SEYMOUR, Tenn. (March 15, 2018) -- What do you want to do when you turn 21?
Instead of seeing her 21st birthday as a reason to indulge, Rylie McClurg felt called to use this milestone as an opportunity to serve. To celebrate 21 years of life, she wanted to provide 21,000 meals for people who live with chronic hunger.
As a teenager, Rylie attended Resurrection and Holston Conference Youth Assembly. It was at Youth Assembly that she first participated in meal-packaging events through Rise Against Hunger. Since graduating from high school, Rylie has returned to Assembly as a staff member. She believed that serving through a Rise Against Hunger experience would bless her home church, Seymour United Methodist.
Rylie has been a part of Seymour United Methodist Church since she was two years old. She was nurtured in the faith by Seymour’s children’s and youth ministries. Seymour has a strong tradition of being involved with the youth ministries of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Now a junior at the University of Tennessee, she is still very active in the life of the congregation. When Rylie graduates she would like to work in advertising for non-profit organizations.
Rylie knew that the cost would be considerable and that the event itself it would require a lot of volunteers. Having done her research, she determined that 21,000 meals would cost $6,000, and packaging that many boxes would require nearly 150 people. It was a lofty goal, to be sure. But Rylie was willing to take the lead. She enlisted the help of her Sunday shool class, the Puzzled Young Adults.
The Rev. Paul Seay, pastor of Seymour UMC, reflects on the moment in the fall when Rylie told him about her idea:
“Rylie came up to me at church one Wednesday night and told me that she would be turning 21 in February and that she would like to do something different for her birthday (namely, pack 21,000 meals for Rise Against Hunger). She had a small piece of paper in her hand. On it she had written out what all it would take to make this happen.
She had also sketched various ideas about how to raise the funds and recruit the volunteers. I had just been in a finance meeting where we were terribly worried that our church didn’t have enough money (and I hate that this was one of the first things that came to my mind. So, admittedly, I was thinking to myself, ‘How can we come up with an extra $6,000 when our current budget shortfall is so much more than that?’ But I wasn’t going to tell her no.
I remembered a great article by Walter Brueggemann on the myth of scarcity versus God’s abundance and decided to go with abundance.”
The Puzzled Young Adult Class raised the majority of the money through a Pink Flamingo Fundraiser. For $15 someone could “flamingo” a friend’s yard with a flock of the little plastic birds. The class spent a lot of time after dark in November and December “decorating” the yards of people in the church. The flamingo campaign was a lot of fun for the congregation. As this fundraiser was happening, Seymour UMC ended 2017 in the black.
The Puzzled Class was started by Amy Gattis, whose husband, the Rev. Jason Gattis, was Seymour’s pastor at the time. The class’ name acknowledges that young adulthood can be a puzzling time, but it also says something about how they spend their time together on Sunday mornings. As they meet for their lesson, they actually work on puzzles. This task helps facilitate conversation and gives them a shared sense of accomplishment.
When the Gattis family moved in June 2017, Susan England, whose son, Sam, is a member of the class, became the teacher. Susan and her husband Glenn help facilitate the class and coordinate events such as the class trip to Divine Rhythm (the Holston Conference Young Adult retreat).
Rylie, Susan, and their Puzzled class became the faces of the campaign, making announcements in both worship services on Sundays, providing videos for the congregation, and by being available in the hallways for people to sign up.
They not only raised the needed $6,000, they exceeded it, raising $6,500. (The extra money raised went to support the ongoing work of Rise Against Hunger).
On the morning of Saturday, March 3, nearly 150 people of all ages and abilities came to serve together. The majority of participants were church members, but many volunteers came from the Scout troop that meets in the church building during the week. Others were invited by friends and co-workers. At the close of the morning, when the final meal was placed in a box, the crowd applauded Rylie and the Puzzled class.
When asked about what it was like to work toward such an audacious goal, Rylie agrees that it was a challenge: “Yes, it was daunting,” she said, “but having grown up in this church, being raised by the church, I never doubted that we could do it. There was a lot of praying, and I knew that we were doing a good thing and that God was going to make it happen through us.”
The following morning, Sunday, March 4, a lot of people could be heard saying that Rise Against Hunger should become an annual or biannual affair.