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.
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.