2:00 P.M. EST May 6, 2010 | COLUMBUS, Ohio (UMNS)
Marla Flewellen, coordinator of the Free Store at Westgate United
Methodist Church in Columbus, stands in front of clothing donated for
those in need.
A UMNS photo by Dick Mayhew.
The young woman shared her story of moving from addiction to sobriety,
of distrust in churches to a conversion experience that led her into a
leadership position at New Horizons United Methodist Church.
Senseera Potter had just finished taking a group of United Methodist
leaders through the residential facility where she lives, a complex for
formerly homeless people who struggle with substance abuse or mental
health issues. She stood at the bus door the afternoon of May 5 as the
final person who said “goodbye” and “God bless all of you” to the
bishops and other leaders.
Then, she felt called to get on the bus and remind them: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Amid the spring meeting of the United Methodist Council of Bishops,
church leaders fanned out to several sites in this Midwestern city to
learn about places where the church is visiting those in prison,
comforting the sick, feeding the poor and offering housing to the
Bishops visited several sites: Marion Correctional Institution, an
Hispanic ministry offering assistance with immigration issues, an
inner-city congregation that ministers with the poor, a charitable
pharmacy providing prescriptions to those in need, and an anti-poverty
In visits like these—and in meeting people like Potter at Briggsdale
Apartments and a seminary student running a “free store” out of a
church, both part of the Greater Hilltop Shalom Zone—the bishops
discovered the ministries are mutual.
“Her (Potter’s) story is really a transforming story. Her story is
really a faith story,” Chicago Area Bishop Hee-Soo Jung said. “Both of
them gave the ‘spark moment,’ a divine spark through their lives.”
A teen shops in the Free Store inside Columbus’ Westgate United Methodist Church. A UMNS photo by Crystal Missler
Crying to the Lord
The Shalom Zone on the west side of Columbus is part of a national
church initiative encouraging collaborative ministry to communities
across America. The effort in Columbus began with a group of small
United Methodist congregations and has expanded to a broad network of
social agencies and hundreds of volunteers engaging the poor with
Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans and Catholics are among the
volunteers at the “Free Store” housed in Westgate United Methodist
Before the store opens, there is a time of prayer, when “shoppers” are
given an opportunity to share their joys and issues. They are then
welcomed with a smile and take turns looking through a large room filled
with clothes, food, children’s toys, blankets and other goods.
In one corner of the room stands a painting with the words, “In my distress I cried unto the Lord and he heard me. Psalm 120:1.”
“Some of them look forward to it mightily because it is a time to lift
up their concerns,” said the Rev. N. Eugene Brundige, pastor of
Hilltonia and New Horizons United Methodist churches.
A new calling
A combination of pastoral care, unconditional love and social ministry
has enabled Brundige to draw both the neighborhood poor and young women
and men excited about being active in the community into his churches.
“I’m bringing in the people they say it’s impossible to bring in,”
Brundige said. “They’re poor. They’re in their 30s. They’re excited
about doing something.”
Ed Wilson, a member of Hilltonia Church, could barely contain his
excitement in telling the bishops about his involvement in a monthly
Morning Manna breakfast and a message-and-a-meal program that may be the
only "church" some participants will have.
“I get the Holy Spirit in me when I talk about this,” he said. “If I get choked up, pray for me.”
Keith Richardson, who joined the church about 18 months ago, is trying
to start a ministry of visiting and caring for the homeless in the
He and his wife now pick up three of “our homeless friends” on Sunday
morning, take them to church, and then go out to dinner together.
“It started out at first I was helping them. I thought I was helping
them,” Richardson said. “But it’s turned completely around. They’re
A Christmas story
Marla Flewellen, a seminary student and executive director of the Free
Store, remembered the Christmas before last when a homeless man who
needed a coat came just as the store was closing for the holiday. He was
tall and frail with a scraggly beard and an unpleasant odor.
Her response: “Let’s go back and find you a coat.”
There were tears in his eyes as he said, “So anybody can shop here.”
The man was not a burden, but a Christmas gift from God, Flewellen said.
“I felt him through my spirit—the need to feel included,” she said.
At the Free Store and throughout the ministries in the Shalom Zone,
there is a crying need for people to feel included, ministers said.
Finding a place where she was accepted led Senseera Potter to go beyond
changing her own life to ministering to others. She leads a “I hear you,
sister” women’s support group at New Horizons.
Since she decided to turn her life over to Christ, Potter said, “God has done some beautiful things for me.”
*Briggs is news editor of United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.