North of Dover (Romans 12, Issue 256)
Issue 256 — November 19, 2015
North of Dover
When school let out for the summer in 2014 at Dover Elementary School in Dover, Arkansas (population 1329), teachers Cindy Hurley and Janice Jones, who were members of Dover UMC, began to worry that their students might not have enough food to eat during the months of summer vacation. During the school year, the school maintained a weekend backpack food support system for its low-income students, but there was no support for the families during the summer. These families were their students and neighbors, so the teachers decided to do something to ensure that the children would not be hungry.
They approached their pastor with an idea. Could members of Dover UMC provide food for these students over the summer? The Rev. Roy Beth Kelley said her response was immediate: “Yes! And how can I help?”
The church collected food and discussed how to deliver it. In the end, the two teachers decided to personally deliver the food to a trailer park north of Dover where many of the students lived. At first, they were nervous and unsure of how their offer would be received. But since the children knew them, they were welcomed into the community. Pretty soon, the teachers and a growing number of church members had moved from delivering food to enjoying new relationships with entire families.
This summer, in addition to providing food, the church invited the children to vacation Bible school. They offered a program called “Building Faithful Families.” They shared a meal and offered classes for all ages, including parents. Many of the children and their parents attended. Now some of those families have been baptized and have joined the church.
Pastor Kelley said one of the mothers had asked for a Bible. Although she had a King James Version, she had difficulty reading it. The church gave her a Common English Version, and she began to study it at home. The Rev. Kelley encouraged her to write down any questions she had. She said the woman appeared with a notebook filled with four pages of notes and questions. The two of them sat down and had a meaningful study session. Pastor Kelley said, “It is amazing to see God working in people’s lives. People who acted almost like they didn’t feel worthy to know God are discovering that Jesus loves them too.”
By taking a chance, Dover UMC broke down some of the barriers in their small community. Their actions changed the way the people in town viewed the trailer park community north of Dover. The families who live there are no longer “those others.” Now they are neighbors and beloved family in Christ.
To learn more about the “North of Dover” ministry, watch this video:
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- Can you identify who is “us” and who is “them” in your community?
- What barriers keep you from building relationships with these “others”?
- What could your congregation do to help move yourselves and your community from a place of serving “them” to knowing one another as the beloved family of Christ?
Produced by Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church to communicate effective principles and practices demonstrated by congregations that are actively making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
These congregations are marked by:
- Clarity around the mission and vision of the congregation.
- Practice of spiritual disciplines, both corporately and individually.
- Nurture in growth in discipleship through mutual support and accountability.
- Cultivation of intentional and mutual relationships with the most vulnerable—the poor, children, the imprisoned, the powerless.
- Consistent concern for inviting people into relationship with Jesus Christ, combined with wise practices for initiating them into the body of Christ.
- Connectional relationships that facilitate participation in God’s mission of global transformation.
- Shared clergy and lay leadership.
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