Photo contest reveals touching stories




LAKELAND -- The two winners of the Florida Conference’s “Actions Speak Louder” photo contest last fall have been selected and awarded their prizes, but some of the stories behind the many pictures submitted were too good to let go untold.

Below, the four runners-up discuss the outreach ministry shown in their photo submissions. Others who submitted have been invited to share stories on the Florida Conference Facebook page, www.facebook.com/floridaumc. The first of those stories and photos, about an outreach ministry at First UMC, Miami, was posted today. 

Blessing of Beasts, First UMC, Bunnell
Veronica Hooker, center, looks on as Rev. Barbara Randall, left, and Rev. Beth Gardner bless Eloise the pet rat at First UMC's "Blessing of the Pets" and Pet Fest in Bunnell. Photo by church member Gordon Butler.

“Bless the Beasts and the Children,” submitted by Rev. Beth Gardner, pastor at First United Methodist Church, Bunnell.

The church held its first-ever blessing of the pets and PetFest on Nov. 3, and about 50 pets came to the community-wide event. The pet rat in the photo, named Eloise, belongs to young Veronica Hooker, a neighbor who was invited to the event by a church member. Veronica is looking on as Eloise is doubly blessed by Rev. Gardner on the right and Rev. Barbara Randall on the left. Randall is a deacon on “honorable location” at the church.

After each pet was blessed, the owners received a souvenir copy of the pet blessing with their pet’s name and church information.

Two rescue groups, Flagler County Humane Society and Second Chance Rescue, brought dogs needing homes. Gently used pet supplies were available for exchange, homemade dog and cat treats sold for $1 a bag with proceeds going to the rescues and attendees brought pet food donations for the rescue groups. Also, pet owners were encouraged to make prayer flags for their pets, especially those that are ill or have died.

Gardner also revealed that as a result of blessing Eloise, her heart softened to the idea of having a family pet rat, so her children now have three pet rats living at the parsonage:  Dandelion, Rose and Periwinkle.

Plans are to host another Blessing of the Pets next year.  


Facepainting at First UMC, Gainesville, by artist A. Averill
Alesia Averill of First UMC, Gainesville, paints the face of an attendee to the church's fall festival in the downtown area. Photo from Rev. David Averill.

“Fall Festival Face Painting," at First UMC, Gainesville, submitted by Rev. David Averill, associate pastor.

This annual outreach event occurred Oct. 26 in the downtown area where the church is located. Alesia Averill, David’s wife, is shown painting a young woman’s face, one of about 40 people she decorated during the three-hour event. The family festival included hayrides, games and free food. In addition, about 15 homeless persons ate dinner.

Rev. Averill described the event as a "great start" to his congregation's plans to be intentional in community connection endeavors.

“I think this event displayed the biblical principle of ‘radical hospitality’ on the part of First UMC, Gainesville," he said.

"We are trying to do more outreach events like this to connect with the diverse community of downtown Gainesville, particularly the large homeless community that congregates around the downtown area.”
 

Neil Flood and Alan Etherington cooking hot dogs
Neil Flood, left, and Alan Etherington cook some of the 1,000 hot dogs served First UMC's fall festival in Port St. Lucie. Photo from Rita Etherington.

“Don’t stop cooking the hot dogs,” at First UMC, Port St. Lucie, submitted by Rita Etherington, member.

Church members Neil Flood (left) and Alan Etherington (right) are wearing shirts from the previous year’s fall festival as they cook some of the 1,000 hot dogs served at an event with the theme “Be a Hero – Shine God’s Light.” One of the largest outreach events the church’s Witness Team coordinates each year, the three-hour event takes months of planning and volunteering. This year it happened Oct. 20.

“Our mission is to shine the light of God’s love through our actions and our words.  We show the community how Jesus is at work in our church through the people,” Rita Etherington said.

Youth volunteers dressed as superheroes, including Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Spider-man, Superwoman and Superman. Children were given maps to find them and get hand stamps. Their reward was a glow-in-the-dark bracelet with a cross on it, and1,000 of these were passed out.

A youth portraying Jesus handed out balloons with the “shine” message. Besides hot dogs, the church provided 500 hamburgers, 500 pork sandwiches, popcorn, sodas, water, candy and a cookie walk, all free.

Other highlights of the festival included four craft tents, two bounce houses, a bungee run, Christian music from the church praise band, prayer booths and free Christian reading material. In addition, the church’s Spanish ministry, El Aposento Alto, had a booth to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community.

The whole church got involved by donating supplies, cooking and wrapping food, handing it out and then breaking everything down when the ministry concluded.
 

Tami Lingelbach's yard rolled as gesture of support
Tami Lingelbach's yard was rolled with a special message of "Hope" by Winter Park's St. Andrew UMC youths wishing to cheer her during illness. Photo from Chelsea Lingelbach.

“Church Vandals Strike Hope into Our Hearts,” by St. Andrew UMC, Winter Park, submitted by Chelsea Lingelbach.

When youth volunteers at this past summer’s Vacation Bible School decided to reach out to a longtime member in the midst of her health struggle, they came up with a twist on a typical teenage prank. They decided to “roll” Tami Lingelbach’s front yard with toilet paper. But instead of creating merely a nuisance and a mess, they used the paper to spell out a message of “HOPE.” 

Chelsea, Tami’s daughter, a former member of the youth group and now an adviser, reported that this gesture came at a pivotal time in her mother’s treatment and was very welcome.

“We went over one day after the kids left Bible School and left the message on the lawn," Chelsea said.

"It was the day she had gone to the Mayo Clinic after a surgery to get a scan and when she returned home, there it was. She loved it.”

Asked about the skill level required to spell a word rather than just rolling the yard, Chelsea replied, ”Most teenagers are experts at TP rolling.”

* Anne Dukes is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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