It’s not uncommon for my wife Tracey to talk about her life and faith while she’s at work. Afterall, small talk is really important when you’re up close and personal, examining eyes. Anyway, Asbury UMC came up in conversation this week and while the man she was talking to didn’t attend Asbury, he knew of it well. “I love Asbury,” he said. “Whenever a need from the community comes to our attention and we can’t help, Asbury always comes through.”
Asbury is a special place! In its infancy, the church decided to designate 10% of its annual income for mission and community service and they formed a team called Mission In Action (MIA) to disperse these funds. That decision, made 32 years ago, has infused a spirit of service into the DNA of our congregation and it’s one of the many reasons I love my church.
Earlier this summer, when we were dreaming of ways to create faith that lasts a lifetime for our kids, Joe Williams came up with a crazy idea: let’s get children, youth, and adults from the church out in the community serving together. I loved this idea, as research from Fuller Youth Institute shows that churches across the U.S. tend to allocate financial and personnel resources toward building strong and dynamic youth groups. But to be both strong and dynamic, the research explains that teenagers need to rub shoulders and build relationships with adults of all ages.
So planning commenced, communication went out, and on Saturday, July 21, we began what we hope to be another tradition in the spirit of mission and service called Asbury Serves. Last Saturday, more than 100 people came to serve God and our community in a variety of ways:
- Ready Day One. This mission helps kids in the Birmingham City Schools get ready for the first day of school. More than 120 students and their families were blessed with school supplies, support and love.
- Gresham Elementary. This Jefferson County school got a new batch of mulch spread on their playground and had inspirational bulletin boards made to decorate the hallways.
- We Garden. Down at Urban Ministry, our volunteers did some much-needed weeding so the produce of this community garden could thrive.
- Church of the Reconciler. This ministry, which serves the Birmingham homeless community, was cleaned top to bottom and the janitorial shelves were restocked.
- The Farmers Market. Asbury’s Food Pantry has a booth stationed at the market to receive donations for our Food Pantry. Volunteers spread the word about Asbury’s pantry and helped children create placemats for the homeless.
- Asbury On Site. Volunteers spruced up the grounds at Asbury, trimming back the Prayer Garden and Prayer Mountain, and prepared other areas for spring planting.
- Congregational Care. Asbury’s homebound members and friends were paid a visit by our congregational care volunteers. There was time for prayer, devotions and light chores.
Wow! An amazing amount of work was done in a short period of time and Asbury Serves took our missions a step further. Mission and service is more than just giving money and doing good; it’s also about being in relationship with others. Remember the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)? Zacchaeus was a wealthy man the chief tax collector…not the most popular dude in town. He was a short man who wanted to see Jesus so he climbed up a tree to get a glimpse of him. Jesus could have walked on by Zacchaeus…no one would have even have thought twice. Jesus could have called Zacchaeus out of the tree and been on his way. But instead, Jesus called Zacchaeus out of the tree and said, “I must stay at your house today,” which was the ultimate compliment.
When Pastor Kip came to Asbury, the church adopted a vision to lead us to grow Disciples of Jesus Christ. A part of this vision is to be engaged in risk-taking mission and service. For some, this risk comes from giving money; for others it’s the risk of giving our time. I think the biggest risk is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and invest in people-people relationships. Who will you say those risk words of Jesus to: “I must stay at your house today?”