Mobilizing in Ministry with the Poor

Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conferenct (standing), host of one of two Ministry with the Poor roundtables, welcomes participants. She is one of several United Methodist leaders who are reexamining how the church ministers WITH the poor.  A UMNS photo by Anne Marie Gerhardt.

Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conferenct (standing), host of one of two Ministry with the Poor roundtables, welcomes participants. She is one of several United Methodist leaders who are re-examining how the church ministers with the poor. A UMNS photo by Anne Marie Gerhardt.

By Anne Marie Gerhardt*

The church reaches out to the poor in many ways, but some United Methodist leaders are re-examining how the church ministers with the poor and if it can do better.

To look for strategic answers, nearly 40 clergy, laity, agency and nonprofit leaders gathered Dec. 10-11, 2013, in Chicago at the second of two Ministry with the Poor roundtables. Two United Methodist agencies —  the Board of Global Ministries and the Board of Church and Society — organized both meetings. The first roundtable was in Dallas on Nov. 6-7, 2013. Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Conference was the host to that gathering. The hope is to bring in new people, develop new ideas and start new ministries with the poor, one of the four areas of focus in The United Methodist Church.

“We want to do lots of listening, sharing, critiquing, brainstorming and strategizing,” Mary Ellen Kris, ministry with the poor consultant for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, told those gathered at the meeting. “This is hands-on, roll up your sleeves and let’s figure out how to do things better and differently than we are doing it right now.”


Participants agreed the church still needs to move beyond the notion of ministry “to” or “for” the poor and be more intentional of being in ministry “with” the poor.

“It’s relationship-driven rather than resource-driven,” said one participant. Others said it’s about dignity, empathy, inclusiveness and is transformational, not transactional.

Host Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conference welcomed the participants and prayed that the two-day meeting would help rediscover the Wesleyan foundational movement to be with the poor in the world.

“There is extreme poverty in the city of Chicago that concerns us, and we pray that we may walk more closely with those who are out in the cold, those who are homeless and those who have no food,” the bishop said.

In the spring of 2013, Dyck put together an urban strategy summit in Chicago to begin to address some of the issues of poverty in the city around four areas including; community safety, restorative justice, education and literacy and food security.

“The United Methodist churches have a long history of helping to address these issues in the city and we have a lot of shining examples, but we can do more,” she said. “We need more shining stars. It can’t be just one or two churches — every church needs to be engaged with their community.”

Ways to move forward

In addition to some general agency staff, the Justice and Reconciliation Team of the Council of Bishops is also in conversation on this area of focus. Dyck reported observations and suggestions from their recent meeting:

  • There is not now a movement of ministry with the poor and not a sense that people identify with and connect to that idea
  • There is a need to identify ministries with the poor from around the connection
  • Explore what being in ministry with the poor means
  • Organize experiential training events around the country
  • Get churches involved in healthy partnerships with their communities
  • Continue using the website (ministrywith.org) to promote resources for the movement

The Rev. Andrea King, associate director of Ministry with the Poor of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, attended the roundtable and said their cities and churches are facing many of the same challenges. “It goes back to community over and over again,” she said. “Even if you’re marginalized for a time, you’re still part of the community, and the church can serve as an advocate and facilitator to reach the community a little better.”

The Rev. John Fanestil, executive director of the nonprofit organization Foundation for Change in San Diego, said he came to the roundtable to learn how local churches can be more engaged. “A lot of work such as advocacy, lobbying, partnering, mobilizing is being done well outside of the church, but the challenge is bringing it inside the church,” he said. “Some may not be comfortable with it or feel it’s part of their church experience.”

Building on the energy and ideas of the Dallas gathering, facilitators said the Chicago roundtable strengthened the groundwork for mobilizing more local churches to model Jesus’ example of servant leadership by intentional ministry with the poor, not to or for the poor. Planning efforts are already underway to offer experiential ministry with the poor trainings at multiple local churches 2014.


* Gearhardt is director of communications for the Northern Illinois Conference. Myka Kennedy Stephens contributed to the report. She is the public communications consultant for the United Methodist Women’s offices of Deaconess, Home Missioner and Home Missionary.

For more information,  visit the Ministry with the Poor website



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  1. Keith Hays

    How can we get beyond the idea that our ministry is something that “WE” don for “THEM”? How od we include “THEM” in the life of our Church? It must go beyond ideas of Christian Charity embodied in food pantries and donations of lightly used winter coats. Feeding the hungry and clothing the naked are important missions we are called upon by the Gospels to provide, but how can we make “THEM’ a part of the “WE” that comprise the Body of Christ? How do we say, “Come, you are part of us.”?

  2. Pastor (Ret.) Agnes Campbell Saffoury.

    When John Wesley realized that the marginalized were not welcomed to worship services, he went to them. Are we meeting people where they are? Are we welcoming people to “come as you are?” It seems that the problems and solutions remain the same! There is too much NIMBY in our churches. Most people who take the time to try to change things are contented with donating canned goods and packed food, second-hand clothing, or writing check or dropping a couple of dollars into the plate–the easy way out! I thank God for the Holiness Club, the Holiness Movement, the Wesleys, and, most of all, Jesus the Living Christ. Remember that we are the new temple!

  3. Walt Pryor

    I agree with Keith, above. I feel Methodist have replaced Christ with feeding the poor. What people need most is Jesus Christ. If we only support the poor without finding a way to bring them to Christ, we have lost! The most important command given too us, by Jesus, was, go into all the World preaching to every creature the Good News. Feeding the poor only is dismissing our most important job. Too much money is thrown into this is, wasted. In most cases we are only enabling really bad habits.
    The Disciples in Jesus time had it right. Feed the widows, if they are worthy. If a man can help in some way, but refuses, then do not feed him! That is training. It is also another way to avoid personal responsibility. Give money to church, and let do it. Then we can feel good about our part. But that is not what Bible says. We, personally, should be feeding and helping people, not paying others to do it for us.
    There are fore kinds of poor. Not all deserve help.

  4. Laura L. Salguero, LA UMW Social Action Coordinator

    I certainly cannot agree with everything the above writer has to say, but I would like to tell you about an upcoming event in the Louisiana Conference. It is on Feb.8 and is about The Church’s Response to Poverty. It is being sponsored by LA UMW, LA Board of C&S, LA UMM and LA COSROW. Although mercy ministries will always be important, the event is about moving from mercy to justice and finding root causes and long-term solutions.

  5. H. Wayne Parrish

    I think the article and the comments above are right on. Politicians are gushing money to buy votes but doing nothing to boost prospects for meaningful and satisfying lives nor to bring the poor into contact with productive society. Where there is true hunger and suffering we need to act to relieve it but, at least in this country, people are more in need of human warmth than food.

    1. milpolice

      In the United States the “Poor” do not need my money or the UMC monies, the Government steals enough of working Americans wealth and labor or prints it to sustain them. What the poor in the United States need is morals, ethics, and Jesus. Most people in the US are poor because of sin; weather is divorce, out of wedlock births, or gluttony for “stuff”. If you have a disability or elderly fully understand we are here to help, but the “Poor” single mother who receives thousands of dollars in cash and benefits is the one who needs guidance from the church not the churches money. We are here to educate about the ethics and morals of God and Christ not to reward sin.

  6. milpolice

    The UMC really needs to focus on its members and not non-members. Its disappointing to see the church giving or handing out food to non-members who’s loyalties to god and Jesus are borderline at best while weekly church goers are always hit up for funds and food. I would like to see a focus on our UMC members.

  7. Dave Chnupa

    Relationship-driven: How about Ministry WITH the Poor?

  8. John Flowers

    If folks want a helpful resource about ministry with the poor, please check out Not Just a One Night Stand; Ministry With the Homeless articles in the archive of Circuit Rider and a book by the same name.

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