Rural church finds renewal through mission

The Rev. Diane Moseley (in back), executive director of a transitional home for women in crisis in Columbia, S.C., stands with children from Lebanon United Methodist Church. The church harvests produce from a garden planted by the children, to give to women at the home.

By Jessica Connor, Special Contributor… 

COLUMBIA, S.C.—One rural congregation has discovered that the gift really is in the giving—and it’s changing the way they do church.

Last year, members of Lebanon United Methodist Church, Columbia, decided they were going to do a church-wide Mission of Focus, teaming up with the ministry of Killingsworth.

Killingsworth, an Advance Special Ministry of the UMC, is a transition home that helps women in crisis rebuild their lives. Roughly 19 women live there for the cost of just $15 a day and stay about seven months on average, learning life skills and getting spiritual, career and other counseling in a safe, Christian environment.

But the ministry struggles to operate in a tough economy, relying on church and individual donations, grants and fundraisers to pay for household expenses, general upkeep of the home and more. On New Year’s Eve 2010, they experienced a severe setback: The basement of their historic Columbia home flooded badly.

“It was awful,” said the Rev. Diane Moseley, longtime Killingsworth executive director.

After a plumber sopped up the initial mess, they were faced with the challenge of how to repair the problem long-term, and they felt overwhelmed.

“We got estimates from $1,200 to $13,000!” said Ms. Moseley.

She sent an email plea to her board members, one of whom attends Lebanon UMC. No sooner had that board member read Ms. Moseley’s email, then the phone rang. Doris Hogan, Lebanon’s chair of missions, was calling out of nowhere to see whether Killingsworth needed some help, because Ms. Hogan wanted the church to do a Mission of Focus that year to bring all generations together in service. When Ms. Hogan learned about the flood, she was immediately intrigued by how her church could help.

The timing was no coincidence, said Ms. Hogan: “As my pastor says, ‘It’s not a coincidence, it’s a God-incidence.’”

Ms. Hogan met with Ms. Moseley and the two women brainstormed about how they could partner in a way that would benefit both of them. Lebanon was already mission-oriented, but Ms. Hogan really wanted to find a mission focus that would bring together the whole church—young and old.

The two knew right away that Killingsworth and Lebanon would be a good fit. They made it official and became mission partners for 2011, and they have continued their “friendship” in 2012, as well.

‘A unifying thing’

It didn’t take long for the partnership to blossom. Right away, every group at the church—from the choir to the church garden club to Sunday school classes—got involved. The choir became the Breakfast Club, gathering breakfast items for the Killingsworth residents. Sunday school classes became the Kleenex Class, Paper Towel Class, Condiment Class, Clean Class, Seasoning Class, etc. A huge mission box was placed in the church to collect items people felt called to contribute. On Valentine’s Day, one of the children’s classes made valentines for every resident, carefully writing each woman’s name on a card. The Garden Club put together fresh-cut arrangements for the residents, and they harvested green beans that the children had planted during vacation Bible school.

“It’s been a unifying thing for our church,” Ms. Hogan said. “This is what we’re called to do—know Jesus and show that He really empowers us to think differently. We are God’s hands, and we’re showing His love.”

The Rev. Mark Williams, pastor at Lebanon UMC, said he is touched by how his congregation has reached beyond itself.

“At Lebanon, we talk a lot about partnering with God to bring a little bit of heaven to people who are in need,” Mr. Williams said. “Lebanon’s ongoing partnership with Killingsworth is proof that heaven can still collide with earth. It is proof of Jesus’ kingdom—a kingdom that is alive today.”

One day, Ms. Hogan took photos of some of the repairs needed at Killingsworth and brought them to Lebanon’s men’s club. The very next morning, two men in a pickup truck showed up at Killingsworth ready to work. The night this reporter visited Killingsworth, several of the men were planning to do a fish fry for the women.

“They’re thinking, ‘What do I have that I can give, I can do?’” Ms. Hogan said.

Ms. Moseley said the support means a lot to the women who call Killingsworth home. The women come from a variety of crisis situations: Some of the women are recovering addicts, while others come from a mental hospital, were recently released from jail or prison, are healing from sexual or physical abuse, are in transition from a homeless shelter, etc.

Ms. Hogan said the congregation at Lebanon UMC has become infused with the “give-back” spirit. They redoubled their help to Killingsworth, and they’re reaping the benefits. Membership and attendance have increased, she noted; they offer two worship services now.

Killingsworth is celebrating 65 years of ministry in 2012, and Ms. Moseley knows that they can make even more of a difference thanks to help from churches like Lebanon.

“It’s just a win, win, win all over the place,” she said.

 

Ms. Connor is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, where this story first appeared.

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