In Texas, I saw how the Church can discover vital, innovative ministry

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

The following reflection comes from Rev. Marianne Romanat, Lead Pastor at Light of Christ UMC in South Charlotte. Marianne and a group of clergy traveled to Galveston in October as part of their experience in the Reynolds Leadership Academy for Evangelism and Discipleship.

Michael Gienger, the pastor of Galveston Central Church (pictured above, at far right), is a humble, visionary young man in his thirties. He wore jeans and a T-shirt that read “Love Wins.” He spoke to us about the church, which he re-started nine years ago while he was still in seminary. At the time, the congregation had dwindled to four members. Today, there are upwards of 200 in worship and thousands of people served by the church’s through-the-week community missions, including hot meals, showers, a medical clinic and, most recently, a bicycle repair ministry.

None of this was planned ahead of time. It came to exist because the church kept asking, “What does love now require of us?” With this question as a guide, Michael and his group allowed the Holy Spirit to guide them into new ventures to serve the marginalized of Galveston.

The bike repair ministry, for example, grew out of some deep listening to those who are unhoused and are part of the church. Persons experiencing homelessness could not afford to repair their bikes when they broke, and this meant they had to walk. They soon realized that walking limited their access to resources and hindered their transportation to and from work. It also meant they could not strap their belongings to their bikes and take them along for safekeeping.

So Michael and others in the church began to brainstorm what they might be able to do. It turned out that a member of the church knew how to repair bikes and had enough time to attempt the idea. As a result, this volunteer found a way to serve others and deepen friendships with people who had been acquaintances. And folks experiencing homelessness had a way to address problems that arose with their bicycles.

There’s no shortage of need. Bikes have a way of getting flat tires and needing repairs. People who are handy or who have experience working on bicycles (or are willing to learn) are recruited and asked to jump into service. Other people donate bike locks, lights and bicycle parts. The repair shop is open every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

I often reflect on the resourcefulness of parents whose children encounter medical concerns or unmet needs. Loving mothers and fathers push, pray and search until they find a way to care for their child. Michael’s congregation caused us to ask: What if we treated every person we encounter with that same determination, fueled by the love of Christ?

Michael quoted Mother Teresa in his presentation: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

By listening well to the community and continuously asking what love requires, Galveston Central UMC is proving that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church into vital, innovative ministry. We continue Jesus’ mission in the world when we recognize that strangers around us are actually family members. When we do what love requires of us, we will consistently find Jesus is already there.

We were grateful for our time with Michael and the leaders of Galveston Central UMC. They are humble, willing servants who not only serve the vulnerable but also invite them to partner in ministry, and to make a difference for the good of Galveston.

About Marianne: During college, Marianne began to experience God’s call to ministry when she served one summer as a short-term missionary in Kenya through the United Methodist Church. After college, Marianne briefly taught high school math but God’s call was persistent, and she decided to attend seminary. She received her Master of Divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary and was ordained in the United Methodist Church in 1997.

Marianne’s calling from God is particularly for those who are disconnected from God and/or the Church. Through preaching, teaching and spiritual conversation, she mentors people in various stages of their walk with Christ. She considers it a true privilege to serve Light of Christ, a church that is authentic, diverse, missional, adaptive and responsive to the needs of others.

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