As the Minnesota Conference focuses on growing in love of God and neighbor, reaching new people, and healing a broken world, all Minnesota United Methodist churches are tracking and submitting metrics on a weekly basis that help us pay attention to the impact we’re making in these areas. In addition to tracking worship attendance and faith professions, each church is also asked to provide periodic stories of life transformation. In many cases, these stories are powerful examples of the ways in which churches are fulfilling the Great Commission and serving as beacons of love and compassion in their communities. Here are four inspiring stories that have been shared in the past two months.
Hilltop UMC (Mankato): A manifestation of God’s love
A powerful testimony from a woman named Alanna, in her own words: “I got on the wrong path after high school. Due to this, I currently struggle with forgiving myself, as well as with related mental health and some financial ramifications. I found Hilltop UMC [when I served as a mystery worshipper to give honest feedback as the church was going] through the MCCI process and I love it. I feel so welcome and accepted; this church is a manifestation of God’s love for me. It’s interesting because as I reflect on my thankfulness, I have only good things to say about the last year, and it’s not because I don’t have struggles, but because I do have this community.”
Faith UMC (West St. Paul): Breakfast with Santa
Every year, Faith UMC has a free breakfast with Santa on the first Saturday in December; the only cost for the meal and a photo with Santa is a donation to the food shelf that the church supports. Most people who come are not from the congregation, and some families have been coming for years. This year, a young mother came in with her daughter. The photographer recognized her from previous years and asked about her son who usually comes with them. The mother said he was sick and waiting in the car but her daughter didn't want to miss seeing Santa. After the daughter sat on Santa's lap and had her picture taken, Santa went out to the car and brought the little boy a gift bag and a stuffed animal. The photographer also went out to the car and took a photo of the little boy with Santa. The little boy was overcome with joy and exclaimed, “I got to see the real Santa!” Soon, the mom was crying, the photographer was crying, and even Santa was wiping away a tear. A simple act of kindness gave this family a Christmas gift they’ll not soon forget. Sometimes reaching out to the community brings blessings in the most unusual places.
Redwood Falls UMC: ‘Plain Prayer’
When customers arrive at a Which Wich sandwich shop, they are invited to mark up a plain brown paper bag and create their own sandwich by checking off the different meats, cheeses, toppings, and condiments they desire. The bag is then sent back to the kitchen, where the sandwich is prepared. This process inspired First UMC of Redwood Falls to begin a “Plain Prayer” ministry where a person can indicate how another can pray for them by marking up a plain brown paper bag. The bag has some printed options that include “toasted” (request can be shared with others) or “untoasted” (keep confidential). Other choices that can be selected are prayers for health, finances, relationships, and guidance. People can also put a note inside the bag with a more specific request. Anyone who desires a prayer can prepare a bag. Anyone who wants to pray can take a bag. (If there is nothing on a particular bag, the person praying is invited to listen to God’s voice on what to pray for.)
The church has extended this ministry to an elementary school across the street. Teachers were invited to send the church their class list so someone could pray for every student in a particular class at least once a month. Most of the educators responded, many of them sharing appreciation for this ministry. Some brown bags now have a class worth of names on them, and when someone picks up the bag and prays for a particular class, they are encouraged to send a note to the teacher, letting them know that someone from First UMC prayed for them and their class that week. “We are reminded that prayers do not need to have carefully crafted words or be offered up by people with more experience,” Rev. Randy Koppen said. “Perhaps one of the greatest ministries we can provide these kids and educators is to let them know they are being lifted up in prayer.”
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church