April 22nd was a special occasion at the Cottonwood United Methodist Church just west of Wayland. They recently put up a Little Free Library for the children of their community, and Saturday was the day they dedicated it.
Their pastor, Nancy Sutherland, explained that they wanted the kids “to have the opportunity to get a book at any time for their reading pleasure.”
The congregation’s effort was a part of their response to the Change a Child’s Story initiative of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church. Across Iowa our churches are striving to give one million books and read one million hours to children in poverty by June of 2017.
Little Free Library is a registered nonprofit organization that “inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.” Over 50,000 registered Little Free Library book exchanges have been erected in all fifty U.S. states and over 70 countries around the world as of the end on 2016.
The dedication event at Cottonwood included an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony to introduce the Little Free Library. “The shelves will be full of books,” church members said in their invitation to community members, “so please feel free to bring a book and take a book.”
The youth Sunday school class at Calvary United Methodist Church in Walcott is exploring the Bible through a new role-playing game. Eleven students are involved so far, but leaders are hoping to expand participation with special events this summer.
The game begins with a biblical story. Each participant develops characters to take action to accomplish their mission. A roll of the dice determines the outcome of each step of the game.
One class explored Matthew 2:13-23, the story of the slaughter of the innocents. Jesus and his family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath. During the course of the game, the kids had to figure out how they were going to notify Joseph and Mary that it was safe to come home.
Dr. Grant Allison, who teaches the class, asked his daughter and her husband for some advice about connecting with the kids. The couple are professional graphic artists who have worked for Marvel Comics in the past. As they talked about ideas, the game took shape.
Now the game is the focus of a Ministry Action Plan (MAP) for their pastor, Al Coffin, in his work with the Southeast District Operational Team of SLI, the Spiritual Leadership Initiative of the Iowa Conference. The game is “still a work in progress,” he says, “but (we’re) enjoying some early successes.”
The people of the Spring Grove United Methodist Church went to extraordinary lengths to welcome guests when they hosted a recent weekly Lenten service. On Sunday evening, March 19th, their church building was packed with 67 participants. The United Methodist Churches in Burlington and West Burlington have had a practice for many years of worshiping around the city during the season of Lent.
Members had made arrangements for new gravel on their long driveway. The road can get muddy in the spring, so the effort served to improve both its appearance and safety. In addition, the many fallen sticks and branches from a recent storm were cleared from their lawn.
Inside, they set up extra chairs, complete with hymnals, in expectation of a larger group than usual at the church. Members made preparations for the meal and enlisted ushers for the service without waiting for their pastor’s prompting.
“I am not surprised,” said Jan Garza, their pastor. “The Spring Grove family is a wonderful, caring, independent, dedicated group of loving individuals.”
The members went out of their way to offer a ministry of hospitality in preparation for guests on a special day. It was a simple, yet profound way to welcome others to the peaceful grounds of the church on the very southern edge of the city.
The United Church of Crawfordsville is embarking on an ambitious goal in 2017 to connect more with young families in their community. They are building on some momentum that has been developing since they hired Amysara Richardson, in partnership with the Ainsworth Community Church, to coordinate their youth and family ministry.
Already, they have had a couple of youth-led worship services in the last year. They also have been providing scholarship support for kids to attend camp and participated in fundraising events for the youth.
Now they are looking at intentional ways for church members to develop and deepen their relationships with children, youth and their families in the community. This year they are considering occasional events like a family game night or a community dinner just for the sake of enjoying one another’s company.
They hope to expand their card ministry to acknowledge families who have new babies. They are looking into sharing photos of youth and family activities regularly in worship to help their members be more aware of the good things that are happening. They plan to include regular opportunities for prayers and announcements in worship to support these new efforts as a sign of the Holy Spirit’s leading in their lives.
Rachel Yochum, a laywoman from Burlington, recently developed an online Bible study that began when she sent out some invitations to friends on Facebook. She is a new mother, and caring for her infant daughter “made attending a Bible study quite daunting,” she explained. “So, I decided to do something about it!”
Her Bible Bridge Ministry is an “alternative means of creating Christian community and educational opportunities” to help people grow in their faith. She uses the Serendipity Bible for small groups as a basic tool for the study. She posts Bible lessons for participants to study on their own time, using a Google program called Blogger. Group members then can post responses and prayer requests to share with each other on the website.
A Google program called Hangouts helps the group meet “in person” every two to three weeks to discuss the lesson. The program works like a phone call through their computers, and participants have an optional video component so everyone can see, as well as hear, each other.
The ministry “has grown organically by word of mouth as more people have become interested,” Rachel explained. “I have slowly learned new technology and adapted the study format as we have gone along and needs have arisen.”
Spiritual Leadership, Inc. (SLI) is “a walk-along-side coaching process” that has been working with the Iowa Conference in the last two years to grow leaders “in their faithfulness to God and their fruitfulness for God.” The process focuses on loving, learning and leading, three timeless principles that SLI consultants have found “to be the most effective and efficient path to fruitfulness” for churches, businesses and communities.
The Southeast District operational team for SLI has been meeting since last September, gathering most months for 8-hour sessions to develop relationships with each other as disciples of Jesus Christ. With these deepening relationships, they are able to learn about strategies for adaptive leadership and change in the church, study opportunities for ministry in their context, discern particular experiments to try in response to God’s calling, and lead their churches in implementing generative ministry action plans (MAPs) that reap results over long periods of time.
The members of the Southeast District operational team include Al Coffin (pastor in Walcott), Jason Collier (pastor in Crawfordsville and Ainsworth), Moody Colorado (pastor in Wellman and West Chester), Debbie Finney (lay person from Christ UMC in Douds), Tiffany Hauptman (lay person from Danville), Kerrin Kirkpatrick (pastor at Asbury UMC in Bettendorf), Anita Miller (lay person from West Chester), Joel Taube (lay person from Embury UMC in rural Lee County), Phil Carver (Southeast District field outreach minister) and Lilian Gallo Seagren (Southeast District superintendent).
Moody Colorado, our pastor in Wellman and West Chester, uses music as a way to spread the gospel. He visits three different retirement centers in his area each month to sing favorite hymns and camping songs as well as music from popular culture and movies.
He equipment is a Karaoke microphone, the Magic Mic 2006 Wow ED 7000, which is made by Enter Tech Technology. Although this model is no longer in stores, similar products can be found online at the Magic Sing Store. Accessory chips are available in various volumes with hymns and songs to meet a variety of musical tastes.
This portable system sets up in minutes and includes a display for the words of the songs, which can even be plugged into a television set. Rev. Colorado uses the microphone to lead large crowds in sing-alongs, but singers can take turns picking favorite songs and singing solos into the microphone like you would at a Karaoke bar. He also uses these resources for a weekly Karaoke Kids Club after school on Wednesdays in West Chester and occasionally even Sunday morning worship.
“It gives me so much joy to know that my services are wanted,” he exclaims. “This is the most rewarding use of my God-given gifts.”