ALCOA, Tenn. -- This past week, the dreams of believers who want to do more for the Lord seemed to find a place to roost – or perhaps to incubate – on a Facebook page hosted by Holston Conference.
At last count, there were about 115 want-to-be missionaries, gospel singers, foster parents, cooks, seminarians, death doulas, truck-stop chaplains, baby-rockers, senior-sitters, and grass-cutters who answered a question that seemed to speak to their hearts.
The posted question was, “If you could serve God in any kind of ministry (without job, money, time, etc., holding you back) … what would it be?”
The answers came streaming in July 5-6 from every corner of Holston Conference but also as far away as Alaska, Illinois and Florida.
Several respondents, for example, said they felt led to help children and youth, especially abused or foster children. Two responders said they wished they could cuddle and rock babies in the hospital, “especially those that are in need of extra special love.”
The Call contacted some of the Facebook followers to find out more about their answers and what’s holding them back.
Betsy Amon Codispoti is already known as the “baby whisperer” by grateful parents at her church, where she has volunteered in the nursery for eight years. She said she would love to help children outside the church walls, but her husband was diagnosed with ALS two years ago and requires 24/7 supervision.
“I know the hospitals are short staffed, and there are babies whose parents aren't able to spend the time with their children in NICU or the nursery,” said Codispoti, a member at First Broad Street United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tennessee. “Maybe I am thinking of myself, but I love the feeling I get when the innocent child curls up in my arms and feels secure enough to relax and sleep.”
Alice Holt Starnes said she dreams of singing “Southern gospel music” in churches, like she did as a child with her father and brother. Today, she feels torn by her children’s needs and also believes churches prefer using more contemporary music in worship.
“I’ve seen people ministered to through singing, but I can’t find someone with the same interests as mine,” said Starnes, who remembers singing in nursing homes and “jailhouses” with her family. Her home churches are Watkins Chapel United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church, both in Morristown, Tennessee.
A few responders on Holston’s Facebook page mentioned animal care as a calling. A woman in Cleveland, Tennessee, said she thinks about “starting a troubled youth center coupled with an animal rescue (dogs and horses mostly). The youth would be partnered with an animal so they can recover and heal together.”
Another person in Powell, Tennessee, said she felt called to help the homeless – both “people and animals.”
Helping the homeless was a dream of many, as well as feeding people, working with the disabled, and serving the elderly. The Rev. Annette Warren is already knee-deep in a successful infant ministry she helped start in Cedar Bluff, Virginia, providing diapers, clothing and others needs for low-income families with the youngest of children.
The pastor also sees great need among the oldest members of the community.
“I look around and visit, and the majority of all the churches are faithful elderly members,” Warren said. “They are lonely, sickly. Many of them lack nutritious food because they are not able to cook. They need special care.” Warren is pastor of Cedar Bluff United Methodist Church and Clearview United Methodist Church.
Two persons said they wished they could serve God by helping people at the end of life. The ministry of a “death doula,” explained Karen Eastridge Short, is “very much like hospice but with a spiritual focus rather than medical.” Short lives in Johnson City, Tennessee.
While some who shared their thoughts with The Call seemed to be looking for a connection (not all were United Methodist members), many are already active in their churches and feel the itch to do more.
Chris Blazek felt a call to take over his church’s lawn mowing and maintenance when the paid service wasn’t achieving the excellence he expected. So, for the last four years, Blazek has committed about 100 hours a month, 10 months a year to keeping the grounds of Burks United Methodist Church looking top-notch in Hixson, Tennessee. He’s usually assisted by his wife and three daughters, ages 7 to 14.
“I’m going to go on doing it until the good Lord tells me to stop,” Blazek said. What frustrates him is his schedule, as a firefighter and father of growing daughters, doesn’t always match the schedule he prefers for a perfect church lawn on Sunday morning.
John Reviere sings in the choir and serves as lay leader at Asbury United Methodist Church in Greeneville, Tennessee. His concern is for people who feel isolated and disconnected, including members who never came back to church after COVID-19. “It’s painfully obvious that we’re not only not attracting new people, we’ve also lost a lot of folks. We’re kind of upside down.”
Reviere said he “doesn’t have a road map” for how to connect or re-connect people who could benefit from engagement in the church, but it still troubles him and makes him wish for ideas and leadership. “This is a need,” said the vice president of a medical-device company, “and unfortunately, I don’t have the bandwidth to lean into it.”
Erin Bowman is a rising senior at West Virginia University, and already the veteran of eight mission trips, most recently to the Dominican Republic. Five years ago, she received the Denman Evangelism Award as a youth member at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church in Galax, Virginia.
Like several other people who said they long to be missionaries, Bowman said she’s eager to do mission work in Central or South America, because she feels those regions are often forgotten.
For now, Bowman is putting her call to mission on the backburner as she finishes her degree, plans a wedding, and hopes for funding and opportunities. “It’s hard to find the right connections, and I don’t want to go with random groups,” she said.
Money, job, time, family, health, age: Respondents cited several hinderances or commitments that at least temporarily get in the way of following up on ministry ideas or possible nudges from God. Mike Baker, a banker in Kingsport, Tennessee, gave a slightly different response about what’s holding him back:
“To answer honestly, what gets in the way is me,” he said.
Baker, who attends a nondenominational church, said he’s considered trying to share his faith through broadcasting or writing. However, a mindset of “I’m not good enough” or other “internal struggles” may have kept him from stepping out, and he suspects other believers experience the same.
“There’s a failure to ‘possibilitize’ or to look at other options,” Baker explained.
For many, it's hard to know the right thing to do. But perhaps the simple act of speaking the hopes and dreams of discipleship to other believers – even if it’s on Facebook – is another step toward Jesus when he says, “Follow me.”
Sign up for a free weekly subscription to The Call. Holston Conference includes 842 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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