FUMC Oviedo: homelessness is opportunity for ministry



Homelessness is a chronic problem throughout Central Florida, and it offers an opportunity for United Methodists to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

That’s how members of First United Methodist Church of Oviedo see things. They are committed to selfless service for those most in need.

The church teamed up recently with the Orlando Union Rescue Mission to provide new sneakers for homeless individuals and families.

However, Patina Ripkey, the church’s pastor of missional engagement and contemporary worship, wanted her group to do more than just collect shoes and socks, although they did collect 200 pairs.

The answer: plan a banquet for the homeless on Good Friday and have members wash the feet of those attending before presenting them with the new shoes.

“We’re going down and getting dirty,” she said. “It’s about serving and getting messy and being with those in need. They are human beings just like we are.”

Patina Ripkey (l) of First Oviedo and  Linda Roscoe who is the Volunteer Services Coordinator with some of the 200 pairs of shoes collected.

The Orlando homeless mission is expected to become the third core mission project for the Oviedo church.

“We do numerous things with the homeless here and had a really great organization we were involved with, but there was a breakdown in the management in that organization,” Ripkey said. “We had to re-think the whole thing.”

As Ripkey evaluated the situation, she learned about the Orlando Union Rescue Mission and took a small group from the church to go check it out.

“My goal was to find a place where our gifts at this church would match the needs of the mission,” she said. “I went down there and took four with me. We went to the mission, and it blew my mind how amazing it was.”

She’s worked in a lot of missions, but never one so well organized, so clean and working so hard to give people dignity.

“They allow people to stay for two years, as needed,” Ripkey said. “The goal is to get them on their feet, in a job, get a high school diploma; they have children’s programs, training, teaching.”

The program is all faith-based, started in the 1940s by a Methodist man. Freddy Clayton, an Episcopal priest, runs the program now.

“All of us had the same thought” after seeing the place, Ripkey said.

When Ripkey arrived at Oviedo UMC about a year ago, its members already yearned to do mission work but needed a better communication system. One of the ways she accomplished that was by putting a form on the church web site called “I Can Do That.”

If someone finds a ministry they want to join, they press a button to sign up.

“We have a set of core missions, at least three, including the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home and Orange County Academy,” Ripkey said.

She hopes the Orlando mission is approved as the third.

There are also volunteers that go to the nearby community of Bithlo, a town Ripkey said has all but been forgotten. It has a high poverty rate and many needs.

She hopes to do more by partnering with the Orlando mission to help Bithlo.

“We have volunteers that go out every week to the school there where the kids are living in some of the worst poverty I’ve ever seen,” Ripkey said.

Patina Ripkey's video pitch to donate shoes.

—Yvette Hammett is a freelance writer in Valrico



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