I serve as the Director of Student Ministries at FUMC in Cleburne, TX. Cleburne has a population of about 30k and more than 80 churches in city limits. It’s a very interesting place to do ministry, because the town is abuzz with Church activity, but the community also exhibits deep, painful needs.
One of my most loved ministries in Cleburne is the work our congregation does with our adopted elementary school—Santa Fe Elementary. When I first started about a year ago, I thought this was a lose affiliation like I had seen in other congregations, but that was not the case. We have mentors and tutors from our church serving in the school every single day. We send food home for the weekend for kids on free-and-reduced lunch. During testing days, the school stays quiet because the younger kids come to play on our church playground. Last summer we built an outdoor learning center where kids can learn about nature and enjoy time outside. It is not your average once-a-year-school-supplies-drive (although we do that, too!) On Sunday, our prayer team will go and pray over every single desk on campus.
One of my youth who went to Santa Fe Elementary is now a senior. He told me once that he was passionate about writing to his 4th grader pen pal because he knows what it’s like to be discounted and wants them to know all the places they can go.
This week I got to spend time on campus, greeting students and parents as they came up to register for school. One of the women working with us went around the corner and down the hallway, guiding a mom—with two little kids and one baby in a stroller—to registration. After a few minutes, we were wondering why she hadn’t come back to the lobby yet. I peeked down the hallway and she was walking back and forth, rocking this woman’s baby to sleep.
What I love about all of this is that it is such transformative work, done so naturally. Honestly, the woman rocking the baby, would do the exact same thing at church. The mentors who ask students about their lives, their dreams, and their fears, would do the same for children that go to our church. The team that prepares extravagant potluck lunches for teachers are able to do so because they’ve been doing it at church their whole lives! What I have learned here in Cleburne about ministry is that we already have the capacity to pull off excellent mission work, because it is the same skill set as being awesome friends, family members, Sunday School teachers, ushers and greeters—things that we already are!
Praying for people, feeding people, encouraging people, rocking their babies to sleep—none of these things fall outside of the Church’s skill set. The difference between ministry inside our church and ministry outside is sometimes just a matter of walking out the door and deciding to treat everyone like they are family—like they are ourselves. The funny thing about that is—it’s exactly what Jesus calls us to. Missions is all about sharing God’s love with our neighbors, as if they were ourselves. When a deep love meets a deep need, God can be recognized and glorified.
When the Resurrected Jesus appears to folks, they don’t always recognize him at first. In John 20, Mary Magdalene thinks he is a gardener, until she hears him call her by name. In John 21, the disciples catch a net full of fish after fishing all night, and they know it is the Lord who hollered advice to them. In Luke 24, the folks traveling on the Emmaus Road talk with the Risen Christ for quite a while before he breaks the bread and their “eyes are opened.” When Christ’s deep love penetrates our deep needs—to be known by name, to be fed, to be guided—that is when God is recognized.
When you are planning acts of mission for your own community, I hope you will ask “What are the deep needs around us, and what ways do we already have the skills and resources to fill these needs with deep love?” then finding ways to enhance those skills and leverage those resources to do real good for your neighbors. How can you expand the family you already care for to people in need of care?
Marianne Brown-Trigg is an Mdiv student at Brite Divinity School and Director of Student Ministries at First UMC in Cleburne, TX. Her favorite emojis are sunflower, praise hands, and cat who is laugh-crying. She blogs at mbrowntrigg.wordpress.com