|Volunteers hit streets as way to ‘Rethink Church’|
Madeleine Evelyn was one of about 160 United Methodist volunteers who
spread across New York to perform random acts of kindness as part of a
launch of the denomination's "Rethink Church" campaign. UMNS photos by
Cassandra M. Zampini.
By Linda Bloom*
May 6, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
Madeleine Evelyn says she performs a random act of kindness every day.
A member of Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church in Harlem,
she often moves around the city in her motorized wheelchair. When she
sees someone struggling with a map or spots a tourist looking
hesitantly at a guidebook, she offers to lend a hand. “I tell them
which way to go and how to get there,” she explains. “I enjoy that.”
Evelyn joined fellow volunteers from the United Methodist New York
Annual Conference on May 6 as they prepared for a large-scale
demonstration of such acts of kindness, part of the launch of a new
denominational campaign called “Rethink Church.”
The Rev. Snehlata Patel (right) chats with Alam Muhammad, a fruit vendor.
Working in morning and afternoon shifts, about 160 church members
gathered at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, United Methodist,
and then spread across various locations in Manhattan, including
Harlem, Grand Central Station, Times Square and Bryant Park.
Standing near her cane in the sanctuary – her wheelchair was parked
outside – Evelyn says she likes the idea of the campaign. “We need to
spread the word. We need to get more young people in our church so we
Rethink Church, which features the new 10thousanddoors.org
Web site, targets 18- to 34-year-olds in an effort to lift up the many
opportunities for involvement through United Methodist churches. The
campaign is designed to raise awareness of how the church is making a
difference in the world and to invite others to do the same.
Uptown to Harlem
On a chartered bus heading uptown to Harlem, the Rev. Bill Shillady,
a launch event leader and director of the United Methodist-related City
Society, gives some pointers, both practical and inspirational, to
volunteers. “Our goal today is to demonstrate to New Yorkers and the
world how interconnected we are as people,” he explains.
In their white T-shirts, red jackets and red caps, the volunteers fan
out along 125th Street, the main commercial hub of Harlem. They carry
cards with the 10thousanddoors.org
Web address and an offer for a free music download and fliers about
neighborhood food resources for any homeless or hungry person who might
approach them. Some volunteers tote a small broom and dustpan; others
have handfuls of dog biscuits.
The Rev. Bill Shillady (center) rallies
United Methodist volunteers as they prepare to greet the public at
Bryant Park in Manhattan.
The acts of kindness are small – holding a door open at a bank,
sweeping up litter in front of a store, helping load bottled water into
a delivery van. More important are the kind words as the volunteers
greet passers-by on the street.
Robin Schmidt, a member of Smithtown United Methodist Church on Long
Island, stops to speak with Djibril Ouedraogo, a native of Burkina
Faso, West Africa, and shares a music download card with him.
Walking down the street, she says she was excited when she heard about
the Rethink Church campaign. “I thought it was the perfect way to break
out of our churches and make a difference,” she explains. “I’m hoping
we can do this on the streets of Smithtown sometime this summer.”
Making the approach
For the most part, responses to the brief encounters are friendly.
“Good luck to you,” one woman calls out as she continues to walk. “I’ll
definitely take a look at it,” one young man says, waving a download
card, as he turns to cross the street. A young woman on her way to
Bible study at her church promises to pray for the volunteers.
The Rev. Snehlata Patel, pastor of Woodrow United Methodist Church on
Staten Island, first thought she was too shy to participate in such an
event. Stopping strangers on the street also was discouraged in the
culture she grew up in. “In India, when you approach people, they do
not welcome you,” she explains.
But she finds the people of Harlem much more approachable and thinks
the bright red hat and jacket add to her determination. “I didn’t know
I had this courage to talk to people,” she says.
Patel and her visiting niece, Norma Kunjravia, a medical student in the
Philippines, chat up Alam Muhammad, a fruit vendor stationed near the
intersection of Morningside Avenue, sometimes speaking in Hindi. “I was
telling him, ‘Yes, you are Muslim, we are not here to convert you. We
are here to encourage you to make the world a better place to live,’”
The Rev. Huibing He (right) hands a
music download card and church
Web site information to Jason Wright
on 125th Street in Harlem.
Muhammad says he likes to read the Bible and is interested in knowing more about United Methodists – but not now. He is working.
The Rev. Huibing He, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Port
Jefferson, moves along 125th Street with the same determination,
stopping often for a brief encounter at a bus stop, storefront or
street corner. Most people, she finds, are willing to listen, and she
is particularly pleased with the interest she receives from young
people. “When they hear ‘make the world a better place,’ they’re
curious,” she adds.
Two young people – Dae Soon and Yong Sik – are among the 20 volunteers
who came from Plainview United Methodist Church, a Korean congregation
on Long Island, to participate in the launch. They aren’t quite sure
about their results, but Soon reports that 70 percent of the people
they approached took the download card.
Their pastor, the Rev. Kenny Yi, says some of his encounters in Harlem
resulted in serious conversations about faith. “Some people were
talking that they wanted to go to church,” he adds.
“Rethink Church” is part of the denomination’s "Open Hearts" welcoming
and advertising campaign. The latest evolution in the campaign includes
$20 million in new advertising over the next four years on television,
radio, and in new media, including banner and keyword advertising on
major secular Web sites.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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