NEPTUNE – The message to people attending the Laity Leadership Academy on Saturday, October 6 at the Mission and Resource Center was clear, at least according to Betty Quackenboss from Aldersgate UMC and a workshop leader at the event. “Laity need to work as partners in ministry with our pastors if the church is to flourish. Disciples need to think more about ‘feeding’ others than sitting in the pews waiting to be ‘fed.’”
The Academy provided workshops geared toward providing tools and skills to minister across racial and cultural boundaries. The workshops were divided into five different tracks so participants could choose an area which they felt their congregation would best benefit. After an inspiring worship led by Bishop Schol, participants divided up into their individual tracks where they spent the rest of the day.
Kirk Huber, of the First UMC of Westfield, attended the Finance/Stewardship session which was led by Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash, Executive Director of The United Methodist Stewardship Foundation, and Brian Mickle of First UMC in Glassboro. Huber said he learned some very useful things.
“The use of e-giving was particularly interesting to me. I know our church has it available, but it is under-utilized. I hope to encourage more in our congregation to use it by promoting the benefits to the individual and the church; perhaps through the newsletter, information sessions and a practical demonstration after church some Sunday,” said Huber.
According to Purkis-Brash, the key message of the workshop was to impart that generosity helps promote spirituality, and is not just about numbers. Huber agreed, “I will also be ‘talking up’ the emphasis on generosity in our finance and stewardship communications, and making sure we do this throughout the year. I like the recommended idea of periodic messages from a diverse group of congregants on their joy when experiencing generosity.”
Another track was “Vital Ministries with Older Adults,” facilitated by Helen Hunter of Wesley UMC in South Plainfield and Arthur Harrell of Cokesbury UMC in Lebanon. Harrell has been involved in nursing home ministries and said the workshop was positioned to help individuals looking to develop ministries specifically targeting older populations. He said that at the end of the workshop he felt confident that every participant walked away with a clear plan to achieve their goals.
“In fact, the workshop was so inspirational that by the end of the day, the nine participants had already decided to reconvene in six months to give feedback on how far along they would be in their projects,” said Harrell. “They also agreed on a mutual goal to apply for one of the grants disbursed by the Academy.”
The workshop “A Closer Walk” encouraged participants to improve the spiritual tone in their churches by helping to create an environment more conducive to going deeper in faith. “Building up the Beloved Community of God” explored how to create a loving, God-centered community while seeking ways to minister across racial and cultural boundaries and “Digital Strategy for Salvation” provided guidance on how to determine a powerful church brand through sharing a “unique church story.”
Quackenboss, one of leaders of “A Closer Walk”, said she was excited and blessed by the feedback she received, especially from those who said they were inspired to start new groups within their own congregations.
“Our point was to show how a team of lay people, working with our pastor, could step up and take responsibility for our own spiritual growth and to help others to go deeper in their faith,” she said.
“Concentrating on scripture exposure and the gift of prayer, we presented laity designed opportunities to approach these means of grace in newer, often less restrictive ways. And, we learned that as lay people we are capable of so much more than we think if we keep Jesus Christ and his spirit at the center of our work.”
The response from the attendees was very positive. All left the Academy feeling inspired, with plenty of food for thought, as well as practical tools to help guide their congregations.