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Tampa youth group puts connection to work for Georgia church

Tampa youth group puts connection to work for Georgia church

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Tampa youth group puts connection to work for Georgia church

Aug. 28, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0349}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

NEW TAMPA — David Smith could have easily rested on his laurels at St. James United Methodist Church where he leads a flourishing youth group. Instead, he and his group reached out to a fledging youth group in another conference.

As youth pastor of a large United Methodist church in a growing part of Tampa, Smith began praying about the possibility of equipping another church to improve its youth ministry. He felt called to reach outside the Florida Conference into nearby Georgia and placed an inquiring call to the North Georgia Conference, seeking guidance on locating a small church with a struggling youth ministry.

WARWICK, Ga. — The youth groups of Florida's St. James United Methodist Church and Georgia's Warwick United Methodist Church gather in front of the Warwick church sign. The two churches began a relationship earlier this year when the Florida youth visited the Georgia youth to help them revitalize their youth ministry. Photo by Eric Mudge, Photo #05-225.

When he received no response, Smith didn't give up and placed another call, this time to St. Simon's Island. He was referred to Warwick United Methodist Church, a small church in the South Georgia Conference.

"In my prayer time I had been hearing Georgia," Smith said. "It didn't make sense logistically."

Spiritually, it was all coming together for Smith and his group of 60 to 100 youth. Smith contacted the Rev. Dorsia A. Atkinson Jr., pastor and youth director at the Georgia church, who was excited about the partnership growing between the two churches and tentatively called "The Internship." The Tampa youth made an exploratory trip to Georgia last February. One month later a 22-member team from the church headed north for a five-day trip, solidifying the affiliation.

And they didn't go empty-handed. The youth group raised close to $12,000 through pumpkin patch sales and weekly youth fellowship offerings. They wanted to use the funds to jumpstart the Georgia church's youth ministry and outreach to families surrounding the church.

"When David first contacted me, we didn't know what we'd do," Atkinson said.

Smith had some ideas. So did the Tampa youth. They wanted to renovate the entire youth ministry. What the group didn't accomplish during its five-day stay, a second, 11-member group completed during a 10-day trip last July.

The Tampa group listened to the Georgia youth and helped them achieve what they needed to have a successful youth ministry. Together, the groups designed, renovated, painted and decorated a new youth center.  They removed old playground equipment, set up a telephone calling system and installed two computers, a projector and screen for the sanctuary. They also landscaped around the church and installed a fountain, benches, rock climbing wall, volleyball and tennis courts, playground structures, and basketball goals.

Atkinson didn't want his youth to be outdone by the Tampa church so the group raised matching funds to complete additional projects at the church.

The two groups also worked together to create a lasting impression in the town of 450 people. They worked with an assisted living facility, provided a free car wash and donated money to a local gas station so it could drop the price of gas 40 cents a gallon. The youth even pumped the gas.

Atkinson said just the presence of the "out-of-towners" got people talking and wondering exactly what was going on over at the United Methodist church.

"We created a stir. People wanted to see what was going on," Atkinson said.

Atkinson doesn't mind "the talking." He had already created a buzz in town by providing an 8:45 a.m. boat worship service from a boat on Lake Blackshear, which borders the church property. He started the service eight years ago. Now, it boasts an average attendance of 150 boats.

Atkinson said he is excited about keeping the community guessing about what the church will do next, which might include taking his youth group on a trip south of the Georgia line to New Tampa.

"You know, my kids have never been in a place like Tampa," he said. "I think that would be good."

Atkinson said seeing the love and concern Smith and his youth showed for Warwick United Methodist Church through their willingness to invest in a church so far away and different has had the greatest impact on the Georgia church.

Smith said the experience quickly became an opportunity to put the church's Wesleyan heritage into practice.

WARWICK, Ga. — Brittany Dulabone (left), Brandi Wyskocil (middle) and Abby Randall aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. The members of St. James United Methodist Church paint a field shed at Warwick United Methodist Church in Georgia. The youth are part of a group that traveled to Georgia to help the Warwick youth group with various projects at the church. Photo by Holli McLaughlin, Photo #05-226.

"We are a connectional church," he said. "This is our opportunity to do outreach. Any church can do what we did once they get direction."

Atkinson agrees and said he is thankful for the connection.

"We were able to enhance what we have and receive ideas about what we can do in the future. I have a vision about this church and now, thanks to them, we are able to live out that vision.

"I get a tingling sensation when I think about what this church is about to do," he said. "I am so thankful that they chose us. They started the fire."

Erica Zink, 17, added her own kindling to the fire. The St. James United Methodist Church youth member participated in the first trip to the Georgia church.

"This was a great opportunity God put in my life at the right time," said Zink, who has been attending the church for a year. "Our youth group and facility are so wonderful, and I wanted to be a part of giving Warwick that chance."

Zink said she cherishes the friends she has made through church and thinks the Warwick youth will really start to blossom after the improvements.

"These are young people just like me, with the same beliefs," she said. "There are so many things out there. We helped to give them a place where they would be safe — away from drugs, alcohol and safe. We gave them a safe environment. We helped them with their ministry. It's like a fire, and it will keep going and going."


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.