Bringing New Life to the Community
The Community Developers Ministry of New Life Community United Methodist Church, Jacksonville, Fla.
By Tanika Harris
New Life Community United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., lives up to its name by bringing new life into its community, especially among youth.
This vibrant church has an action-oriented ministry led by its visionary pastor, the Rev. Candace Lewis, and aided by Global Ministries’ Community Developers Program. Since its birth in June 1997, New Life’s ministry has grown so large that it recently purchased and moved into a new six-acre campus that includes a sanctuary and youth ministries building.
The church successfully reaches dozens of youth, including teens and pre-teens, through programs such as Access LUMAS (Leadership, Unity, Mentoring, Arts/Academics & Spirituality/Sports). That program typically draws up to 80 young people a month, according to youth pastor Jeff Davis. The participants, who call themselves “The Fanatical Group,” are encouraged to be just that, by freely exhibiting vigor in their praise, worship, learning and service to God.
Youth learn theological and practical concepts about how Christian spirituality relates to every aspect of living in their world in a Godly manner. They are also taught to be sensitive to other cultures and religions through eye-opening, mind-expanding workshops on other faiths, such as Buddhism and Hinduism.
“But we are unapologetically Christian,” said Davis, adding that much of the program is based on the Scriptures. One example he cited is the Book of Daniel, which teaches young people “not to defy their temples, nor compromise their faith and love for God, by ingesting the food the world offers them.”
A nurturing, dedicated team of volunteers from the church and community bring these principles to fruition by providing and teaching the youth leadership skills in the many facets of Access LUMAS, including:
This ‘Fanatical Group’ of believers is not ashamed of learning, living and spreading the Gospel among non-believers. They focus on the three “C”s: being “Christ-centered,” with an understanding that Jesus Christ is Lord over their lives and the life of their church; “Changing” both themselves and their community; and being “Committed” to becoming living examples of the Kingdom of God.
Two keys to making this ministry work, said Davis, are “consistency, because the kids want to know that we’ll be here whether they come or not,” and “keeping it fresh with new ideas, because kids get bored quickly.”
Community Developers Program Assists New Life
Davis worked with New Life’s community developer, Julie Fluerinor, and other adult youth-leaders to start Access LUMAS several years ago, finding money and materials wherever they could, sometimes out of their own pockets. Today the ministry receives funding and other support from the Community Developers Program of the General Board of Global Ministries. This national program helps racial and ethnic minority United Methodist churches engage their low-income communities in advocating for their concerns, increasing socio-economic development opportunities and fostering changes in the social systems that govern their lives.
The Community Developers Program collaborates with annual (regional) conferences and participating churches to fund these projects by offering five years of salary support for each church’s community developer. The funds come from receipts of the offering United Methodist churches receive on Human Relations Day, a special Sunday observed churchwide every January.
Like other recipient churches, New Life hired and depends on its developer, Julie Fluerinor, to provide skilled, dedicated leadership and representation for the concerns of the community and the church together. She has a passion for life, for her faith in God, and of course, for her community.
“The church, especially the African-American church, has to recognize the need that youth have for spirituality and information,” said Fluerinor. “Information and knowledge has become the currency of this generation; so the church must not only reach youth, but also prepare them to express their Christian faith effectively in our global society.”
Tanika Harris is Executive Secretary of the Community Developers Program at the General Board of Global Ministries, The UnitedMethodistChurch.
Date posted: Sep 11, 2006