“As the pastor, I can’t lead it,” says Rev. Rev. Jim Harry of Saint Paul UMC in Goldsboro, NC, “If it’s time for this (United Methodist Men) to die out then so be it. If God wants it to be something new then it will happen.” This is what took place about four years ago. After attempts to keep it alive the formal foundations of Men’s ministry of the congregation slowly ceased to exist over two years. The traditional things still took place. There was scouting, fundraising for scholarships, but there was no organizational ministry framework for Saint Paul UMC’s men.
A couple years later, this tiny seed was planted purely at random when a couple of younger guys from the congregation came to hang out on Rev. Jim’s porch. “It was a social gathering. We were there to chew the fat. It was fun, we had fellowship.” Soon the hang-out sessions slipped into a space where honest discussions could take place. The group became a bit larger and meetings more regularly. Discussions shifted to questions about faith journeys. They shared in confidence about their souls and sought support and advice from one another on how to be a better husband or a better father.”
The laymen in the group began to ask who else could benefit from these nighttime porch gatherings. They invited other young men who had recently moved into the neighborhood and welcomed in some of the men in the congregation with more life experience. “We checked self-esteem at the edge of the porch or we dealt with it pretty quickly,” says ‘preach’ as the guys started calling Rev. Jim, “and in this safe space, we started to deal with our spiritual health. We talked about how forgiveness works in marriage. We shared struggles and celebrated too. Stuff like that. This is something that these guys wanted, something they needed.”
It was apparent this small group was meaningful and filling a need. “It was ultimately clear when one of our men’s daughter was diagnosed with cancer. The night after word spread about the diagnosis my porch was 12 deep of men praying out loud, one at a time, for this family and the child. Many of these men had never done that before. They prayed and were giving real spiritual care.”
Rev. Jim’s said to his wife after she witnessed the prayer session from inside the house, “Our church has a growing budget, strong attendance, we’ve just cast a new vision for our future, we’ve completed a $2 million renovation, and we’ve got a lot of good things going for us, but what just happened on our porch may just be one of the most important things to happen in our church’s life.”
Rev. Jim took a survey and began to develop an approach. “My guys told me they saw three things as important. First, they needed to know what the Bible says. They wanted spiritual formation to continue. They set a goal of 80% of the men to be in some form of small group. Second, they wanted to put their faith into action and they’ve started to create or support local ministries as well as partner with FastPrayGive.org. Third, they want to reach back and ensure the traditional ministries of the UMM are still alive like scouting, funding scholarships, Rise Against Hunger, and softball.”
Rev. Jim’s congregation has really latched on to FastPrayGive.org. “Can they make it any easier to follow God?” asks Rev. Jim. With FastPrayGive, Methodists are asked to fast one meal per week, pray during that mealtime for world hunger, and give what you would have spent to end world hunger. The funds help partners like Rise Against Hunger who have been successful at breaking the cycle of poverty. FastPrayGive is a program created by a World Methodist Council affiliate, WesleyMen, which is an endorsed ministry of the General Commission on United Methodist Men. Rev. Jim says, “In our small groups we’ll tackle what it means to fast in more detail, and use the resources from FastPrayGive to pray and work toward ending hunger for those who suffer from chronic malnourishment. We’ve got a goal of 50 men registering with FastPrayGive and we’ve nearly met that goal in a couple of weeks.”
Rev. Jim cautions that the formal Men’s ministry rebirth is in its infancy, but there is a real promise, “God did this when we created the space for The Holy Spirit to move amongst us on the porch.” It grew with men’s lay leadership being nurtured in a social setting and out of that we’ve started to develop an approach to give rise to something new for Men’s ministry.
FastPrayGive is an invitation to Fast one meal per week, Pray during that mealtime for hunger, and Give what you would have spent to fund organizations breaking the systemic causes of chronic malnourishment. For more information visit FastPrayGive.org
Rise Against Hunger is an international hunger relief organization based in Raleigh, N.C., works to implement immediate and long-term solutions to hunger worldwide. With program locations in 20 U.S. cities and five international offices, Rise Against Hunger has engaged volunteers to package more than 375 million nutrient rich meals for distribution to 74 countries around the globe. To find out more visit riseagainsthunger.org.