Making a Difference (MAD) in the City is Church Street Youth’s annual summer mission project. This project is focused on serving Knoxville and is a longstanding partnership with the Wesley House Community Center. Historically, we have spent time each summer with Wesley House students by providing academic support with one-on-one schoolwork, playing games, going on field trips, and working on building projects.
This year, in order to honor COVID protocols, we are adding other service projects to the week to keep our groups smaller and support our city in even more ways. This summer, our youth will:
- Continue in our partnership with Wesley House,
- complete a house-roofing project, and
- work with Beacon of Hope to help them prepare for a new school year.
Our students will be rotating between the three work sites during the days. In the afternoons & evenings, we will join together back at Church Street for fellowship, dinner, and worship before pick-up.
One new addition to the week is supporting Wesley House’s Walk-a-thon fundraiser to help with their capital campaign! Wesley House is currently working through the rigorous process of becoming licensed with the Department of Human Services. This will allow them to better serve the East Knoxville community in a wide variety of ways. The pandemic has shifted the way Wesley House operates and serves, like becoming a Food Pantry in addition to all of their other work.
Our goal in this Walk-a-thon is to raise $2500 for WHCC. Make a gift here.
When the COVID-19 pandemic led to shutdowns in East Tennessee, the need for the Church Street Benevolence team almost doubled.
Prior to the pandemic, the Benevolence Team helped an average of eight Knoxville community members pay rent or their KUB utilities bill each week. Now, the need has increased 77% across Knoxville and an average of 20 community members receive help each week from the team.
The Benevolence Team itself was different for most of 2020, with church member Keith Biggers taking the lead on most logistical and operational needs, while also taking the influx of calls between COVID-19 government-issue payments. Biggers stepped away from the team at the end of last year and church member Rob Keener took his place.
And while the Benevolence Team isn’t new, the past few months have shown a new way of doing what the Benevolence Team has always done — help those in need.
“I feel very excited and energized,” Keener says. “We’re building the airplane while flying the airplane, but that’s okay.”
To adapt to the needs of Knoxville community members, Keener connected new volunteers to virtual training through the Compassion Coalition, a community organization helping Knoxville’s churches understand the needs of the community and how to serve them. Keener also reorganized the process for meeting with a new client.
Prior to Keener’s leadership, a few volunteers would meet in-person with potential clients for about 30 minutes at a time. Volunteers would listen to their story and determine the best way to help them, which was typically a microgrant from the church of $100-$300.
Once the pandemic hit East Tennessee, Biggers handled everything from the office in the Christian Life Center (CLC) to meeting with potential clients. Most interactions with community members were a one-time occurrence, and no follow-ups were completed.
“Now, we’ve shifted our emphasis to not just be a ‘one-and-done’ with the client,” Keener says, “but rather to walk with the client and be on a journey with them as they participate in their own recovery.”
Now, each trained volunteer is responsible for one day a week, Monday through Saturday, and they answer any incoming inquiries left on the Benevolence Team voicemail throughout the day. Each volunteer will also follow-up with their previous clients to ensure they have received the care and assistance needed. Volunteers call clients using an app on their phone that protects their personal phone number as the one connected to the voicemail.
Volunteers listen to each client’s story, and take careful attention to figuring out the best way to assist with financial strains.
“We listen empathetically,” Keener says. “We’re always trying to reflect the love of Jesus with our clients.”
In most cases, clients can be directed to governmental services and funding. The Compassion Coalition helped Keener and the Benevolence Team understand the extensive financial resources available to those facing eviction, which during the pandemic and unprecedented job loss, became the top priority.
The process for individuals applying for financial aid from the government can be difficult, so volunteers are intentional with their conversations, following up with clients as often as possible.
“I hope that we can become more relational than transactional and build more relationships for our clients that will lead them to come out of their financial situations,” volunteer Ann Reego says. “I also hope they see the love of Christ through us and are led to find fatih if they are not currently involved.”
Relationships are also built in more emergent situations, such as a disconnect notice from KUB with a few days left. In situations where there isn’t time to apply and wait for government aid, Church Street steps in with microgrants, which are similar to what was given to each client prior to the pandemic.
Looking forward, Keener hopes that a new hybrid system can help connect more clients to Church Street volunteers. While serving on the Benevolence team is “not for the faint of heart,” Keener can’t help but think of the A-Team and John “Hannibal” Smith’s famous quote: “I love it when a plan comes together.”
“That’s how I feel. I love that the plan has come together and that we have motivated, caring volunteers,” Keener says. “It’s exciting and this should be able to stand the test of time.”
When you hear of the Congregational Care Committee, it’s easy to imagine what their day-to-day looks like: caring for the congregation.
But, during the last year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the care provided by the committee has reached new lengths.
This is the first year of recollection that the committee has been chaired by two members — Barry Christmas and Judy Grubb — and the pair share responsibilities with 16 other church members. Most members serve three years on the committee, but it’s not unusual for a member to stick around for an additional year or two. This is the fourth year for Grubb.
“It is a committee that a lot of people, they’ve heard of, but they don’t really know what the committee does and how far-reaching it is,” Grubb says. “I feel like it’s really important work that is done because we’re trying to maintain communication and to care about church members.
An active, hands-on church committee, Christmas, Grubb and the additional members take a very organized and detailed approach to reaching every member of the church in one way or another.
“I love the work that we do because I know that it is touching people’s lives in a very meaningful way. It means a great deal to a lot of these people,” Christmas says. We get a blessing out of it, too. We are definitely blessed by the work.”
Care Connect Ministry
The first responsibility of the Congregational Care Committee is the Care Connect Ministry. Each member selects their desired number of contacts off the contact list of 62 homebound members and members living in a care facility.
Prior to the pandemic, members were encouraged to visit each contact at least once a month, sending cards and reaching out via phone call on occasion in between each visit. Now, members rely on cards and phone calls to connect with these congregation members, and it’s been encouraged to reach out more than ever before.
“That contact is very important. It’s easy to fall into depression and be despondent and pull away from social interaction,” Christmas says. “As I tell the committee, these people can’t get too much love, so pour the love on.”
And the contact made is not just important to the member. Grubb, who has had the same contacts for the past four years, has begun receiving cards in return and always receives phone calls thanking her for her kind words.
During the shutdown, Grubb has unfortunately lost one of her contacts, but before she died, her daughter passed along how much her mother appreciated the cards. Following her passing, Grubb sent a card to the daughter, and the daughter responded with a note saying the continued connection to the church meant more to her mom than she could have known.
“That really makes you feel like you’re doing something good,” Grubb says.
Advent and Lenten Devotionals
The devotions distributed each Advent and Lenten season are the work of the Congregational Care team, as well. In a typical year, devotions were only printed and distributed at the church, and mailed to congregation members who needed it.
Now, with the help of the Communications team, Advent and Lenten devotions were delivered to members virtually through the Church Street website, email and social media. Anyone who still needed a printed copy could receive one via request.
Any devotionals mailed during the Advent season were sent by Christmas, and each person on the Care Connect Ministry contact list received a wooden cross and special Christmas letter. Christmas had the help of church staff members Doris Lively and Nancy Keen for the Lenten devotionals, and the pair sent to the Care Connect Ministry contact list a devotional and special Easter letter.
“We’re learning how to do new and different things and calling on new people outside of our committee to help us keep our projects going,” Christmas says. “They’re so meaningful to all of our congregation.”
In addition to a change in distribution, the way in which devotion writers were recruited changed. During Advent, congregation members dedicated time and attention to writing devotions for each day during the season. But, with an early 2021 Lent and Easter season approaching quickly, Church Street clergy suggested the Congregational Care team pull together a “Voices from the Past” for the 2021 Lenten season, reprinting devotions printed as far back as the 1970s from beloved Church Street members and saints.
“I know it’s going to be meaningful, especially to people who have been members of the church for some time,” Christmas says. “They’re going to recognize all those names in that booklet. It’s a blast from the past.”
Crafting with care
Many of the Congregational Care Committee members are crafty, using their skills in crochet, knitting and sewing to impact different congregation members.
During the pandemic, Grubb has shared her work of creating monogrammed blankets for newborn babies in the church community with Betty Craig. Grubb started the project in 2010 and now gathers materials and sews the blanket as far as she can go until she reaches the monogram part, and then she drops off the blanket on Craig’s front door to finish.
Once the full name and birth date has been added and Craig has monogrammed CSUMC, the blankets are given to Children’s Director Katryn Bancroft who assures the gift makes its way to the new parents.
In addition to these blankets, volunteers knit or crochet prayer shawls to be given to members who are experiencing illness, chemotherapy, surgery or other life crisis where they need comfort of knowing prayers are being lifted up to them. 61 prayers shawls were distributed in 2020.
When these shawls were delivered in person, a written prayer would be read over the person, creating a meaningful moment for both the recipient and the giver. Now a printed prayer is included with each shawl.
“I’ve taken shawls to people before, and you could just tell that they were very, very touched by that,” Christmas says.
There are other small projects that the committee works on from time to time, including walker bags to attach to the walkers of older members of the congregation.
New member assimilation
If you’ve joined the church in recent years, you’ve likely come in contact with one of the Congregational Care Committee members. Each month Christmas and Grubb receive a new member report and pass along to the month’s volunteer.
The volunteer for the month will make contact within three weeks with the new member either by email or phone call. After that initial conversation, the volunteer continues contact for an additional six weeks to answer questions and make sure that they have been connected with ministry and mission opportunities.
Supporting military and their families
Another responsibility of the Congregational Care Committee is its dedication to military members and their families.
Grubb remembers when the U.S. entered Iraq in 2003. Her son-in-law was in the Army and in the first surge, and Rev. Bill Fowler created a special support group for members who had family in the military at the time.
Attending with her husband and daughter, she remembers how important the support meetings were, and likens the work Congregational Care does on a regular basis to these meaningful meetings.
Loretta Best has led this work as long as Christmas has been with the committee, and in a typical year, she maintains the military display board in the church with a photograph of all the active duty members and family of members of the church. She has continued to keep the board updated at the church during the pandemic, and in 2021, the Committee is taking one further step by recognizing active duty members in the Messenger each member’s birthday month so that the congregation can lift that military member up in prayer (in 2020, the committee dedicated this space to members in their 90s and older).
In addition to maintaining the board, Best will send cards on occasion to military members, and each Christmas she sends them a care package on behalf of the committee.
Helping members with bereavement has been the most changed aspect of the Congregational Care Committee’s responsibilities.
Care notes, which are small pamphlets that cover a wide variety of issues, are kept on a display rack in the church for public access. While the committee and community has not had access to these care notes, clergy have been encouraged to take advantage of those pamphlets, which are grounded in scripture, when opportunities are presented.
“People have told me in the past that that’s been very meaningful to them and those little pamphlets have really helped them,” Christmas says.
Throughout the month of March, we are telling the stories of the Church Street Connectors, those in the church body who have exemplified “being the church” since the Covid-19 pandemic first hit in March 2020. When the church building closed, their ministries continued in new and thriving ways. Stay tuned for more stories all month and throughout the year.
During this time of the COVID pandemic and in-person classes being suspended, Church Street’s Confirmation class has continued without any interruption. This year’s class of fifteen 6th and 7th graders began last September and will continue through April 2021. They meet every Sunday at 11 am via Zoom. The parents join the students on screen the first Sundays in the month.
The class is taught by Rev. Rick Isbell with on-screen help from Russell & Melanie McNutt and Jeri Strong. Behind the scenes Jenny Cross’ support has been tremendous in setting up electronic student folders, and Paula Buckner’s filing system of past Confirmation materials has been invaluable in helping us continue to get important Confirmation materials to students.
We have been delighted for our clergy staff to join the class periodically along with Confirmation mentors. In addition to weekly class sessions, class members have also been collecting food items for BOH Food Co-op as well as money to contribute to Heifer Project International.
In spite of all the challenges and hurdles of doing class via Zoom, the students have been great in their attendance and participation. We’ve even had some class members to join us while traveling in the car on trips (there are some advantages to Zoom!). What the future holds, we don’t know; but the Confirmation class will keep zooming along.
At the start of each summer, Church Street participates in a special hands-on mission project in conjunction with the Holston Conference. In an unprecedented year, the need was greater than ever, and the task more challenging than ever.
Within the Holston Conference, projects in Liberia and Zimbabwe are supported by the fulfillment of buckets full of food and school supplies. For the past two years, Church Street has supported the Zimbabwe-based project Ishe Anesu, which is designed to provide education to under-resourced children. This is accomplished through the payment of school fees and the purchase of required school uniforms, books and stationery.
“American schools are funded by the state,” Associate Pastor Rev. Palmer Cantler says. “Many public schools in African countries are not free and require families to pay for the education of their children.”
The Ishe Anesu project also offers Christian education and values, family and social ethics and recreation while providing two meals a day. Those meals are supported in part by the Church Street congregation.
In the two years Church Street has supported Ishe Anesu, Rev. Cantler has set a goal of fulfilling 50 food buckets. In 2019, the Tennessee Valley region of the Holston Conference sent 716 buckets to Zimbabwe. So far in 2020, 220 buckets have been sent.
Each bucket is filled with 1 bag (4-5 lb.) sugar; 1 bag (4-5 lb.) self-rising flour; 1 bag (2 lb.) rice; 1 bag (2 lb.) dried beans; 1 powdered milk (10 oz. or less); 1 box (18 oz. or less) quick/instant oats; 1 bottle (48 oz. or less) cooking oil; 1 box (50 count or less) Splenda/sucralose; and canned ham (2 lb. total).
The 5-gallon bucket must be packed strategically, Rev. Cantler says, because if one thing is off, it can be flagged by customs on its way to Zimbabwe and the whole shipment could be delayed.
Before the pandemic, buckets would sit in the breezeway of the church, waiting for members to take them home and fill before returning on a specific day, or members could support the project financially. Volunteers would then check each bucket to ensure that each was packed correctly before sealing with a lid and loading for shipment.
But as time for the annual hands-on project approached in 2020, Rev. Cantler was unsure of how to move forward with the buckets in a safe way, let alone fill 50 appropriately with a food shortage. Missions chair Katie Heatherly sparked confidence and the team decided to give it a try.
Opting to ask the congregation to support financially, it was nearly a week before the donations from members funded 70 buckets, surpassing the annual goal of 50 buckets in record time.
In addition to the financial giving from members, a church member affiliated with Home Depot learned about the project from the church newsletter and approached the missions team about donating the buckets for packing. Rev. Palmer also connected with a Kroger and Walgreens partner to order the appropriate food. Each partner coordinated the best way to safely order and transport supplies to the church.
Masked and gloved, the missions team packed 70 buckets in one night, working socially distanced in an assembly line style. The buckets were packed and sent off to their recipients in Zimbabwe.
“It was really amazing that we were able to do more,” Rev. Cantler says. But, little did she know when she received the updated numbers the next week that donations for the project had jumped to about $5,000— almost double what was received in the first week.
In addition to learning that donations had far exceeded what she expected, Rev. Cantler felt confident that the team of volunteers could fill the gap caused by COVID-19’s impact on other churches in the Tennessee Valley region. She ordered more food, asked her contact at Home Depot for 50 more buckets and on Saturday, Nov. 7, volunteers packed 50 more buckets. This brings the total for the Holston Conference total to 270.
“I hoped for 30 at the beginning of the year,” Rev. Cantler says. “120? I was astonished.”
This miraculous act of giving by the Church Street congregation reminds Rev. Cantler of her word for the year: Flexibility. Early in 2020, events happened that began to be clear signs that God was showing her how to have flexibility in her life, and the Zimbabwe food buckets are no exception.
“A big lesson in 2020 for me is God is abundant,” she says. “God has continued to show up in abundance and generosity and shown generosity in this congregation.”
What started as a goal of 50 more than doubled, and it created quite the impact on the Ishe Anesu project as founder Maria Sabino Humbane and her team continue to support the immediate needs of the poorest of the poor. They can provide more opportunities for continued growth through vocational training and outreach programs to educate and empower mothers of Ishe Anesu children.
“I just keep praying for abundance and flexibility and staying out of the way,” Rev. Cantler says. “No matter what, God will provide.”
Want to become involved with Missions at Church Street? Learn more here.
- Provide Lunch for Getting Ahead Class: Lunches are needed for our next Beacon of Hope Getting Ahead Class, which begins on Monday, 9/30. If you’re able to provide a dinner for about 10 people, please contact Dona McConnell (865-599-5047). 12 volunteers are needed.
- Youth Mission Blitz: Join our Youth during Fall Break (October 10-11) for three different mission opportunities. See the front page of this week’s Messenger for more info. Lunch provided, and construction expertise valued (though not necessary for every volunteer opportunity on those days). Contact Jenny Cross at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to volunteer.
- Provide Dinner for Family Promise: If you are able to provide a dinner October 7 or 8, please contact Susan Fowlkes to help at email@example.com.
Trunk or Treat Trunks: Children’s Ministry is gearing up for a great Trunk or Treat on October 27 at 5 pm. We are looking to pack the Magnolia Parking Lot for our kiddos with at least 30 cars. Please contact Katryn Bancroft if you want to join in the fun and decorate your trunk for the festivities (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Halloween Carnival at Beacon of Hope: Help provide activities/games, candy for trick or treating, and support on October 29 at 4:00 at Vestal UMC for the kids Beacon of Hope serves in this South Knoxville neighborhood. Please contact Dona McConnell (865-599-5047) if you would like to help.
|Beacon of Hope Sharing Shop — Second and Fourth Thursday of each month at Vestal UMC in South Knoxville (12 pm). Contact Dona McConnell if interested.
Beacon of Hope Benevolence Volunteers — Meet every Tuesday at Vestal UMC in South Knoxville (12 pm) to provide assistance to our neighbors in South Knoxville. Contact Dona McConnell if interested.
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Beacon of Hope, located at the former Vestal United Methodist Church in South Knoxville, serves Church Street’s neighbors in need through a variety of programs. This week, Beacon of Hope shared a new program with the area’s children: Vacation Bible School.
Along with parents and volunteers from Church Street, children ages 3 and up were engaged with Bible stories, songs, art projects, active lessons, and prayer as they learned more about “Life is Wild; God is Good”, this year’s theme. Enjoy the photo gallery below of kids (and adults!) taking part in this fun 3-day event.