As the United Methodist Church worldwide, the General Board of Global Ministries has committed to four areas of service. One is Ministry with the Poor. It is one way that we commit to live out our Christian witness, our ministry in this world. It is who we say we are as United Methodists, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as servants of our Lord.
To catch this vision, click on the link below that will take you to the Global Ministries site which describes Ministry with the Poor… not to or for, but with the poor. This video casts the vision of the United Methodist Church in a way that will capture the heart and attention of believers. “In ministry with we are transformed… We transform each other,” the video says. Simply click www.ministrywith.org.
So what does ministry with the poor look like in the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church? In our Conference, a new ministry with the poor is emerging through the Circles of Transformation initiative. It is, in its simplest terms, United Methodists building intentional relationships across socioeconomic lines. This partnership of Circles and the United Methodist Church is not only being piloted here, but also by the North Carolina Conference.
The Circles® Campaign is a nationwide outreach that partners community leaders and volunteers with families that want to make the journey out of poverty. Operating in communities around the country, each Circles® initiative is built of families working to get out of poverty and several middle and upper income Allies who befriend them and lend support – not financial support, but support through the building of intentional friendships. The family is the Circle Leader who sets the goals and direction for the activities that will help to move them to a better place. With the help and friendship of their Allies and the Circles staff, families set and achieve goals specific to their own needs. So rather than targeting a surface need of at-risk families such as housing or food provision, Circles® seeks to create a brand new path for the future for families at risk. Recently CBS News did a story on Circles. Click here to see the transformation in one family’s lives that the CBS story shares.
In our Conference, for the last nine months a conference-wide Circles Leadership Team has been developing a Ministry Action Plan (MAP) for the implementation of Circles throughout the Conference. The Leadership Team chose Dothan as the initial site to pilot this effort. Circles information meetings have been held with Dothan area United Methodist pastors, interested church members, and with community agencies that desire to partner in this initiative.
In May, a Circles of Transformation Community Kick Off will be held in Dothan, and at that time we will invite the community to join us in this work. The CEO of the national Circles Campaign, Karin VanZant, will be the speaker and leader of the day’s events. The Circles process will be laid out for government leaders, potential community volunteers, and agencies in Houston County. Additional volunteers from the community at large will be enlisted. Those volunteers will commit to invest a few hours a month to befriend a family, as part of a team, in order that the family can learn how to grow in strength and stability. Ultimately, the goal is to help a family develop enough relationships and resources to do more than just survive… but to thrive.
The Circles Leadership Team is beginning to seek other communities within our Conference who are interested in being a part of this Conference-wide initiative in Ministry with the Poor.
To learn more about Circles, you can contact Fred and Laurel Blackwell, the Conference Circles Coordinators, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 334.524.3652.