Faithful payment of Ministry Shares makes good things happen. A visit to Flint, MI celebrates a church that paid 100% in a difficult year, and a ministry that adapted to the challenges of COVID-19.
JOHN E. HARNISH
Michigan Conference Communications
“It’s a real gift,” says the Rev. Jeremy Peters, pastor at Court Street UMC in Flint, “to come into a church where the leadership takes its commitment to pay their Ministry Shares seriously.” That has been the long history of the downtown Flint congregation going all the way back to the Rev. Jewell Smoot, who emphasized tithing when he was the pastor.
Despite the challenges of the changing city, Court Street has always taken pride in providing their full support for the ministry of the annual conference and the general church’s global mission. Jeremy says, “When that’s the case, the pastor’s role is simply to reinforce the values which are already here.”
But Peters also acknowledged the hard realities of the past year. “First,” he said, “we’ve had a lot of funerals of long-time members with well-established patterns of stewardship. We’ve worried whether we could pick up the slack.”
His second concern was the impact of COVID-19. When a congregation can’t gather in their beloved sanctuary, it raises questions about what will happen to the giving. But Jeremy says, “During this year, we have been overwhelmed by how people have continued to give, some even increasing their giving.”
The year-end results tell the story. Between reductions in expenses like custodial services and childcare coupled with the generous giving of the congregation, Court Street ended the year with all expenses and all apportionments paid in full and a slight balance to begin the new year.
Jeremy says, “One of the benefits of the year of COVID was the development of electronic and online giving.” During this year, that method of giving has grown and provides a consistent lifeline for the church.
One of the ways Court Street maintains a healthy stewardship culture is by reminding the congregation of what their mission giving means in real lives. Every Sunday at the time of the offering, they tell a story describing how their giving makes a difference in their city, the conference, and around the world.
For example, in Flint, they support the Crossover Downtown Outreach, the Southside Soup Kitchen, and the Asbury Community Development Corporation at Asbury UMC.
The churches of Flint not only give to Ministry Shares but also receive support for ministry through the Michigan Conference program. In Flint, this includes sponsorship of the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School. Last summer Bethel UMC and Calvary UMC hosted a digital literacy program instead of the in-person program due to the pandemic. They are planning to offer the program this summer. In Detroit, Second Grace UMC also hosts a CDF Freedom School.
Lisa Batten, Coordinator of Young Adult Initiatives for The Michigan Conference, says, “The CDF Freedom Schools enhance children’s motivation to read and helps connect their families with resources in the community.” Freedom Schools offer cultural learning as well as reading and tutoring, two meals a day, and a book for each student to take home every week. Batten says, “Many children actually make gains in learning over the summer, rather than summer learning loss.”
Ryan Beuthin and Ashnee Young direct the Flint Freedom School Collaborative and have given leadership to Calvary and Bethel’s program. This summer, they will be run by Marquetta Hall, Project Director for the Collaborative.
Calvary’s pastor the Rev. Greg Timmons says, “The impact on these kids is amazing. The core foundation builds up the students’ self-esteem so they can be academically successful. They literally pump these kids up with the Harambee cheers and chants, music and affirmations.”
Ashnee Young adds, “The Freedom Schools offer a community-centered program which cultivates esteem and encourages diverse representation in learning and literature to help the children discover their best learning potential.”
In Flint, churches like Court Street support Ministry Shares and churches like Bethel and Calvary serve the community through the Ministry Shares—literally giving and receiving in the spirit of Christ. It is a ministry shared by all the churches of the Michigan Conference.