When we began at St. James to minister to folks with disabilities, it was pretty clear to a couple of families that they really needed the church. They had been told by several churches before that the needs of their children could not be accommodated. There wasn’t a place for them there. Would St. James be another place where they would experience rejection? Would it be another place where their needs would be seen as too great for the church to support them? Fortunately, the leadership at the church did what these families needed, they said yes. We started to lead churches in our area by welcoming people with disabilities and offering programs when no one else would. We showed other churches how to do the same.
Over time, St. James began to learn what many of those families already knew: our friends with disabilities have something to offer that the church desperately needs. Being a church where our friends with disabilities could find belonging led us to deeper practices of faithfulness than we had found before. Sensitivities began to develop in the church that revealed needs we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, not just for our friends with disabilities, but for everyone. Now, we are not content to lead in terms of offering programs that include people with disabilities. We want to let inclusion lead our church. We don’t want our story to be that we make concessions and accommodations so that youth with disabilities aren’t left out. We want our story to be that our friends with disabilities are leading the church by showing us how to make the Gospel big enough for everyone.
Despite our growing understanding that our friends with disabilities are not a burden to be supported but are rather a vital organ we can’t imagine life without, it takes time, intention, and experimentation to bring our practice in line with what God has shown us. Fortunately, the Missing Voices Project creates space for exactly those things we need. We’re incredibly excited and grateful to be a part of this project that provides the vision and resources to help us work towards the reality of what God has put on our hearts.
Southside UMC’s experience of having adults with IDD in our community has been such a blessing and they have taught our entire congregation so much about faith, hope, and mostly love! Over the years our church has made efforts to focus on investing in the adults with IDD who attend our church through our “Friends Program”. Additionally, Southside UMC has worked on investing in relationships and partnerships with other organizations in the community dedicated to serving those with IDD such as North Florida School, Capernaum Young Life and Night to Shine. When our team learned about the Missing Voices Project it immediately clicked and we felt God had answered our prayers and given us direction. Southside UMC feels called to become more intentional with children and youth with IDD, as well as their families, and to focus on getting them more integrated into our church. Our hope is that through the Missing Voices Project, Southside UMC will develop a youth ministry in which adolescents with IDD would not feel compartmentalized but truly integrated into our youth ministry in a way we haven’t seen before. Through integrating adolescents with IDD into our youth ministry and church culture, we know God will reveal to us all more about His Kingdom, His Love and grace.
For the past couple years a dream has been brewing among the staff and leaders of Young Life West Volusia to expand ministry to the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home (FUMCH) in DeBary, FL. There is the potential for a unique partnership with the ministry staff on site at FUMCH, a growing community of young and capable leaders around Young Life, and a strategic desire to expand the ministry beyond DeLand and further south in the county. The opportunity to explore this ministry with the focus and resources of the Missing Voice Project seemed to be the Lord’s timing. The whole team from West Volusia is excited to begin to discern God’s awesome future for youth ministry at the margins in our county.
Young Life West Volusia has been in partnership with Wellspring Church for a few years now. Wellspring is a 5-year old church plant in DeLand, FL and Young Life has been operating in DeLand for the last 35 years. Over the last few years both organizations have experienced rapid growth driven be a passion for the gospel to reach every kid in Volusia County through incarnational mission. With a strong Board of Directors and a rich history in the community, Young Life West Volusia is well-positioned for innovative strategies to youth ministry. Likewise Wellspring is made up of people who are awakening to the power of life on mission, and so support well the efforts of Young Life in the area.
There was a call to action as a couple students needed a place to belong, be loved, and be affirmed after being pushed out of their church and youth ministry. Then there was a nudge from a mentor saying, “You can do this!”! That’s all it took. The Missing Voices Project came about at the right time.
Myself, along with six adults and six youth, got together and shared our dreams, fears, and joys of being a part of a project that’s so much bigger than ourselves. The vision is to reach further and be a youth ministry that is even more open and affirming to LGBTQIA+ Youth. St. Luke’s is not at all creating a margin in this area. However, in being a part of this project, as said by one of our youth, “we can start a ripple effect that could change the heart of youth ministries in our area and in our denomination, in hopes that every youth ministry can be a place for ALL to belong and be loved.” I believe with our St. Luke’s vision of Growing Young, Reaching Beyond, and Reconciling Love, that we are ready for this to lead us to some amazing and innovative ministry with and to our LGBTQIA+ Youth.
About 4 years ago, Allendale had received a letter to close. The pastor, Reverend Andy Oliver, felt a calling from God to embrace the LGBTQ+ community and become a fully inclusive church.
Prior to this, leadership struggled with integrating LGBTQ+ youth as well as students on the margins. We have heard stories of former youth being rejected by the church and since coming back seeing how Allendale has changed.
Since Allendale chose the lane of justice and became a reconciling congregation, it has brought a huge impact for our youth. More youth have known Allendale to be a safe place where they can share how they identify, knowing they are wholly loved and welcomed to be genuine participants in the ministry of Allendale.
Together, we marched in the PRIDE parade expanding with a float this year.
Together, we have worked to create more affordable housing in our city through FAST Network.
Together, we worked with the United Methodist Disaster Relief.
Together, we participated in an inclusive and diverse community group called ANYTOWN.
Together, we will create a space for the missing voices of this generation to be heard.
Catherine Montgomery: “Director of Family Ministries.” Here’s our origin story (below).
For our family ministry team at Christ Episcopal Church, learning about The Missing Voices Project felt like an answered prayer. We had been wrestling with the reality that our youth ministry lacks diversity, despite our best efforts to be open and welcoming. Though our program has long been “successful” by traditional measures, it had become clear that our youth ministry model (like most traditional models) is unintentionally excluding many youth we feel called to serve.
We asked ourselves, whose voices are missing from our ministry? Which young people in our community are lacking sanctuary? Are we silent or absent in spaces where we are called to share Christ’s love with both words and actions? Are there young people in our community whose needs for community and spiritual nurturing are not being met? How is our ministry suffering from the lack of these young people in our lives?
These questions led us clearly to one call – to better serve LGBTQ youth with a new expression of youth ministry. While our youth ministry (and our church) generally uses language of love, acceptance, and inclusion, we have not been a place where LGBTQ young people have felt free to express themselves openly, and we have not made an effort to reach out to young people in our community who may feel excluded from, or uncomfortable in, our ministry. We know that LGBTQ young people are often fearful of expressing themselves in their families and social communities, and that the dangers of emotional and spiritual trauma inflicted by those communities are very real.
We envision a future ministry where LGBTQ youth find a sanctuary at Christ Church, where they will find love and acceptance, community, spiritual care, and support for the unique challenges they face. This ministry would empower all youth to learn from one another’s experiences, treat each other with compassion, explore their unique identities as children of God, and serve the world together in the example of Jesus Christ. Because this ministry would be a vision of the kingdom, we expect it to transform the lives of all who encounter it, inspiring lasting social change that would extend far beyond our church and local community.
This work will require us to live into our baptismal covenant – especially our promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. At Christ Church, we have a legacy of engaging in transformational civil dialogue across differences. We know that this work will challenge us, and will call us out of complacency. It is into this tension that Jesus calls us.
The call to do this work is clear. And yet we realize that in order to do this work well, we first must listen, learn, and dream. We are thrilled to set forth on this journey alongside our friends at Flagler College, and are grateful to the Lilly Foundation for making The Missing Voices Project possible.
My name is Patric Myers, and I’m the Youth Director at the Ville Church. I have spent the last month and a half trying to answer with true transparency, “What has been my journey up to this point with the Missing Voices Project?” The more I think about that question the more humbled and in complete awe of God I become. With that being said, and in my 5th revision, I hope I can convey to you what an amazing journey it has been getting to understand the God I serve.
I asked Jesus to become my Lord and Savior only nine years ago after what seems like a lifetime of running from Him and the purpose He had set forth in my life. After about 3 years into my conversion my father (Leon Myers) had the idea to start Cornerstone Community Church which was entirely a church for youth, ages 5-18 in the Lem Turner area in NW Jacksonville. Although my family and I had done two church plants prior, they had proven to be the worst experiences for our family at that time in our lives. It was after that, my dad came to me and told me that if I truly wanted a deeper understanding of who God was that I should work with the youth. I wanted nothing to do with another church plant but a small voice inside literally said “Didn’t you say you were Mine” at that moment I knew I had but one choice. So, I said okay and my father smiled and to my dismay said “Good, we need a Sunday school director!”
I had no idea what I was doing, so I just started teaching the youth, and before I knew what had happened, I became invested in their lives in such a deep way that unless you work with youth you just aren’t able to understand. I started to see their futures and the limitless possibilities when you look at people the way God does. After 3 years the church unfortunately had to close down due to circumstances out of our control. My family had to search for a new church, landing at the Ville Church which at the time did not have a youth ministry.
I met with Jay Harris (my pastor) and found out that he had done a clothing store in the downtown area of Jacksonville. I then proceeded to start the Makers youth group at the church and with the demographic community of teens that we serve, Pastor Jay and I have continuously talked about combining the church/store/clubhouse concept where we would be reaching the teens holistically.
Throughout this year I have been able to be involved in many different youth ministries in my community such as H.S. Director of 2nd Mile Ministries, E.V.A.C.,Ville Youth Ministries, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Youth for Christ. I have often wondered what can the Ville church do to bring our community of youth together in a way where they can be heard, inspired and released from the stigma of being on the “margin”. Pastor Jay sent me an email that said, “maybe an answer to prayer” and is titled ‘The Missing Voices Project’. What is significant about that you might ask? I constantly refer to my teens in this area as ‘lost voices’, especially after working with EVAC. I read the email and a small voice says, “Didn’t you say you were Mine” and again I realized I have no choice and I said “yes I am”. My Father looks down, smiles and says, “Good son, I need a Lead Innovator” …and so my journey begins.
My name is Anthony Guadalupe I am the Lead Senior Pastor at Rebirth Church Inc. in St. Augustine, FL and the Northeast Florida Director of INSPIRE School Programs, currently in St. Johns County Schools. I hold my Ministerial Credentials with the Assemblies of God and hold a license to cover all of northeast Florida INSPIRE School Programs. I am happily married to my beautiful wife, Jessica for 18 years and we have a wonderful 16-year-old son.
I am a native from Brooklyn, New York, not a stranger to being raised with the struggles of a single parent, low self-esteem, identity issues and peer pressures. However, with my faith, perseverance & determination, I chose to not be a part of the status quo and fought to not succumb to the pressures of life but turned my life around to become the agent of change that I am today. I wanted and desired change for future generations because this is their generation. Along with my wife, we founded an organization in Brooklyn, N.Y., that was tailored in inspiring and igniting youth to fight for their purpose. During my time in New York City, through the organization we were able to touch and impact more than 6,000 young people.
I believe to better inspire and empower the next generation is by being a positive mentor that will work with students’ side by side in classroom mentoring programs such as INSPIRE School Programs. In adopting the program from the National Director of INSPIRE school programs, Tara Bollinger, she has trained me directly in the art of winning students for a greater tomorrow. Since the program has begun, we have noticed that it has helped over 900 local students with life issues such as overcoming bullying and low self-esteem. In addition, students have achieved academic success, managed positive coping skills, making positive choices, and have become leaders within their schools, homes, and jobs.
When receiving my pastoral license in 2009 I understood the need for the love that our generation seeks and desires in many other things that the culture gives freely, but also is only temporary. Upon moving to St. Augustine, FL in 2012, I felt the need to reach at-risk or marginalized youth within our community in all ways possible. My mission is to share the gospel while being transparent and implementing an understanding of another freely given gift which is the love of Christ. Rebirth Church members and leaders have joined and worked alongside of INSPIRE to better help take ownership of the change that we are aiming to create within our community. By intersecting with Rebirth Church, we have been able to utilize resources and further our reach by connecting with other community leaders and organizations. Rebirth Church has also established and implemented some of INSPIRE’s curriculum lessons into our own youth in which has allowed Rebirth youth to become INSPIRE mentors giving them the ability to teach (SEL) Social and emotional learning skills and connecting with the local youth on better level of understanding.
I am thankful to have been selected by the Missing Voices Project. I know that with the opportunity of having the Missing Voices Team invest their time, support, and commitment to myself and other organizations involved there will be a greater impact together. Our commitment is to reach our youth today that seek understanding and support with intentional relationships and love by creating a longer lasting impact for future generations.
The Gainesville Vineyard had been leaning into our next move through prayer and waiting. Our locally grown prophet, Tom Petty, sings truth when he reminds us that “The waiting is the hardest part”. We had sold our church building that was our home for nearly two decades and had been combing the city to find our next location where we would discern the Kingdom work that awaited. For over a year we had been renting our sanctuary back for an afternoon service.
Tucked away on the other side of our city was a once thriving but now worn and weathered Boys And Girls Club. Originating in the mid 60’s this club was the heart of a new predominantly POC suburb. 50 years later, it would need a lot of restoration after having its funding dispersed to other local Clubs for some time leading finally to its closure.
It felt right. We took the leap. We bought and restored the building for use as a sanctuary and community center within a years time. Now we are on the journey of slowly winning trust and becoming neighbors with the 900 family homes that hug our 6-acre property.
The narrative our new neighbors own includes their having to endure systemic challenges which are direct results of our city’s racist past and present. It is a story that our 90% white congregation has likely never experienced. We feel that a future of flourishing for the Church requires diversity of all types, of course, including racial diversity. The future will involve the good work of hearing the stories of the teens in our community. My personal experience with youth ministry is in its second decade. As the community pastor of our church my involvement with the arts community has been steady for more than 10 of those years. With the generous assistance of The Missing Voices Project we plan on leaning into the connections and expertise used to empower our community through story-telling, poetry slam, visual arts and creative movement. We wait again to watch what unfolds with expectant and grateful hearts.