“Christ our Lord invites to His table all who love Him …”
In 1951, Bishop Paul N. Garber was assigned as the episcopal leader for eastern North Carolina. During Bishop Garber’s 12-year tenure, over 75 new congregations were established to welcome new people into communion with Jesus Christ. In the last 15 years, our Annual Conference has continued Bishop Garber’s legacy, by establishing over 50 new faith communities. For Lent 2023, we celebrate the legacy of Bishop Garber and the ongoing co-creation of new places for new people to gather in communion with Jesus Christ. We also celebrate the 70th anniversary of the first call of the $10 club, which has helped to build numerous churches across our conference.
Some would call the participants in our most devoted adult Sunday school class disabled. Others call them uniquely abled. We call them “Wonderfully Made.” “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, that I know very well.” (Psalm 139:14).
At the early service on Sunday mornings, you’ll witness the Wonderfully Made class and their leaders in the Soapstone UMC sanctuary serving as some of our most faithful servants in worship. Ian loves to bring the light of Christ into the sanctuary, after which he dances to the praise music with observable joy. Danny plays guitar and sings in the praise band; he practices for days to read aloud the scripture lesson, taking on the old Hebrew names with a bravery unheard in neurotypical adults. Others from his class cheerfully pass the offering plates and bring them forward or help serve Holy Communion. Lauren takes great pride in refilling the Children’s Notebooks with the week’s activities, always taking home a copy of the word search puzzle to complete on her own. The class which has built their relationships through countless parties, fun outings, and Bible study forms an Amen chorus on the back row of worship where they can be counted on to laugh at this preacher’s jokes or clap for singing children. Their participation in worship is perfectly imperfect, and they are beloved and integral parts of our church family.
In 2021, an NCCUMC Missions Seed Fund grant allowed “Happiness Ministry” founder, Julie Scroggs, to expand the program from adults to children, who now smile and giggle their way through sensory-friendly activities such as a quiet Egg Hunt, children’s interactive worship services, and a Children’s Carnival for those with special needs. A new specially equipped Sensory Room provides a soothing place for anyone overwhelmed by too much input to retreat for a moment of peace with God. We give thanks to God for knitting together such a lively, dedicated group of disciples who have taught the whole congregation to fling our arms wide to welcome all God’s children.
Lord, you formed our inner parts. Our frames were not hidden from you when you were making us in secret. Wonderful are your works! Lord, may all wonderfully made children and adults know your love. Through Your Spirit, help us eliminate stigma associated with disabilities, and all are welcomed into your places of worship. Amen
Rev. Mitzi Johnson serves as the pastor of Soapstone UMC in Raleigh, NC
Our theme for this year’s Lenten reflections is Graceful Hospitality. 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of the Ten Dollar Club, now known as the New Room Society. We give thanks for our Conference’s ongoing commitment to co-creating new places for new people to gather in communion with Jesus Christ and extending graceful hospitality to all of God’s children.