By: Christa Meland
Three churches, four individuals, and a nonprofit were recognized for the ways they have made a difference in their congregations, their communities, and around the world. Here’s a look at the recipients and their contributions:
Culture of Call Award: Hastings United Methodist Church
Several years ago, borrowing from a similar program at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, Hastings UMC started its “Ministry as Career” (or “MAC Track”) program (view video). Church leaders are intentional about identifying gifts for ministry that they see in young people—and inviting those young people to explore those gifts through hands-on experiences. MAC Track participants lead all aspects of a Sunday evening “Overflow” worship service that regularly welcomes 100 youth from the community. They preach, lead prayers and music, deliver hospitality, and lead in many other ways—and leaders meet with them to teach them about various forms of ministry and answer their questions. Hastings UMC is dedicated to training the next generation of church leaders. This award, presented by the United Methodist Church’s Foundation for Evangelism, is given annually to just one church from across the connection.
One Matters Award: Oakwood United Methodist Church (New Ulm)
This award from Discipleship Ministries recognizes churches that have grown in their number of baptisms and professions of faith, and Oakwood UMC is not only reaching out to meet a tangible need through its adoption of Jefferson Elementary School (view video), but it is making disciples. Every person baptized and making that commitment to Christ matters to God, and this church had a huge increase in its number of baptisms, from three in 2013 to 11 in 2014! Oakwood UMC will receive $1,000 to continue its efforts to offer Christ to the children of its community and help them grow in their love of God and neighbor.
Denman Evangelism Award, Youth: Allison Schwarz, Le Sueur United Methodist Church
Schwarz did not wait to be confirmed to be on the mission field for Jesus. She was active in mission trips both across the country and across the street, distributing sloppy joes at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in Mankato and leading prayer at a Vacation Bible School in Newport, Tennessee. She has been known to sport an apron that says “Have you hugged a United Methodist today?” and delivers on those hugs. If her laugh and smile are not enough invitation, you will find her on the streets of Le Sueur, inviting others to meals and worship. Schwarz identifies herself within the mission of Jesus and sees herself as a part of the lineage of those who have done the same. Giving back to her town, church and school is a part of who she is and what she is about.
Denman Evangelism Award, Laity: Mindy Kearney, LaCrescent United Methodist Church
Kearney has invested her heart and life into loving children. She has been the creative and driving force behind several evangelism opportunities in her community of LaCrescent. She began JOLT—Jesus Our Living Truth—a Wednesday evening meal that is free and open to the community. She has led the church in ecumenical efforts in Vacation Bible School and youth mission trips. The big outreach she’s now leading for her church involves preparing and serving sack lunches for children in the summer. Last summer, LaCrescent UMC had three delivery sites and plans to add two more this summer. Kearney’s love of children and desire to tell them about Jesus never stops, and they know that.
Denman Evangelism Award, Clergy: Rev. Dr. Lowell Gess
Gess returned to Sierra Leone earlier this year, at the age of 93, to the Kissy Eye Hospital he helped to start in 1984. He went because of Ebola. Medical staff in Africa are limited in number, and many were in the first wave of those who contracted and died from Ebola. Gess said that while praying for the safety of the staff at the hospital, he felt a call to go and help. So he bought a plane ticket. The trip was Gess’ 186th across the ocean. He has been a medical missionary since 1952, caring for people’s bodies and souls, always sharing the gospel in word and deed. He said of his recent two months in Sierra Leone that he had never been more dependent on God’s grace or experienced more highly the joy of ministering in the name of the Savior and Lord. In explaining why he did it, he quoted I Corinthians 9:13: “All this I do for the gospel’s sake in order to share its blessings.”
Francis Asbury Award: Rev. J. Cody Nielsen, executive director, University of Minnesota Wesley Foundation (campus ministry)
Nielsen is the founding executive director of the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities’ Wesley Foundation, a United Methodist campus ministry. He began this ministry from the ground up after a previous ecumenical campus ministry involving United Methodists disbanded. The ministry is now in its fourth year. He also established an e-newsletter for all the United Methodist-related campus ministries in Minnesota. Nielsen has been an instrumental part of the Minnesota Conference’s Higher Education Ministry Team, and he has raised the visibility of campus ministry at annual conference gatherings. And this summer, for the third consecutive year, Nielsen is leading an inter-generational group to New Jersey to provide Hurricane Sandy relief.
Rural Church Award: Ogilvie United Methodist Church
Though small in numbers, the people of Ogilvie UMC have had a mighty influence in their community. Last fall, the church experienced a financial crisis and there were concerns about its future. Hard questions had to be answered. After much prayer and the professional guidance of a consultant, the good folks of Ogilvie decided that God wasn’t through with their Christian influence in the community. They decided to continue being missional, to move forward bringing Christ to the community. They began a new outreach called “Food for the Soul,” which offers a free hot meal once a month to everyone in the church and community who desires it. God has blessed the ministry, and it has generated excitement and faith in the congregation. The folks of Ogilvie have a “don’t-give-up” and “can-do” attitude.
Jeanne Audrey Powers Award for Ecumenism: Northern Intercultural Spiritual Experiences (NISE)
NISE was founded in 2011 to create an interfaith community in the northern suburbs that would provide spiritual experiences through presentations, deep and profound conversations, and the arts. The goal is to increase interfaith and intercultural understanding and relationships, which in turn further unifies the community. The impact can be found in the comments of attenders: “It is so great to be a safe place to hear about other faiths.” “When I hear what you are doing with NISE, I think about what God, what Jesus is thinking.” “I am so impressed a church will host these types of conversations.” The award was presented to Sally Higgins and Kay Roberts, members of Champlin United Methodist Church who serve on the NISE board.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church