Bright Lights: Spiritual Growth Through Service
United Methodist Women at Springfield Gardens United Methodist Church in Queens, N.Y., is active in spirit and deed, offering opportunities for personal spiritual growth and supporting projects that meet community material needs. The 100-member unit meets monthly for prayer, hymn singing and discussions about mission projects and how to raise money to fund them. Unit president Diana J. Collier said the group "gives all of us an opportunity to learn about and share in outreach ministry."
The Far Rockaway Mission in Queens, N.Y., is a New York Conference initiative and one of the unit's major projects.
"Every Sunday I represent our unit and our church in overseeing Sunday worship services at the mission," said United Methodist Women member Marie Davis. "Many of the people who attend are homeless or are working homeless, some live on the beach under the boardwalk, and others are physically challenged. Most have incomes below the poverty level."
Many of the volunteers at the mission are from Far Rockaway, a largely working and middle class neighborhood, and attend services there on Sundays.
"Lay speakers, seminarians and other congregants from various United Methodist churches take part in the services as preachers, child and youth leaders and counselors, making themselves available wherever needed," Ms. Davis said. "It is an opportunity for them to use their God-given gifts to serve others. I asked God to let me know where I can serve best. I believe God has directed me there, at least for this season of my life. This outreach ministry is very dear to my heart."
The Far Rockaway Mission service is ecumenical including Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, African Methodist Episcopal and United Methodists. The mission is open five days a week, serving hot meals and offering clothing and food packages to neighbors in need. Every September supporters of the mission take part in a walkathon on the boardwalk of Far Rockaway to raise money for the mission. While the mission is struggling for funds to continue operating, God continues to provide, Ms. Davis said.
Springfield Gardens United Methodist Women also supports the Woman's Advocate Ministry, a mission outreach for women in prison and their children. The Rev. Annie M. Bovian, a member of the Springfield Garden's unit, is the executive director of the program. The unit supports the program financially and with material goods for infants and children. Several unit members crochet sweaters and clothing for the incarcerated women's children, and Springfield Gardens Cov-enant Quilters makes quilts for the program to distribute where needed. Unit members also serve as prayer partners and pen pals with the incarcerated women and visit the women in prison.
"I correspond with a woman who tells me about her life," said Julia Rinehardt, a member of the Springfield Gardens unit. "I write back to encourage her to keep the faith, to remind her who Jesus is and that she's never alone.
"I love what United Methodist Women stands for. It connects me strongly with the United Methodist Church and to service in mission with women, children and youth. Mission is what the church is about."
Though most of Springfield Gardens United Methodist Women's projects are local, it also supports global projects. When unit member Patricia Wilkins went to Ghana to work with a local school, the unit began supporting several children at the school, sending money for school fees and clothing. Ms. Wilkins is now a Global Ministries
missionary in Ghana that the unit supports financially. She started a program called BASICS International: Brothers and Sisters in Christ Serving. She plans to open a boarding house at the school so the 12 female students can stay on campus and not need to travel long distances to get to school.
Springfield Gardens United Meth-odist Women also supports Beecham Hill in St. Mary's Parish, Jamaica. Member Aurora Jureidini lives in St. Mary's Parish and runs a Bible school for the children and adults. The unit ships barrels filled with food, clothing and toys to the children in St. Mary's Parish every Christmas.
Fundraising for mission
Springfield Gardens raises money for mission in an annual spring luncheon along with a summer or fall fundraising effort. Unit members also organize social outings to raise mission dollars. "It's a way to involve friends and introduce them to us. As we've stated many times over, everything we do is for mission not ourselves," Ms. Collier said.
Last year, the unit's first meeting of the fall fell on September 11. The Springfield Gardens unit members together prayed words they strive to live as United Methodist Women:
"Gracious God, when we wake in the morning we don't know if it will be our last day. Help us to move as if it is our last day on earth. We are missionaries for you. We will always ask you to guide us in the world."
Beryl Goldberg is a photojournalist in the New York City area and a frequent contributor to response.