Monday, December 19, 2011

Gifts at Christmas

Christmas is a time of giving. One of the great gifts of the North Alabama Conference is Urban Ministry. This year we celebrated the 35th Anniversary of this vital ministry to the community (West Birmingham) that has the lowest median income in the entire state with a poverty rate of over 40%. Urban Ministry serves more than 7000 each year through the Community Kitchen, Food Pantry, Homelessness Prevention and Emergency Services programs. Then there’s the Urban Kids after-school and summer learning program, the Joe Rush Center for Urban Mission (which offers exterior house painting), and West End Community Gardens (17,000 volunteer hours were given by people this year!).
Since 2010, Urban Ministry has offered Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Rehousing, a new program under the care of social worker Jeff Bowman. Jeff administered approximately $90,000 this year to assist families at risk of homelessness with rent, utilities, and housing, helping more than 250 individuals avoid homelessness and achieve long-term housing stability.

Visit and you will see all the good that is being done in the name of Christ and our church.
As you can imagine, this has been one of the toughest years ever in finding funds for Urban Ministry. Our new director, Rev. Melissa Patrick, has been cultivating Urban Ministry's friends and supporters in a wonderful way. Most of the people served by Urban Ministry didn’t need to be hit by the spring storms to be in dire straits; they were living on the edge of desperation long before the storms without anyone to help except Urban Ministry.
This Christmas please join Patsy and me in sending a gift to Urban Ministry. You can be sure that your gift will be used wisely and widely by an accountable, proven ministry, one of the best creations of our Conference and one of the best ways to show our active compassion for our sisters and brothers at this sacred time of the year.

Will Willimon

Urban Ministry, Inc., 1229 Cotton Ave., S.W., Birmingham, AL 35211.
Call (205) 781-0517

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Union Chapel UMC- What My Eyes Have Seen

Pastor Christopher Herbert is leading some dramatic changes at Union Chapel UMC. Most of our small membership churches are in serious decline – but not all! A key to the small congregation having a viable future, from my studies of our small congregations, is the pastor’s leadership toward growth. There is nothing amiss in a congregation being small – there is everything wrong with the idea that churches have no part to play in the growth of the Kingdom of God. After seeing some of the great growth at Union Chapel, I asked Christopher to comment on what is happening there and he gave testimony to a church where “the light shines.”

Will Willimon

How can I describe a whole church that is serious about God’s mission? How can I describe these things that my eyes have seen?

How do I describe the church wrapping its arms around an unwed couple with a child and saying, “you are our family now”? Their wedding was a few weeks ago and now while the father is working to provide, the mother doesn’t miss church and serves others because of the love that they were shown.

How do I describe the many families that have decided to, in love, teach others that “playing church” must not be in the cards. How do I describe other people in the community and beyond telling me that they hear of the great things happening at Union Chapel (this doesn’t happen unless our folks go out and spread the good news of Jesus and His church that seeks to honor Him).

How do I describe a place where older people have decided to pour out blessings on the next generation? How do I describe younger people being respectful of older people, and listening intently to their wisdom? How do I describe the launch of a prayer shawl ministry and a majority of those attending those meetings are from other churches, backgrounds, or denominations? These are just a few things that my eyes have seen and any words I have right now seem inadequate in describing what is happening.

My eyes have seen God’s people do indescribable things before and it’s always beautiful. I realize that I’ve been blessed in the past and I’m so blessed today. It is always a blessing to be in ministry with people who just want to hear God say, “WELL DONE”.

All Glory is God’s Glory as we grow.

The light shines!

Until the nets are full,

Monday, December 05, 2011

The Power of Connection

“The North Alabama Conference is a model of how to respond to a natural disaster and how to keep responding over the long haul.” That’s what a fellow bishop said to me the other day.

I agree. I couldn’t be more proud of our sustained, active response to the spring storms. We have been hosts to hundreds of UM work teams every week since the storms. We have purchased and equipped staging areas and housing for these volunteers, and we continue to handle hundreds of cases. I asked Nancy Cole, who has been responsible for designing an excellent system of response.

Will Willimon

As Coordinator of Disaster Recovery for the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church, I could write any number of stories of survival and heroism during the April 27 tornado outbreak in Alabama. It has been an amazing time of strength and courage on the part of the people of Alabama. As a United Methodist Clergy who has a unique perspective on this tragedy, it has been the power of our United Methodist Connectional system that has been so impressive to me.

The first Sunday after the storm, Bishop Willimon asked to preach in a church whose pastor was impacted by the storm. Forest Lake United Methodist in Tuscaloosa had 37 members who had lost their homes and/ or businesses. The pastor was in the hospital very ill as a direct result of the storm. Bishop Willimon preached and I served as liturgist this first Sunday after the storm. Our presence was one of the first examples of our Connectional system at work. Also present in that service was Tom Hazelwood, UMCOR's Assistant General Secretary for disaster response in the United States. He addressed the congregation about the various ways UMCOR would be in partnership with us throughout our response and recovery phases. Our District Superintendent was also present that day. The Bishop and District Superintendents were available to all of our churches who had been impacted by the storm and are still very supportive of the recovery efforts.

Further power of our Connectional System became evident as UMCOR trained Early Response Teams began to pour in our state from all over our country. Early on in the disaster, I served as the Southwest District Coordinator of Disaster Response. This District includes Tuscaloosa. We had over seventy UMCOR trained teams from all over the country come to Tuscaloosa during that time. We had many other teams throughout our state as well. I could never say enough about the professionalism, the expertise displayed, and the genuine heart for ministry that was exhibited by the teams of Methodist people who wanted to be the hands and feet of Christ to us.

I have been so proud of the way our Conference has responded to the tragedy, beginning with our Bishop, his Cabinet, and Conference staff. Early on, a Disaster Response Center was set up at our Conference Center with volunteers pouring in from throughout the area to answer the 1-800 phone lines and direct incoming teams to areas that needed help.

Now, with the help of recovery teams throughout the Methodist Connectional System which include UMVIM trained teams, we have organized for the long haul. We could not have come this far in our recovery without the help of the UMCOR staff and consultants. Every one of them has helped us in some way. I am so grateful for our United Methodist Connectional System and how it has been the power that has fueled the Methodist response to recovery in Alabama.

*Rev. Nancy Cole is serving as Conference Disaster Recovery Coordinator and Natural Church Development Coordinator.

P.S. Rev. Clay Farrington and Nacole Hillman are leading a remarkable revitalization of our Conference Youth Ministry. Are the youth at your church participating in some of the great upcoming events? Click here to learn how your youth can be engaged. - WHW