By Ed Blair
NORTH TAZEWELL, Va. (Aug. 20, 2015) -- Two days before the students are back to school, the facility, staff and administrators are hard at work preparing for their arrival.
Class schedules are prepared, classrooms are decorated, and hallways receive a fresh coat of paint. There is simply no time to spare. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, something new is happening behind the scenes. A new partnership is being forged. A new trust is being established for the benefit of children and their families -- families in need of a supportive community, an understanding school, and local churches offering a tangible demonstration of the love of Jesus Christ.
A new partnership has been formed between North Tazewell Elementary School and Tazewell Area Methodist Ministries, a group of United Methodist churches in Tazewell, working together to make a positive impact on their community.
Over the past 30 days, North Tazewell United Methodist Church, Main Street United Methodist Church, Bishop Circuit (3 churches), Pisgah United Methodist Church, Wilbur United Methodist Church, East Tazewell Circuit (3 churches), and Mt. Zion United Methodist Church have been meeting and planning a way to minister together. Their first step has been to develop a ministry at North Tazewell Elementary School.
On Tuesday, Aug. 18, the churches provided a free lunch for teachers and staff along with a special gift for each. Next week this joint ministry will begin offering weekend meals for children and families who have little to eat when school meals are not available. Tazewell Area Methodist Churches, working as an “outreach cluster” with Southwest Virginia United Way and Food City Grocery Store, plan to have a direct and positive impact on the lives of 25 to 50 students and their families.
North Tazewell Elementary School is located in the heart of economically depressed Appalachia. Over 85 percent of the 300-plus students qualify for free and reduced price meals. These are hardworking, loving parents currently facing an uncertain future.
The North Tazewell Elementary administration, teachers, and staff are putting their hearts and souls into the education and social development of these children. However, they recognize a need for more: They understand that it must be a full community-wide effort to improve and change lives.
Members of the Tazewell Area United Methodist Churches understand that this is more than a big job: It is a calling from God. The needs are greater than simple programing. Local congregations must be the body of Christ working together to transform a community that is searching for hope.
United Methodist pastors Anthony Grills of Main Street UMC and Ed Blair of North Tazewell UMC, several volunteers, and Natalie Blankenship were on hand to meet the faculty and staff. It was a time of great fellowship, but more importantly, it marked the beginning of a new and deep commitment on the part of the churches and the community to our children.
Grills said, “This is just the beginning. We are committed to this partnership. With the certainty of God’s call, the strength of Jesus Christ within us, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, we will be blessed to witness and perhaps, in a small way be a part of God’s mighty work.”
Blair said that Aug. 18 was only a small beginning, “Thursday we will address school supplies. Next week we begin a backpack feeding program. We have plans underway for a coat and blanket ministry later in the fall. We will meet the physical need of these children, and we will be available to support the spiritual needs of these families.”
Both Blair and Grills say this is the beginning of a new and fully cooperative ministry partnership between United Methodist churches serving the Tazewell community. Following the example and leadership of the Rev. David Tabor, Tazewell District superintendent, they are actively reaching out to all United Methodist churches in the Tazewell area to join together in ministry.
The Rev. Ed Blair is pastor of North Tazewell United Methodist Church and Mt. Zion United Methodist Church. Find out more about Holston Conference's 2015 mission emphasis on local children in poverty.