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Community service commitment transforms church

Community service commitment transforms church

Missions and Outreach Resilient Churches
Packing team is hard at work: Grant Williams, Bill Collins, Bob Rives, Gwenn Rives, Barb Gignac, Arlene Buttner, Jean Pantley, Cathy Schied, Dollie Christ, Beth Dellinger.

On any given Sunday, First United Methodist Church of Jupiter-Tequesta regularly seats 250 to 300 people for worship. That is a healthy number now, but it was not always the case.

​Prior to its resurgence, Sunday worship attendance had dropped off significantly, and the church was not attracting new members.

“Our church was dying,” Director of Youth Ministry and Discipleship Kelly Betz said.

Now on any given day, FUMC Jupiter buzzes with activity.

“When you walk through the doors, you feel the hospitality and enthusiasm; it’s contagious. The church is alive. It is phenomenal to see the turnaround our church has made,” Betz said.

Paola Ardilla-Riley from Jupiter Elementary presenting an appreciation certificate to Kelly Betz, director of Discipleship & Youth Ministry at First UMC of Jupiter. Photo Credit: Paul Fattori

The Florida Conference recently presented the One Matters Discipleship Award to FUMC Jupiter-Tequesta. This award is given to one church per conference that previously recorded zero’s in professions of faith and baptisms, but whose numbers have shown noteworthy improvement.

So, what happened?

Betz credits much of this recent transformation to a commitment to service that the FUMC community has fully embraced under the leadership of Pastor Susan Gray.

“Service is the heart of this church. If there is a need, our members will step up every single time; they are truly ‘the hands and feet of Jesus,’” Betz said.

The Weekend Food Bag ministry, which began in 2013, is one of many life-giving springs where parishioners who thirst for service opportunities can come to drink.

Upon its inception, “NIK” (Nutrition in a Knapsack), as it was formerly known, served 50 Jupiter Elementary School (JES) students who were struggling with food insecurity. It is the only Title 1 elementary school in the area.

For the first five years, the budget for this grant-funded program was capped at 150 children and served only JES students.

After Betz inherited the leadership responsibility for NIK, she realized that 50 children were not receiving food because they were on a waiting list.

Our distribution team being welcomed back in 2018 by the Jupiter Elementary School Assistant Principal Katie Chrissinger and Palm Beach District representative Patrick Galatowitsch. From left to right: Bill Taylor, Jane Wilcox, Ron Long, Katie Chrissinger, Dr. Patrick Galatowitsch, Kelly Betz and Arlene Buttner.

“It dawned on me that, every week, there were children who remained hungry while some of their classmates were given bags of food to take home. It broke my heart,” Betz said.

The parishioners who attended the next Sunday service committed enough money to cover the additional children. When Betz delivered extra food bags to a classroom the next week, the teacher told Betz that she did not know who was on the waitlist. Betz looked up as a student rushed up and said, “I’m on the waitlist!”

“I handed her a bag,” Betz recalled. “She looked as delighted as if I had just handed her an iPad. She was so beyond grateful to know that she would be getting one of those black bags. From that moment on, we said, ‘No waitlist ever again.’ If we go over our budget, we find a way.”

FUMC Jupiter now partners with JupiterFIRST Church to meet all the community needs of the Weekend Food Program.

“This program is spirit-filled; it is transforming lives. Our ministries and our pastor have breathed new life into our church,” Betz said. “It has empowered others to create other ministries and to take leadership roles.

“This ministry has had such a ripple effect; it’s a blessing to witness. We are all honored to be part of it.”

—Sarah Hundley is a freelance writer based in Tallahassee.