Engaging in Ministry with the Poor during Two-Week United Methodist Gathering in Tampa

May Day will take on a new meaning in downtown Tampa this year. Celebrated internationally as a holiday honoring workers’ rights and organized labor, Tuesday, May 1, 2012 will be an occasion for The United Methodist Church to promote its focus on Ministry with the Poor during the denomination’s two-week gathering for General Conference. Ministry with the Poor calls for more than charity, and encourages acting and standing in solidarity with the poor.

Break Bread with* Tampa, a free lunch and outdoor public event, will be held from 12:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Cotanchobee Park, along the Riverwalk near the Marriott Waterside. It will feature singing groups from Tampa and African countries, a number of speakers, and up to 20 exhibitors from various ministries working with the poor. The Rev. John Edgar, senior pastor of the Church for All People in Columbus, Ohio, will serve as the master of ceremonies.

“Inside the Box Catering,” an entrepreneurial initiative of Metropolitan Ministries, will supply the food. Proceeds from their lunch sales are reinvested to provide meals to homeless and other hungry people in a four-county area.

“We are very pleased to be partnering in this event,” says The Rev. Morris Hintzman, a United Methodist minister heading Metropolitan Ministries. “The Inside the Box catering operation and the Inside the Box Café, located near the Convention Center, provide job training and business experience to our homeless clients participating in our transformational residential program, UpliftU.”

Break Bread with* Tampa is a prelude to Partner with* Tampa, offering four different opportunities to engage in Ministry with the Poor in Tampa:

  • Communities of Shalom Initiative will host free training in faith-based community organizing and community development techniques to combat poverty in local communities, on May 1st at 4:00 p.m. at Hyde Park UMC.
  • Cornerstone Ministries, Amazing Love Ministries, and Metropolitan Ministries, all local organizations in Tampa, are offering opportunities for volunteers to engage in ministry with children or homeless people. (Times and dates vary.)

Those interested in joining any of these activities are asked to register ahead of time by visiting http://www.ministrywith.org/about/contact.html. Free transportation to and from these activities is provided.

Another opportunity for General Conference attendees to experience and learn more about poverty in the US is to participate in one of the two-hour “poverty simulations” being held each morning from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., May 1-4, 2012 in Ballroom D of the Tampa Convention Center. The simulations, also dubbed the Cost of Poverty Experience or C.O.P.E., are guided role-plays in which participants confront the same kinds of struggles as people living with poverty. (For registration details, contact dee@thinktank-inc.org.)

Also on May 1, the Society of St. Andrew will stage a PRODUCE DROP outside the Tampa Convention Center. Approximately 40,000 pounds of cucumbers will be delivered to the steps of the Convention Center at 6:00 a.m. Volunteers will be needed to bag the cucumbers for distribution to food banks throughout the Tampa area. The food bagging will take place between 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon, in time for volunteers to join Break Bread with* Tampa, where the Society of St. Andrew will have display space. For more information about the PRODUCE DROP, contact Barbara Sales at the Society of St. Andrew, at sosafl@endhunger.org.

“We invite all to join us for great food and fellowship as we break bread with Tampa and lift up the Church’s vision of how anti-poverty ministries look and act in the 21st century,” says United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whittaker of Lakeland, Florida. Bishop Whittaker’s jurisdiction includes Tampa, where thousands of Methodist clergy and laity representing the global church will be attending General Conference 2012, the legislative assembly of The United Methodist Church, from April 24th through May 4th.

“Ministry with the Poor involves more than handouts,” says Thomas Kemper, the general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries. “Unlike traditional models of charity-based ministry, Ministry with the Poor seeks to understand and address the root causes of poverty and foster empowerment of those who are affected directly by conditions of poverty.” Kemper also leads the United Methodist Interagency Task Force that coordinates Ministry with the Poor. The Guiding Principles and Foundations of the Ministry with the Poor Focus Area frame its work.

“We must follow Jesus’ example of servant leadership,” says United Methodist Bishop Joel Martinez, who coordinates the Bishops’ Task Force on Ministry with the Poor. “Those who enjoy greater privileges are called to walk humbly alongside those at society’s margins, listening to, learning from, and working in solidarity with them for the transformation of this world.”

Nelida Morales, president of the Florida Conference of United Methodist Women, notes that “Ministry with the poor—the poorest of whom usually are women and children—has long been a critical focus of United Methodist Women. Cornerstone Ministries, a United Methodist Women National Mission Institution in Tampa, exemplifies our commitment to ministry with poor women, children, and families.”

About the United Methodist Four Areas of Focus

During General Conference in 2008, the Ministry with the Poor Area of Focus was launched as one of four interconnected areas of concentrated focus of The United Methodist Church. The other three focus areas are Global Health, which aims to combat preventable killer diseases of poverty (such as malaria) that are prevalent in areas of extreme poverty around the globe; congregational development, or “New Places for New People,” which focuses on developing new places of worship and revitalizing existing congregations; and Leadership Development, which focuses on training and developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.

For more information on Ministry with the Poor, visit www.ministrywith.org. For more information on the Four Areas of Focus, visit www.umc.org/fourareas.

For more information about the Ministry with the Poor activities at General Conference, contact Mary Ellen Kris, mkris@umcmission.org, 917-363-5312.

TO REGISTER for Partner with* Tampa activities, go to http://www.ministrywith.org/about/contact.html; in the Message box, write “Partner with Tampa,” the name of the activity, and the number of people in your party. Questions? Contact Amelia Van Iwaarden, avaniwaarden@umcmission.org.

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