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‘Hanging Out’ a Little Different in This Small Town

 


‘Hanging out’ a little different in this small town

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Youth minister Eli Dorman says a "simple act of kindness" has changed his community.
June 18, 2004    

By Nancye Willis*

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio (UMNS)—“Hanging out” in this small town hasn’t really been the same since Eli Dorman and a couple of little red wagons showed up.
 
Dorman, a staff member of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church, and his wagons, loaded with snacks and drinks to distribute to kids on the streets, form the foundation of the freewheeling effort. 

This moveable feast helps connect kids with no real plans for Saturday night to “church” on a new level, as part of “a vision I had for reaching our community. We approach teenagers who have no real connection with religion,” he says.

He introduced the program in September 2001, soon after joining the church staff to direct its evangelism and visitation ministries. Bolstered by a volunteer corps that now numbers about 80, and supported by church funds and individual donations, Dorman continues to form relationships.

And a funny thing happened on the way to the wagon: Young people started leaving the streets to hang out at the church. The program has moved beyond Saturday nights.

“They come to church on Sunday mornings and to Wednesday-night small-group meeting for fellowship and Bible study,” says Dorman, a candidate for clergy ordination in the denomination.

It’s not just a bag of chips and a soft drink that does it, Dorman says. The effort is multi-level, involving a volunteer corps of about 80, drawn from 330 active church members and students at a nearby Nazarene university.

They see the effort as a good challenge to faithful Christians, as well as a way to steer teens into wholesome activity.

“We learn how to communicate our faith,” says Dorman. “Using terms they can understand and avoiding traditional church ‘insider’ language is key,” he adds. “Instead, we try to engage our spiritual imagination to communicate clearly.”

 “The treats are just a way to break the ice. It’s not bribery,” he emphasizes. “The community does not see that as a problem. It’s more an ice-breaker.”

The women of the church cook a monthly meal, seminars and special speakers are regular features and individuals are available to serve as mentors. “Our church staff makes itself available to kids and is tremendously approachable,” Dorman says.

“We service between 250-300 kids a month. There’s a core group of about 40 on the sidewalks, but always new faces.”

And the word continues to spread. “A large majority of unchurched kids in the community know about the program. Their friends get hooked and help them get hooked,” Dorman comments. 

“It’s not that they just have nothing better to do,” he says. “There are a lot of other things they could be doing. They are choosing to come to church.”

That was a bit of a surprise for the Rev. Rodney Buchanan, pastor at Mulberry Street, who admits he had some doubts.  “I never dreamed they would come into the church building. This was just not something I would have expected.”

Dorman says no one pushes religious beliefs on anyone. Instead, the participants build relationships that have the potential to lead to opportunities to share faith.

“I don’t come here because of the church,” emphasizes teenager Justin Musgrave. “I come here because of the people in the church.”

“All it takes is the willingness to show that you care and you’re concerned,” says Dorman. “We feel like we’ve done a lot to bring a change in this community simply with an act of kindness.”


*Willis is editor of the Public Information Team at United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Ginny Underwood, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

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