Team Vital has long been a great resource for congregations to learn from each other and model new ministries that bring vitality into churches. This January participants will have the opportunity to take what they’ve learned from Team Vital one step further with GNJ’s Vitality 2. They will be able to dive even deeper into discipleship, stewardship and assessing community assets. Through new ideas in worship planning and innovative approaches to ministry and fundraising, Vitality 2 will help churches grow and transform communities.
An important part of what Team Vital has offered are the stories of how churches have successfully infused more vitality by tapping into the unique gifts they have to share and learning and accepting help from others. Pastor Lynn Zaremba, who serves Stanhope UMC in Netcong, has learned first-hand how Team Vital can be transformational and in turn, has a story that not only involves her church but also her own personal challenges and circuitous route through God.
Stanhope UMC, also known as the “Church in the Glen,” has had a food pantry for several years, thanks to the efforts of 99-year-old Marion Rush, who was the first baby baptized in the church. The pantry helped about 5-6 families, but in 2018 Zaremba and others believed that they could do more.
“We thought we could help more families of ALL ages,” she said, adding that at first they stumbled.
“By the time God got us into the [Team Vital] program, we were ready,” she said.
Through Team Vital, Zaremba said, she along with Linda White, Cathy Rinko and others were able to determine that they were not addressing the right population, that the Latino population was larger than they had thought. It wasn’t until they completed a demographic study and tapped into financial resources like grants and local businesses that they began to grow.
“We started working for the future, not the past,” said Zaremba.
Funding to grow their food pantry came from a grant from Norwescap, a private, nonprofit corporation established in 1965 that serves the low-income population in northwest New Jersey. “Pathways 2 Prosperity, Norwescap is also one of A Future With Hope’s 23 Hope Centers that provides financial stability, job training, career, life skills, coaching and budget counseling (norwescap.org/employment/pathways-2-prosperity/.
Zaremba said that with the money they received from the grant they will be purchasing a full refrigerator and full freezer. If there is extra, it will go towards some electrical work for dedicated circuits for these items.
Supplementing that grant was fundraising through Shop Rite and donations from local restaurants, bakeries, Sussex Food Pantry, Tropicana and Panera Bread among many others.
Today, the pantry serves about 38 families on the first and third Thursday each month in Stanhope, Netcong, Byram and surrounding communities, providing not only canned items but also fresh fruits and vegetables, soups and baked goods as well as about 25 baskets every Thanksgiving.
“It has been such a blessing for our church,” said Zaremba, who added that the pantry now has about 20 people running it. “We were so grateful for the knowledge that was shared with us,” said Zaremba who first answered her call after her 50th birthday.
Her call came when she was a child, but for nearly three decades Zaremba’s main focus was being a parent to her two children. In addition to her daughter, Amy, who is now studying to be a dietician, Zaremba cared for her son, Anthony, whose mental capacity was stunted by a rare chromosome abnormality. He died in 2011 at the age of 26.
“Throughout those years I learned so much. Anthony taught me about life, and Amy taught me about how to like life,” she said.
She recalled while working on the church’s renovation just how help can come from the most unexpected places. Stanhope UMC had hired a mason who agreed to do all the work for free. His generosity was a huge support for the church, but when asked to recommend someone who could do the much-needed plastering work, the mason recommended another man.
Zaremba said she was amazed when this man also agreed to offer his time for free. She wondered why.
“It turned out that several years ago this man used to eat at the pantry when he was homeless. Now, with a house and a family, he attributed his recovery to the people at the pantry who helped him get back on his feet.”
Now a little over a year since diving into Team Vital, Zaremba looks ahead to celebrating her church’s 100th anniversary on October 24 and continuing to help others. In February, she and the congregation plan to have their second annual baby shower for the homeless, pregnant women and girls at Birth Haven in Newton, NJ. This past February there were more than 80 people from the church involved and hundreds of presents donated.
With Zaremba and Stanhope UMC nearing the end of Team Vital, the next step may be Vitality 2 as they work toward broadening their outreach and continue to grow more vitality.
GNJ’s first Vitality 2 of the 2020 season will be January 25. For more information about Team Vital and to register, visit www.gnjumc.org/team-vital/.
Photos: Stanhope UMC’s Team Vital team includes: Linda White, team leader; Lynn Gremmo, Carol Scheese, Walt Scheese, Bob Denner, Kristin Ransiear, Cathy Rinko, and Zaremba.