5 Talent Academy focuses on ministry with the poor
Dr. Alan Rice was the keynote speaker at the 5 Talent Academy.
(Video courtesy of Steven Dixon, Floris UMC)
The Rev. Dr. Alan Rice, whose call to serve the impoverished among us is just as strong as his call to serve God as a pastor, made an impassioned plea for congregations in the Virginia Conference to be “doers of the Word” when it comes to helping the poor, Oct. 2, at the 5 Talent Academy.
Rice is executive director of Rural Faith Development, an agency in the Western North Carolina focused on faith-based community development. He also is pastor at Crossfire UMC, a church that primarily serves bikers in and around Wilkesboro, N.C. Rice wore jeans and a leather vest for his 5 Talent presentation. “I drive a white Fatboy (motorcycle) to church,” he said, “which is good, because I am a white fat boy.”
The event was notable for being the first teaching session of the second cycle of the 5 Talent Academy, an element of the “All Things New” Virginia Conference strategy that focuses on planting new faith communities and lifting up congregations that are already established. About 75 churches are signed up so far for round two; more than 110 completed the first cycle of six teaching sessions.
The event was also notable because the content was “cybercast” to multiple locations around the conference for the first time. Dr. Rice and Bishop Young Jin Cho spoke at Floris UMC in Herndon, but participants listened at sites in Roanoke, Richmond, Tidewater, the Eastern Shore and the Shenandoah Valley. At lunchtime, participants heard about local church’s mission efforts with the poor, then broke up into peer groups to process what they’d heard.
Bishop Cho preached for opening worship, reminding listeners that he had grown up in poverty and had dropped out of high school because of not having enough money to pay for his education.
“We are helped and changed by our ministry with the poor,” said Cho, who added that because we are faith-based, we must do more than an agency like the Red Cross. “In Christ we have a reason that we do this ministry. We have a story to tell to the nations. If we share only bread, and not the bread of life, our efforts will not be sufficient.”
Bishop Cho described a feeding ministry in South Korea that provides food to thousands of people each day. It was started 24 years ago when a single person made contact with a homeless man lying on the cold floor of the local train station and took the starving man to get something to eat. A group of about two dozen Virginia Conference pastors volunteered at the ministry one day last year while on a trip to Korea.
Cho reminded the audience that Jesus was homeless. In his presentation, Rice talked about Jesus’ strong connection with the poor. “The Bible says again and again that Jesus went to Bethany, a small town close to Jerusalem,” Rice said. “Bethany means ‘House of the Poor.’ It was literally the ‘poor house’ for the great city of Jerusalem. Jesus goes there to spend time with people who are living in poverty.”
Rice said that John Wesley, too, had an almost complete focus on helping the poor, who made up about 80 percent of the population of England in Wesley’s time. “It was Wesley’s passion,” Rice said. “He spent at least two days of every week just being with them. He preached to them in the fields and the streets.”
Wesley did more than talk, however. At his Foundry Church, Wesley organized classes where people learned to read and write, held give-aways of coal and food, Rice described. “Wesley – who as a boy was plucked from a parsonage fire by neighbors who had a ladder handy – was providing ladders of opportunity to raise people up.”
Rice talked about programs that are helping to do the same, including “Circles,” where middle class “allies” help persons in poverty by befriending them, building a relationship with them, rather than by providing resources.
“We have the fancy red fire trucks,” Rice said, “but we’ve forgotten the ladders and the hoses.”
“Wesley said that ministry with the poor is not a one-way deal. As Bishop Cho pointed out, you must be involved with the poor. John Wesley understood that. He knew that the people in the churches were also being transformed, not just those being served.”
“It’s not about doing for the poor, it’s about the church being in relationship with the poor,” Rice concluded. “It’s about our transformation, not (the poor’s). … They’ve taught me far more than I have taught them.”
Rice, who was a delegate to Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference this past summer, called Cho “the Lazarus Bishop” for rising up from a low of 15 votes to being elected a bishop of the church. “Is there any bishop more qualified to lead this transformative ministry? If I go down and get (North Carolina) Bishop Hope (Morgan-Ward) and her folks, and (Western North Carolina) Bishop Larry (Goodpaster) and his folks, and Virginia’s, that’s more than 800,000 United Methodists in just these three conferences! Is that enough to start something?”
-Neill Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate
From left, the Rev. Tom Berlin and the Rev. Mark Miller welcome participants to Floris UMC, Herndon, for the 5 Talent Academy teaching event that was simulcast to five other locations around the conference.