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UMCOR is in Michigan Conference’s DNA

Food being given to people in Turkey following an earthquake

STEP SIX: Partnering to do good in the face of tragedy is seen across generations in the Michigan Conference, by the strong support of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. UMCOR Sunday is set for March 19.

Michigan Conference Communications

“Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.” For 300 years, Methodists have embraced those “Three Simple Rules” of our founder John Wesley. Michigan United Methodists have lived out those rules in many ways. Not the least of which has been their support of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. It seems that UMCOR is part of our DNA. And “doing good” with gifts to UMCOR has changed the lives of givers and receivers alike.

The Rev. Alice Fleming Townley, Mission and Justice Coordinator for the Michigan Conference, says, “I think giving to UMCOR became part of the way United Methodists in our conference knew they could partner together to do good in the world, especially in the face of tragedy.”

Alice has seen this partnership in action across generations, in both her mother and in the youth of Fennville United Methodist Church. It seems one is never too young or old to do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.

A Heart for Neighbors

Alice Townley and her mother
Alice Fleming Townley’s mother, Edna Fleming, is a woman with a heart for mission. ~ photo courtesy Alice Fleming Townley

Alice shares her mom’s story. “As a young person, Edna Abel Fleming was nurtured by the love of her family and church. She saw her parents share garden produce and send grain to those impacted by World War II.”

Because the young Edna wanted to help the hungry, she signed up to be a missionary with the Methodist Church. She was sponsored by many mid-Michigan congregations, including her home church in Cedar Springs. The General Board of Global Missions sent Edna to Brazil.

After four years, Edna continued caring ministry back in Michigan with her family, church, and community. Alice notes, “As chair of the West Michigan Conference Hunger Taskforce, Mom participated with Esther Brown on trips to UMCOR projects around the world and then returned to share transformative stories.”

Through the years, Edna was an active partner in ministry with her late husband, the Rev. George Fleming, at Turk Lake, Greenville: First, and Sodus: Chapel Hill. And when she became a local pastor, they were appointed together to Lawrence Avenue UMC in Charlotte.

Man with woman in wheelchair
Son-in-law Mike Townley accompanies Edna Fleming as she shares her message of welcome and support to returning Michigan State University students following the tragedy that happened on campus on February 13. Edna has spent a lifetime in compassionate ministry with others. ~ photo courtesy Alice Fleming Townley

Edna is now older. Her daughter shares, “Even while memory and words fade, when Mom has seen a story on the news, such as the war in Ukraine or the earthquake in Turkey, she is moved. ‘I need to write a check to UMCOR for this!’ she says, with passion.” Alice adds, “Mom knows on a deep level that is how she still participates with United Methodists throughout the world in God’s larger restorative work.”

Soup Funds Outreach

Just as teenage Edna Abel had a heart for mission, so do the young people of Fennville United Methodist Church.

Jody Martin was the assistant youth director at Fennville when “SOUPer” Bowl Sunday launched back in 2000. The meal has since been served after worship on Super Bowl Sunday for over two decades. Jody says, “It is sort of amazing when you realize we’ve been doing this for 23 years now.” Not even a pandemic interrupted their efforts. Jody remembers, “Even when we didn’t have coffee hour during the pandemic, we fixed to-go containers and sent people home with soup.”

UMCOR, through partners in the region, is working on earthquake recovery in Turkey and Syria. Gifts to support this effort may be made to UMCOR Disaster Response International #982450.

The proceeds from the meal always go to a mission project chosen by the youth. The earthquake hit Turkey on February 6. The first appeal for aid for the survivors was made the following Sunday, February 12. Mission leader Mary Lou Morehead made that announcement in church and then headed for the kitchen to help the youth serve the “SOUPer” Bowl Sunday meal. After cleanup was over, Mary Lou and the kids adjourned to the youth room. “Where do you want the money to go this year?” she asked. “We need to give it to UMCOR for the earthquake!” was their immediate reply.

Some years the youth have chosen local projects, like Kids Food Basket, the Humane Society, or a soup kitchen in Holland. In addition to giving funds, the youth have volunteered in these places. “The kids like to get their hands involved, too,” Jody says. In other years the money has traveled many miles from Fennville to make a difference in people’s lives in Haiti or Heifer Projects in Africa.

ROI (return on investment) has been a factor in their decision making. Jody explains, “We drill home the idea that UMCOR is a great way to give because it all goes to things like earthquake relief.” Jody continues, “The youth learn that, ‘Not one penny will come out of your $305 this year. It will all help someone in Turkey.’”

Through all those 23 years, youth leaders at Fennville have had this aim, according to Jody Martin. “There are so many things to teach out of Jesus’ ministry. Mainly we want them to learn to love their neighbors and look beyond the end of their noses. We try to nurture a servant’s heart.”

Pastor Bob Lynch celebrates the spirit of cooperation that takes place on “SOUPer” Bowl Sunday. “This is a two-charge appointment, so many from our Pearl UMC congregation came to join in the fun, fellowship, and food.” He praised the generosity of those seated around the tables and the youth who served them. “I am so proud of our youth and am honored to be their pastor,” Pastor Bob says. “SOUPer Bowl Sunday was a great reflection for all of us of the importance of UMCOR and our connection to the world.”

Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. Those “Three Simple Rules” of The United Methodist Church live in the hearts of those of all ages who support the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Editor’s notes: UMCOR is a Ministry Partner with EngageMI. Projects include Disaster Response International #982450; Disaster Response United States #901670; UMCOR Where Most Needed #999895; World Hunger and Poverty #982920; Global Migration #3022144; Love Beyond Borders #3022671; Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) #3020600, and UMCOR Sunday, observed March 19, 2023, or a Sunday chosen by the congregation.

More information about UMCOR’s relief efforts in Turkey may be found here.

The Michigan Conference