Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Lawton District churches open -- Doors of opportunity


By Holly McCray

Behind so many doors, hungry people wait. Churches in one district united to open those doors by offering physical and spiritual nourishment.

Reports confirm the famished were fed at Christ’s table as the result of an extensive welcoming campaign and food drives in Lawton District last year. The project was titled "A Life That Matters."

Bread for the body

Outside a Duncan grocery store, Chuck and Nancy Horton handed empty red bags to arriving shoppers. They asked each person to purchase one additional food item, place it in the bag, and donate it as they left the store.

The United Methodist food drive on Nov. 6 had started slowly in that city. District Superintendent Horton and his wife hoped to boost the effort by securing the store’s OK to give out the recyclable bags and describe their purpose.

"People were so generous," said Rev. Horton. Upon exiting, shoppers presented bags filled with food gifts. A clerk requested more bags to accommodate donors at checkout. Bulging bags of food soon crowded the sidewalk, and volunteers began shuttling the donations to nearby St. Paul’s UMC, the designated drop-off site.

A trickle of donations had swelled into a tsunami of generosity.

Ultimately, 3,120 food items were received that day at the church, reported Gerry Rawlings Mortson. Worshippers even found two more sacks of food outside St. Paul’s doors the next morning. All the food was transported to Christians Concerned, a local aid agency. (Four UM churches minister in Duncan.)

The Hortons’ experience reflected the success of the day to benefit feeding programs in the eight-county area.

David and Jana Gardner said food collected during a scavenger hunt at Grandfield helped fill backpacks for local elementary students without enough to eat on weekends. The Gracemont congregation of about 20 collected 292 items. In Marlow, some UM youths trick-or-treated for cans of food. The Snyder church set up a collection trailer at a football game.

Verden UMC converted an unused room in the church into a community food pantry; the town previously had none.

In Lawton, live radio appeals helped promote donations, which replenished supplies at the Lawton Food Bank. An agency official told Tom Sutherland of Lawton-Centenary UMC, "These Methodists really mean business." Sutherland said he is proud to be part of a Church that serves.

Motivated to do more

Photo by Holly McCray

At the Lawton District Conference on Nov. 7, Pastor Ken Baden of Lawton-Wesley Chapel UMC collects gift bags for eight new members. Each bag contains a New Testament, red wristband imprinted with "A Life That Matters," and booklet summarizing United Methodist beliefs, among other items.

Duncan-St. Paul’s Lay Leader Mortson wrote later, "As a congregation, we were blessed! It was an overwhelming feeling to do this for the community. It was also humbling to hear stories of people who brought food because they had received help in the past (from Christians Concerned)."

She added, "We are motivated to do it better. At our Strategic Planning meeting, we talked over ideas to remind parishioners to bring food. We decided to tie a monthly food drive to our Fellowship Dinner—we might remember to bring food if we are going to be served good food."

"A Day Without Hunger" was one aspect of the overall A Life That Matters evangelism endeavor. More important to the Kingdom was the accompanying challenge to open 10,000 doors—to invite people to join in the life of the Church. That delivered the feast that satisfies hungry souls.

Food for thought

Ryan United Methodists collected 100 pounds of food—and the church grew by three new members.

"Each church was urged to be part of opening 10,000 doors across the district by inviting friends, neighbors, and newcomers to experience what United Methodists were doing to show that every life matters to God and to the Church," explained Norma Quinn, the program’s coordinator and senior pastor at Lawton-Centenary UMC.

Superintendent Horton recalled a biblical story about opening a way to Jesus: a lame man’s friends made a hole in a roof—a door of sorts—and lowered him into Christ’s presence.

"God’s got a door just right for every person. People are looking for places to dig in and make a difference," he said.

Doors displayed in some churches promoted action. Members placed on them pictures and notes with names of people invited to visit and for whom they were praying.

On Nov. 7, hundreds of United Methodists traveled to First UMC in Lawton to celebrate the impact of the district initiative. Other reports of answered prayer joined the one from Ryan UMC.

Four couples had visited the Apache church. More than 20 newcomers were counted at a Lawton church.

Eight new members had been welcomed that morning at Lawton-Wesley Chapel.

‘This begins a new era’

"Throughout the months of this campaign, churches have experienced growth and new levels of vitality as they go beyond the walls of the church," reported Rev. Dr. Quinn.

"This begins a new era. It is one thing to attract new worship attendees and members. It is entirely different to engage them and help their discipleship take root. Because of that, each church will be encouraged to adopt and refine a path of discipleship; this will be discussed at the Local Church Leaders Workshop (Jan. 30). In addition, each church will be encouraged to revisit their ‘Day Without Hunger’ outreach and execute similar events at least twice during 2011."

District connects with UMCom

Endorsed by the District Council early last year, A Life That Matters was undergirded by an Impact Community Grant from United Methodist Communications (UMCom), the denomination’s media and marketing agency.

It’s a great example of the Church’s connectional strength.

The partnership of a district and General Church agency is unusual, Horton said, but UMCom provided "phenomenal support and materials."

"This grant enabled the profile of the district and the food drive to be raised to unprecedented levels through all kinds of media exposure," Quinn said.

The grant totaled more than $46,000 for media purchases and marketing, including newspaper and radio ads. Promotional materials were created and customized by UMCom, and included those red shopping bags, T-shirts, postcards, door hangers, and more. A website was launched.

An extensive "10,000 Doors" ministry is part of the denomination’s "Rethink Church" initiative, based on the Church’s "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors" brand. More information about these is available online; the denomination’s website is: www.umc.org.

"This is a wonderful moment," Horton summarized.

"One of our clergy spouses has been fasting and praying for this and the impact it can have for our churches and in people’s lives. That struck me to the core, because that person believes what’s at stake here is eternally important."


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