Active Faith and Partnerships Involve Men in Ministry
|United Methodist Men from Bonners Ferry (Idaho) United Methodist Church work on a landscaping project at the Twinlow Camp and Retreat Center. Photo courtesy of Larry Dirks|
By Kelly C. Martini
Living an active faith became an almost-urgent pursuit when Ronald Wesley returned from serving two years in Iraq.
Before, Wesley says, he was too busy with his own life. "When I went to Iraq, I can't say it didn't change me. You really see what's important in life when it could be taken away from you at any minute."
He wasn't seeking leadership positions in St. Paul's United Methodist Church of Wilmington, Del., just involvement in ministry. But, the men sought him out.
"It kind of happened that they needed a United Methodist Men president, and they wanted someone that was young," says Wesley, 42.
An intergenerational fellowship began. The biggest challenge was reaching men of all generations, especially those juggling professional and family responsibilities.
A younger leader may have attracted some new people, but the controversial programs chosen for meetings drew more -- presentations from a local politician with a divinity degree from Yale and a newspaper columnist who spoke on hot-button issues, and showing Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."
The Rev. James Van Der Wall, senior pastor of St. Paul's, says the group has "taken some heat from those who disagree, but critics found that there was a disadvantage in boycotting. It was more effective to be an active presence and discuss the disagreements in a loving way."
"We try to present all sides of the issue," Wesley says. Two months after the global warming presentation, a state climatologist spotlighted a different perspective.
|Ron Wesley works with boys at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Wilmington, Del. Photo courtesy of Ron Wesley|
Wesley sees the meetings as a kickoff to move the men from education and fellowship to more hands-on ministry. He often chooses speakers from the Delaware Humanities Forum -- a nonprofit group that offers programs on a variety of topics -- and United Methodists involved in mission.
The idea of active engagement is stirring many men's groups across the United States as mainline denominations struggle with ways to get men through the doors of a church, then involved. Ninety percent of American males say they believe in God, but only 29 percent attend church regularly, according to the Barna Research Group.
David Murrow has stirred up controversy and challenges with his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, stating that the worship and institution have become "feminized." His thesis raises eyebrows among some churchgoers, yet throughout the church, a lot of men loudly voice opinions about why their numbers have dwindled.
Patrick Morley, a leader of Man in the Mirror, an organization that resources pastors and leaders trying to reach men, writes that Eastern Orthodox churches are retaining men in equal numbers to women. When he asked 100 of the men why, they said they were being "challenged" and their faith was "active, not passive."
Active and challenging are common themes among men of The United Methodist Church.
In Camden, N.J., the Latino men of Asbury United Methodist Church have taken on children's ministries in a community that has traditionally struggled with poverty, crime, poor education and resulting transitions.
The men have adjusted frequently through the past six years, changing ministries to meet emerging community and congregational needs. With a core group of half a dozen men, the meetings attract 30 to 40 men at varying times.
They began a "Christ-garden" ministry, a metaphor for children who were like flowers in the garden, requiring tending, nurturing and care. A Friday outreach program involved children from the community in Vacation Bible School-type activities. The men also help the children preserve their language and culture.
The Rev. Irving Cotto, the pastor at Asbury, sees the success as coming from two factors.
"The congregation has had a tradition of the whole family being involved," Cotto says. "And, when you have men serve as role models, it encourages the new members. They see it and say, 'It's OK to be involved.'"
When participation has declined, the core group of men has readjusted the ministry to meet the needs around them.
In Idaho, Larry Dirks of Bonners Ferry United Methodist Church says monthly programs are also ever-changing: a bush pilot in South Africa inoculating for diphtheria, Volunteers in Mission presentations, a man working for the Peace Corps and another who took children fishing as a volunteer for Metro Ministries in New York City. Themes lead to action -- whatever's needed.
The audience is varied, but programs can pull people of the community into the church and their meetings.
The group reorganized with a phone chain of mostly retired men. In addition to breakfast and dinner programs, they chose projects. Their first project logged more than 500 man-hours of rebuilding a cabin at Twinlow Camp and Retreat Center. They wired, insulated and installed new windows, pine ceilings and floors. When done, they looked around the community, offering to do whatever was necessary to help those in need.
"Men feel a need to do hands-on work. At least personally, I feel that way," Dirks says. "We can look back and feel good about what we've done."
In Jonesboro, Ga., the men of Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church minister outside church walls. They focus on reaching young men by heading into a game room and playing billiards with them. They partner with men's groups across the state, helping them establish their own ministries and supporting them with things like church and home repair following a tornado in Americus, Ga.
"We rarely use agendas," says group president Howard Turnipseed. "We just let the Lord guide us and do what is pleasing to Him."
Ed Enstine, a member of Danby Federated Church in Ithaca, N.Y., and president of United Methodist Men in the North Central New York Conference, thinks this is an effective approach: "Men find Jesus with their hands before they ever receive Him into their hearts." In addition to gleaning projects and trips to Turkey Hill, Miss., to rebuild a town destroyed by Hurricane Rita, the men have built wheelchair ramps across the conference.
|United Methodist Men from Danby Federated Church in Ithaca, N.Y., build wheelchair ramps at homes across the North Central New York Conference. Photo courtesy of Ed Enstine|
"If you invite a man to church or a Bible study, he may not come," Enstine says. "However, if you call him to ask for his circular saw, he often shows up to help."
"The church doesn't always do a very good job of offering these types of activities, but the men I see are looking forward to helping with something worthwhile that's needed and that they know they can do well. It resonates with these men."
Enstine says they don't limit their ministry, but use the word "partnership" often. The wheelchair ramp and hurricane relief ministries came from Volunteers in Mission. Gleaning projects partner with the Society of St. Andrew and local food pantries. They open the projects to anyone who wants to participate and find that Bible studies and church members result.
"It's attractive to those who are not necessarily attending church, and it's one of the ways men can get into evangelism without calling it 'evangelism,'" Enstine says. Through hands-on service "we're offering portals to get people involved, and that gets them addicted. Then they start asking, 'Why are we doing this?' and branch off into Bible studies and prayer groups."
Jose Miranda, pastor of Vida en Cristo Jesus, a Hispanic fellowship in the poorest area of Wichita, Kan., sees that many needs among males in that community stem from systemic issues. Hispanic families make up close to three-quarters of that neighborhood, many of them undocumented workers with a high illiteracy rate. Life-threatening issues -- gang activity, extreme poverty, abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse and family problems -- evolve out of this situation.
Miranda, along with a few other volunteers, offers specific ministries for men to meet the needs they witness: literacy classes, help legalizing their immigration status, Alcoholics Anonymous, health classes and counseling. They've even begun a program to prevent children and youth from turning to gangs when they reach high school.
Partnering with existing groups is key for the ministry with little funding and few volunteers.
"This is how we appeal to people. They come to our programs, and we offer them more," Miranda says. It can be difficult in a mostly Catholic community to attract members to the church, yet Miranda feels that ministry is more than that. "It has to be tough. Otherwise, we'd probably claim successes were our work instead of God's."
--Kelly C. Martini, freelance writer, Glen Haven's, Pa.
At a glance
Asbury United Methodist Church | 2926 Westfield Ave., Camden, NJ 08105 | (856) 541-7180 | www.gbgm-umc.org/asburycamden | Pastor: Rev. Irving Cotto | Average Attendance: 125 | Greater New Jersey Conference
Bonners Ferry United Methodist Church | Denver & Lincoln, Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | (208) 267-2343 | email@example.com | www.gbgm-umc.org/bonnersferry | Pastor: Rev. James Murphy | Average Attendance: 108 | Pacific Northwest Conference
St. Paul's United Methodist Church | 1314 Foulk Road, Wilmington, DE 19803 | (302) 478-3135 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.stpaulsumcde.org | Senior pastor: Rev. James Van Der Wall | Average attendance: 250 | Peninsula-Delaware Conference
Andrews Chapel United Methodist Church | 122 Watterson St., Jonesboro, GA 30237 | (770) 471-7200 | email@example.com | www.gbgm-umc.org/acumc | Pastor: Rev. Wimberly Hale Jr. | Average attendance: 450 | North Georgia Conference
Vida en Cristo Jesus, Hispanic fellowship at Brookside United Methodist Church | 2760 S. Roosevelt, Wichita, KS 67210 | (316) 262-3323 | Pastor: Jose Miranda | Jmiranda53@att.com | Kansas West Conference