” shared Appalachian District Superintendent Dr. Carl Arrington. “Thus, New Beginnings UMC was born.” Rev. Jeanette Hayes has led the churches through the merger and through the ups and downs of being in relationship together. “Look around at the rainbow God has created. No one feels out of place here,” she preached in one of her sermons. “Diversity is our strength but unity is our goal.” TOP: REV. JEANETTE HAYES PREACHES AT NEW BEGINNINGS.

MIDDLE: THE CHILDREN LEAD THE CONGREGATION IN PRAYER.

LEFT: BILLIE MOORE AND ANNIE VESTAL SING IN THE PRAISE CHOIR.

Paulette Gregory had always been a member at Wesley Chapel. “I thought about joining my daughter’s church in Winston-Salem when we started talking about merging. But something in me kept saying to give this a try. God is here, yes, He is.” But it hasn't been without challenges. On her way to church this morning, Gregory drove past the “for sale” sign at Wesley Chapel. Closing two black churches has been hard. The new congregation at New Beginnings has hosted some “Truth Cafés,” honest conversations on race relations led by a facilitator. All three congregations have lost some original members during this change.

Annie Vestal, from First Jonesville, is part of the combined praise choir. “We’ve learned new songs and a whole new style of worship,” she said. Her son Vance has also gotten involved by sharing art with scripture written on it. “It’s really brought him out of his shell.” The impact doesn’t stop with people in the pews. New Beginnings is having a dynamic impact on the community as well. Terri Williams teaches at Jonesville Elementary, where people from New Beginnings made up 98% of the volunteer proctors for the school’s end-of-year exams. The church also provided much of the food donations at the holidays, feeding 70 families. Of the 330 students at the Title 1 school, 280 receive free or reduced lunch. “We are so grateful for the heart of the people at New Beginnings and the abundance given from this church,” Williams said on behalf of the school. There’s a feeling that the Holy Spirit is moving in this place, among these people. “God is blessing us. I never thought I would live in my lifetime to see this,” said Billie Moore, originally from Piney Grove. “It happened for a reason. God wants people to be together. I don’t care what color, from all different walks of life. Nobody in here is the same, and I love it.”


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CHURCH IN THE PARKING LOT

BY REV. LUKE EDWARDS PHOTOS BY CARRIE TURNER

WHEN MEMBERS OF SNOW HILL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH BEGAN TO ASK WHAT RESOURCES THEY HAD TO OFFER THEIR COMMUNITY, THEY WERE SURPRISED BY THE SIMPLE ANSWER: THEIR PARKING LOT. A YEAR LATER, EVERY SATURDAY MORNING THEIR CHURCH PARKING LOT IS OVERFLOWING WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE THERE TO SHOP AND SELL AT THE SNOW HILL COMMUNITY FLEA MARKET.


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YOUR CHURCH’S PARKING LOT IS A COMMUNITY ASSET. Snow Hill UMC, 20 minutes west of Asheville, is located in a rural and remote corner of Candler that doesn’t have many places for the community to gather. Members of Snow Hill first encountered the area flea market community through their Abundant Harvest Program that distributes fresh produce to their neighbors. When two major flea markets in town were shut down due to property sales, they had the idea to host a flea market at their church. Over the past year, members of Snow Hill, a church with an average attendance of 40, has connected with countless neighbors at the flea market who they would have never met otherwise. Very quickly, a sense of community formed. Church member Linda Barefoot said, “We formed our own little community. We began to know the regular vendors by name, began to miss and worry about vendors that missed a week, and we prayed about their concerns.” They have connected with folks in the flea market community who could not attend church because weekends are prime selling times, folks who had been so hurt by churches that they were hesitant to even use Snow Hill’s restrooms, and folks

who had never attended church before. Rev. Dianne Johnston recalled a vendor who recently said to her, "This church is different from the other churches, isn't it?" When Johnston asked what she meant, she replied, "It has love oozing out of every pore, doesn't it?" This summer, members of “The Dream Team,” the group from Snow Hill that leads the flea market, have started a “Breakfast Church” in the church’s community center that meets during the flea market. Following the Fresh Expression model of Dinner Church, they gather for a meal, music, and a short message about Jesus, then head back to the market. Reaching out to the community has sparked a new energy in Snow Hill. Johnston noted, “Sunday morning is on fire from the excitement of folks who thought we were dead, but now have hope.” When asked what their church had learned over the past year, Barefoot replied, “We learned that everyone has a story and we learned to strongly dislike rainy Saturdays.”

TOP: REV. DIANNE JOHNSTON CHATS WITH A FAMILY NEW TO THE COMMUNITY.

MIDDLE: FOUNDER CARLI DAMIEN SERVES A PLATE FULL OF LOVE.

BOTTOM: SNOW HILL HAS FOUND THAT IN FOLLOWING JESUS, THERE IS NO "SMALL CHANGE."

OPPOSITE PAGE: SATURDAY MORNING CONVERSATIONS BRING A COMMUNITY TOGETHER.


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THE FIGHT OF MY ANCESTORS BY REV. ANGELA PLEASANTS, IN WORD AND PHOTO

IN FEBRUARY 2019, A GROUP OF 40 LAITY AND CLERGY, MOSTLY FROM THE CATAWBA VALLEY DISTRICT, TOOK A LEGACY OF FREEDOM PILGRIMAGE TO SELMA AND MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA TO SEE FIRST HAND THE EVIDENCES BOTH OF SLAVERY AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT BIRTHED THERE.

I am Togolese, Cote d’Ivoire, Bantu, South African, and Zulu. Yes, I am from the warrior tribe of the Zulu Clan. Being a warrior is in my blood. As I began my Legacy of Freedom trip, I was excited and not sure what to expect. Some make this trip to have a story to tell. I made this trip because I felt the call of my ancestors. This was the birthplace of a great evil that stormed the plains of our country. But, it was also the birthplace of a great movement that graced the hearts of many, the Civil Rights Movement. Our

country’s hands are stained with blood that will forever be a part of our fabric. And the blood is rising to tell its story. The story is not words but lives being lived out years later through people like me and others. At first, I didn’t know why God led me to make this trip. Why would God want me to see a place where, when we walked into the Museum of Justice and Peace, I had to step onto the very warehouse floor where countless slaves were housed? At least, those who


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LEFT: REV. ANGELA PLEASANTS AT THE PEACE AND JUSTICE MUSEUM. "EACH OF THESE HANGING ABOVE MY HEAD HAS THE COUNTY, STATE AND NAMES OF BROTHERS AND SISTERS WHO WERE LYNCHED ."

BELOW: A CLOSE UP OF A PILLAR LISTING NAMES OF THOSE LYNCHED IN GRANVILLE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA.

"WHEREVER I GO, I WILL RISE AND LET FREEDOM RING."

survived the cramped voyage over. Or the ones who were able to walk on the shores instead of jumping, choosing a watery grave rather than the slave master’s whip. Yes, my feet stood on the very spot where these poor souls stood and waited for their fate. What was my call to this place? Feeling my heart lurch as I stood by this beautiful water fountain in Market Square downtown Montgomery, but could only see what was there before – the auction block where mothers, fathers, boys, and girls

stood as they were auctioned off like they were nothing but animals. God, what do you want me to know as I stand here reflecting — feeling — what is this that I feel? Why did you call me to walk among the 5,000 names representing countless men, women, children who were lynched across this blood-soaked country? And, my tired feet walking across Edmund Pettus Bridge. A bridge named after the grand dragon of the Klu Klux

Klan. Why? I smile, for God gave me my answer. I rise. As the whip of the slave master could not keep my ancestors down, because they knew freedom would come one day. Yes, one day. I rise! Because I too see freedom. God has given me a warrior spirit, the fight of my ancestors. God has given me the prophetic call, and wherever I go, I will rise and let freedom ring. That is what this Legacy of Freedom ride meant to me.


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BUILDING ON THE PAST, EXPERIMENTING FOR

THE FUTURE

BY MELISSA MCGILL PHOTOS SHARED BY BETHESDA UMC AND HAW CREEK COMMONS HAW CREEK COMMONS WAS BORN AS A WHAT-IF. “RATHER THAN CLOSING THE CONGREGATION COMPLETELY, WHAT HAPPENS IF WE PARTNER AND SEE IF REVITALIZATION CAN COME THROUGH THIS PROCESS?” EXPLAINED REV. LUKE LINGLE, LEADER WITH THE MISSION WISDOM FOUNDATION. “RECOGNIZING THAT WHATEVER THE NEW THING IS THAT WE’RE DOING HERE, IT BUILDS ON THE PAST.”

LEFT: THE HAW CREEK COMMONS COWORKING SPACE IS FILLED WITH NATURAL LIGHT AND MODERN UPDATES.

BELOW: SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH. REV. KAREN DOUCETTE PICTURED IN THE CENTER AT A BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS.


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Tours start in the archive room. This is a foundational principle, not just logistics. This patch of land near the Haw Creek has been the home of a congregation since the 1800’s. In a small room filled with artifacts from Bethesda United Methodist Church’s almost 200-year history, the message is that where we’ve been is just as important as where we’re going. When conversations between Bethesda, the Missional Wisdom Foundation and the Western North Carolina Conference began, 13 people were on the church rolls. After meeting once a month for a year, they decided to embark on an experiment. This experiment that became Haw Creek Commons centers on a theological idea that people gather in community primarily in four ways — around work, around food, around children, and around affinities or hobbies. The new space reflects that. A coworking space and a commercial kitchen now fill the basement. A new natural playground and path connects with the neighboring elementary school. And spaces around the

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campus are lovingly allocated for groups like a quilting club, beekeepers and gardeners. Community Pastor Rev. Karen Doucette, who has deep roots here, thoughtfully and intentionally leads the congregation through this transitional time. During the massive renovations, the church met next door in the parsonage-turned-retreat-house and focused on the garden. As I eat a freshly-picked ripe strawberry warm from the sun, it brings to mind verses from Jeremiah about planting gardens in exile. During those four years, the congregation grew in number. “We thought it would be a holding time, but people just came,” Doucette shared. “They want to keep things simple. They want to learn to serve and to be followers of Christ.” “They understand the idea of the commons, that they’re a part of something bigger than just the congregation.” Lingle added. “Commons require that everyone participating gives to the space and receives from it.” Today, approximately 45-50 people are part of Bethesda’s worshipping community and 25 people currently use the space here for their work, ranging from artists and therapists to caterers and creatives. Desiree is an artist using space here as a studio. She came to Haw Creek Commons through the community garden before the building was even finished. She works with beeswax that she puts through printing and painting process. Her art is on display in several of the meeting rooms alongside wooden tables made from the church’s pews, another tie to the history of this space. In the Sanctuary, the original stained-glass pairs with hardwood floors and trendy griege paint, a popular mix of gray and beige. It’s a multi-use space and the congregation has experimented with facing different directions to correspond with different liturgical seasons of the church. Some new traditions they have begun feel both new and old at the same time. When a new member joins, the congregation brings canned jams and jellies forward as an offering and a welcome gift. Throughout the whole building, there is a sense of returning to the simplicity of our roots, to the core of what matters and brings us together in community, as way to create new spaces for the future.


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SUPPORT FOR THE FOSTER CARE JOURNEY BY KEN GARFIELD PHOTOS BY ROBERT ROSS A TENDER, NEW MINISTRY IS BRINGING THE WORDS OF SCRIPTURE TO LIFE: LET THE LITTLE CHILDREN COME TO ME… (MATTHEW 19:14). ONLY AT MOUNT TABOR UNITED METHODIST CHURCH IN SALISBURY, A NEW SUPPORT GROUP IS OPEN TO FOSTER AND ADOPTIVE PARENTS, TOO. THE MISSION, SAID REV. KRIS MARES, IS TO REMIND ALL GOD’S CHILDREN AND PARENTS THAT THEY ARE A CHERISHED PART OF THE BODY OF CHRIST.

Mount Tabor United Methodist Church, with 60 typically in worship each Sunday, is a country church with big dreams. It helped establish the One Church One Child ministry in Salisbury, a partnership of the Department of Social Services and local congregations devoted to helping families involved with DSS. With a heart for the unseen and overlooked, the congregation has now organized this support group for foster and adoptive parents. It took a


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“GOD CAN MAKE SOMETHING AMAZING OUT OF THE BROKEN PIECES OF LIFE.” RIGHT: REV. KRIS MARES DURING THE FELLOWSHIP MEAL.

LEFT: ROBERT SHOE PLAYS A GAME WITH THE TEENS.

lot of praying and planning, but it’s off to a beautiful beginning: On the second Monday of each month, these Moms and Dads and their children are invited to share supper with Mount Tabor folks. A grant from the Uwharrie District helps make the meals possible. At the end of each evening, families can take home leftovers. Forget about Deena Tatum’s homemade potato soup, however. It gets gone in a hurry. After supper, while children and teens head off for structured activities in their own age group, parents share the experience of raising children who are not under the

care of their biological parents. A dozen or so foster and adoptive families – none Mount Tabor members – have been a part of the ministry so far. Church member Robert Shoe volunteers to work with teens, while his wife, Jo Ann, tends to the littlest ones. Robert has two younger siblings who went through the foster care system. He knows full well the importance of what his church is doing: “If all we do is provide them a place to let their hair down and talk with other parents who know what they’re going through, then it’s all worthwhile.”

Every foster and adoptive child has a story to tell, said Mares, who is starting her eighth year at Mount Tabor. The support group gives parents the opportunity to talk about the common issues of challenging behavior, what’s going on in school, and what might be going on with their child’s case. The congregation’s intent also is to open its doors to these families – to all families and individuals! – for worship, Bible study, Vacation Bible School, youth groups, holiday gatherings and more. “Our goal is to provide a place of support and a sense of community,” Mares said. “These kids come from hard places and have trauma stories and trauma history.” As is true with much of ministry, Mares’ heart has been shaped by personal experience. She and her husband, Bill, have seven children, ages eight to 25. Three came to them through the foster care system. Laughing, she admits to knowing a thing or two about “controlled chaos” at home, the emphasis on chaos. And yet in their own family, and in their church family, they have accepted the challenge. “God can make something amazing out of the broken pieces of life,” Mares said. “These families have a place in the church. This is God’s call for us.”


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AT HOME UNDER THE GOLDEN ARCHES REDEMPTIVE FELLOWSHIP AT “MCCHURCH” BY REV. SARAH HOWELL-MILLER PHOTO SHARED BY REV. CHIP WEBB

Comparisons between churches and fast food restaurants are usually disparaging — from criticism of a “Have it your way” attitude that can undermine unity in worship, to the metaphor of grabbing spiritual fast food to the detriment of deeper discipleship — but for Rev. Chip Webb, pastor of Brookstown United Methodist Church in Pfafftown, the McDonald’s golden arches have become a symbol of redemptive fellowship. “This is really a Fresh Expression that found me,” Webb told me when we talked on the phone about the ministry at the McDonald’s on Reynolda Road in Winston-Salem. The fellowship found Webb through Gray Martin, the former Worship Committee chair at Brookstown, who coined the term “McChurch.” Martin was an older adult who worked at Quality Oil and, as Webb put it, lived at McDonald’s and went home to sleep. Before he died of cancer several years ago, Martin introduced Webb and

others to the unconventional but profoundly transformative community of McChurch. The Reynolda Road McDonald’s is an intersection of several different worlds — from Wake Forest students and faculty; to senior adults stopping on their way to and from doctor’s appointments (Webb found it was a great place to do pastoral visits with church members); to transitionally homeless or marginally housed persons who frequent the nearby public library branch, live in subsidized housing adjacent to the library, or visit a food pantry down the road. While health-conscious middleclass Americans like myself might eschew “unhealthy” fast food whenever possible, for vulnerable people, McDonald’s is a source of affordable, calorie-dense nourishment. It is also a safe place to rest and find community. The Fresh Expression at McDonald’s mostly manifests as


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retirement community in Winston-Salem, but that we don’t when it comes to mental health diagnoses. This Fresh Expression is reaching out to people like Jennifer, who was transitionally homeless in 2017 and who eventually was housed, though the security of her public housing is threatened by a building buyout; and Bill, who was brutally beaten by local teenagers while living under a bridge and died later that year. Webb speculates that if the tiny house ministry had been up and running, they might have saved his life; and so many other people who are innocent, abused, and victims of a system that does not account for their abilities or lack thereof. REV. CHIP WEBB AND KEN A SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE FRESH EXPRESSION AND "MY MOST WELL-READ AND INTELLIGENT FRIEND."

one-on-one relationships with those who seek shelter there. Webb frequents the space, and two members of New Hope UMC go to McDonald’s daily looking for people to befriend. Now Brookstown is pursuing a tiny house ministry to support their new friends’ needs. Partnering with an initiative in Greensboro building tiny houses for homeless veterans, they are developing an alternative form of transitional housing. Webb notes that United Methodists love to provide a continuum of care — he cites the continuing care model of the Arbor Acres

Webb is clear that redemption happens not just for his friends experiencing homelessness, but for him and other church members. In Matthew 25, the one feeding, clothing and visiting isn’t Jesus — the one who is hungry, naked and lonely is Jesus. Ministries like the McDonald’s Fresh Expression remind us that when we seek out people to love and serve, we aren’t just being the hands and feet of Christ, we are going where Christ is already present. The next time you stop at a McDonald’s, remember the work Webb and others are doing in Winston-Salem, and take a closer look at whoever is inside — you might just find Jesus there.


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ONE HIKER AT A TIME BY REV. SHERRIE AND ALAN SHORK, IN WORD AND PHOTO

The Smoky Mountain Hiking Community launched this year as a Fresh Expression of church by Rev. Sherrie Shork and her husband Alan, a certified Blue Ridge Naturalist. They share their inspiration for ministry: We both share a passion for hiking, and felt an excitement and the potential for synergy in a new second-half-of-life ministry. We define our mission as helping people experience, learn and grow in their appreciation of what the natural world teaches us about the Creator and our role as human beings in the Earth community. Our work combines Sherrie's long history and love of developing small group communities within the church, with Alan’s knowledge of natural

science and efforts to interpret the discoveries of science in sacred ways. Discussions with friends led to growing our team of “founding hikers,” and our visibility continues to expand through our website (HikingChurch.org) and social media presence (Facebook and Instagram). We are open to people of all faith backgrounds, or no faith background, and we are also recognized as a “Reconciling Community” by the Reconciling Ministries Network. By helping our hikers see God in nature — everywhere they look — our God will be seen as so much more awesome and worthy of worship, and we will become better human beings, one hiker at a time.


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PRECIOUS IN HIS SIGHT

BY MELISSA MCGILL, IN WORD AND PHOTO

THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD LEARNING CENTER — A BILINGUAL, MULTICULTURAL PRESCHOOL AT CENTRAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH IN EAST CHARLOTTE — OFFERS SHARED LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES OF VARIED CULTURES, LANGUAGES, AND INCOMES LEADING TO INCREASED SCHOOL READINESS AND ACCELERATED LANGUAGE ACQUISITION.


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LEFT: CHILDREN OF THE WORLD STUDENTS SING ON PENTECOST.

RIGHT: DIRECTOR MARIA CARDARELLI WITH TWO PRESCHOOL GRADUATES.

On Pentecost Sunday, Children of the World Learning Center had their first preschool graduation. This was the “culmination of tremendous investment from Central United Methodist Church, Wesley Community Development Corporation and the Western North Carolina Justice and Reconciliation team, who gave time, energy and grants to make the preschool a reality,” said Rev. Susan Suárez Webster, assistant pastor for community outreach at Central. In its first year, the preschool had 20 students with backgrounds from 11 different nations. Three students graduated and many of the younger students are expected to return next year. Central participated in Wesley CDC’s Seeds of Change training, which “introduces churches to creative ways to use church property for greater ministry and community connection,” said Rev. Karen Easter Bayne, vice president of church engagement for Wesley CDC. “As Central developed their idea to create this new multicultural, multilingual preschool, we worked with them to assess the building and design the renovations that would be needed.” Central also received a $10,000 grant for building renovations. As the children come in, they fall right into their familiar routine, washing their hands, checking themselves in on a bilingual board and then gathering at learning stations in groups. Maria Cardarelli is the Program Administrator for the Children of the World Learning Center and brings 18 years of experience in preschool dual language programing. Cardarelli was born in Venezula to an immigrant family from Italy. She adopted her third culture and language when she moved to the United States 23 years ago. “Seeing the different families, from different backgrounds, different cultures connect

immediately has been an incredible experience,” said Cardarelli. “We embrace diversity and we are also open to listen and to let everyone participate in their own space.” Parent Karla Larraga found out about the new bilingual preschool through a booth at the annual carnival that the church hosts. “I’m bilingual but when I was going to school, this kind of thing wasn’t offered,” she said. Her son is four years old and it was important to her that he learn both languages. “He gets to socialize with other kids his own age and learn about their cultures. He comes home singing Spanish songs. He really loves it.” Another parent, Amy Hawn Nelson, is an educational researcher with a background in teaching and administration. “I wanted my daughter in a dual language environment and an intentionally diverse environment. This has exceeded every expectation we had,” Hawn Nelson said. “She knows all her letters and sounds, she can count to 20 in Spanish and English, all of her colors in both languages. It’s been a really good academic experience but also a really good social one.” Jill Henley goes to church at Central and teaches in English on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the preschool. Her teaching partner, Irma Sandoval, teaches in Spanish on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “The exciting part of the multicultural piece is that it made itself happen. We ARE multicultural because of who we serve,” Henley shared. “It’s a natural expression of who we are.”


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