Even when you can’t “go” to church, you can “be” the church. That’s what Michigan United Methodists are doing as they assist families struggling through the significant challenges of coronavirus.
Senior Content Editor
LANSING, MI — In a recent blog, the Rev. Scott Harmon, superintendent of the Northern Skies District, states, “Today, amidst the COVID-19 crises, we are in a season, unlike anything the church has responded to in living memory … We are asking what it really means to ‘be’ the church when not able (or comfortable) to ‘go’ to church. How do we support one another, foster real relationship, reach out to our neighbor as we’re going through this time together?”
The Michigan Conference Leadership Council (CLC) understands that congregations are in the process of growing into the “new normal” of which Harmon speaks. CLC is supporting churches and ministries in their efforts with COVID mini-grants administered by the Conference Board of Global Ministries.
The $500 grants are intended to fill gaps in community assistance while showing the love of Christ. The funds are to be used to support “immediate COVID-19 prevention and relief activities to populations most impacted by the current pandemic.” The Conference awarded applicants $500 after they had secured $500 of matching funds.
This is the second in a series of reports of how churches and ministries are changing lives with the help of the mini-grants from The Michigan Conference.
Lincoln Road UMC had active food distribution ministries, which they have been able to expand through the CLC mini-grant, according to Pastor Lyne Stull-Lipps.
“Lincoln Road United Methodist Church affiliated with the Greater Lansing Food Bank three years ago,” the pastor reports. “Since then, Lincoln Road has offered both a monthly local Food Pantry and hosted a semi-monthly county food distribution.” Their clientele consisted primarily of older adults on fixed incomes and a few families. “But with the advent of coronavirus, more families found themselves in need of food.”
That’s when local schools reached out to the congregation, asking if they could provide breakfasts and lunches for children of the area. “For several weeks, we provided easily-prepared breakfasts and lunches for the entire seven days,” Stull-Lipps says. Once the schools were able to resume meals, the church continued to provide food for Saturdays and Sundays.
Lincoln Road volunteers are at the Hope House, the ministry center in Riverdale, each Wednesday at dinner time. They provide a cookout for residents, grilling hamburgers and hotdogs on site. Prepackaged food completes the menu. Pastor Lyne notes, “This meal initially targeted children and their families but quickly expanded to include people of all ages.” Diners cooperate with social distancing and the wearing of masks as they get their food.
“The congregation of Lincoln Road is thankful to be able to serve our community in this way,” Stull-Lipps concludes.
“Wow! What a fantastic day we had yesterday thanks in part to the grant opportunity with the COVID – 19 funds!” says Jill Shorkey, Family Ministries chair, at Chesaning Trinity UMC.
The church has had a backpack ministry for the past eight years, the annual give-away averaging about 90 backpacks full of supplies. “Yesterday, God showed up,” Shorkey remarks, “and brought about 65 cars. We gave away 173 backpacks filled with school supplies.” Elementary, middle school, and high school students all received age-appropriate materials to support their learning.
The large pole barn in the church parking lot, used twice a month for the church’s Manna from Heaven food ministry, was used to stuff and store the backpacks on a Friday night. “The backpacks were wheeled out on Saturday afternoon to gasps and squeals from the patient patrons waiting in the lined-up cars,” Shorkey reports. “That made our day!”
Jill calls the COVID mini-grant “an absolute godsend that enabled us to help so many more children than ever before.” She adds, “They need our help! School is still very uncertain for so many kids and parents, and teachers, as well. We provided a bit of excitement among the uncertainty.” Lincoln Road UMC believes, “God is good all the time, and he reminds us to stay rooted in Christ and growing in grace!”
For more than a century, Methodist Children’s Home Society has cared for the community’s most vulnerable children. Carolyn Watson, MCHS Director of Marketing, looks back. “As the world was battling the influenza pandemic of 1918, MCHS was founded as a haven for displaced children. We’ve weathered health storms before, and, together with our amazing community, we’re doing it again.”
Watson reports that the $500 grant “directly contributed to our COVID-19 Relief Fund, which supports MCHS essential operations both on and off-campus.” Their 80-acre main facility in Redford is home to children in the residential program. The MCHS website states: “During these unexpected times, our highest priority is the safety and security of our children, families, and staff. While many businesses surrounding us closed temporarily, our 60 residential youth on our Redford Campus are staying safe on grounds, where we are continuing to deliver the best care in our power.”
MCHS also provides foster care, adoption, and transitional living services to a wide range of diverse and inclusive families and children across southeast Michigan. Again from the website: “For the hundreds of children placed in foster homes, without a doubt, our staff continues to deliver the best possible care and attention, navigating through changes as they come.”
A pandemic can’t stop love. “We are grateful to be selected for this grant which aids in the essential services for our children in foster care, the foster families doing the greatest good by opening their hearts and homes to our most vulnerable population and for our staff on campus – our HEROES – who continued to care for our children around the clock with education, activities, health, wellness, healing, and love!” Watson remarks.
The Michigan Children’s Home Society makes a promise. “For all of our youth in care, we’ll’ still be here. We won’t be going anywhere. And because of our staff, our partners, and our community, we will weather one of the greatest challenges we’ve faced in our time. Because MCHS was built on the love and relationships, we have with one another and the support of all of you, we know our children will be okay.”
Engage MI partners of The Michigan Conference have all had to adapt to risks presented by COVID-19, just as local churches have. “We know that no mission comes without challenges, but through it all, we persevere to keep building brighter futures ahead for every child and family,” Carolyn Watson concludes.