As the COVID pandemic in late 2020 took a heavy toll on many lives—including health, housing, businesses, jobs and family incomes—members of Wooddale UMC in East Stroudsburg and nearby rural Analomink UMC saw their communities increasingly in dire need of food. Fortunately, their pastor, the Rev. Jennifer Miller was in need of a project…specifically a “Fruitfulness Project.”
“People were losing jobs, getting sick, and needing more regular meals,” said Miller. “While doing pastoral care visits, I discovered that church members and others in these communities were trying to make one meal last four days just to keep some food in their bellies.”
“People need food to eat, and I am pleased to say that people want to give,” she discovered. And that second discovery became the basis of a her fruitfulness project, a special assignment required for her to become an ordained clergy member of the Eastern PA Conference.
Miller organized and mobilized church volunteers and community partners to create Feeding Wooddale, an outpouring of generosity by neighbors and businesses to serve both communities. The project started small, with just her and the two churches’ lay leaders. But now it continues to grow, perhaps as fast as the ongoing need.
“It is getting to the point that some community members give a meal when they are able and come to the church when they find themselves going without,” she wrote in her report. “This project is encouraging people to help one another in their time of need, as well as giving when their cup overflows.”
Analyzing the fruit of the project
When Miller analyzes “the fruit of this project,” which is required, she evaluates not only how many people receive meals, but more importantly, how many church members are “willing to assist in making this project a success by transforming our hearts to give generously to the poor and to do so without a grudging heart.”
That success includes providing sensitivity training to help volunteers “knock down barriers and misconceptions” about those who come seeking and taking food, “so that we all may grow in grace and compassion.”
As a cornucopia of deliveries fills empty cupboards, refrigerators and dinner tables in dozens of homes, the ministry is feeding more than 200 people a month now. Thus, Miller’s fruitfulness project is more than living up to its name.
The UMC requires candidates for ordination to complete a project demonstrating fruitfulness in carrying out the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Miller, who will be ordained with three other commissioned clergy at EPA’s 2022 Annual Conference May 21, said they each began identifying and planning their projects soon after being commissioned in 2020.
Four clergy to be ordained May 21
Joining her at the altar of West Chester UMC for ordination next Saturday will be the Revs. Brenda Coffin, a provisional deacon, and Zachary Hopple and Zimran Khan, both provisional elders. Each reported briefly on their completed fruitfulness projects to their peers at the annual Clergy Session May 4, held at St. Matthew’s UMC of Valley Forge, in Wayne.
Coffin planned and led first a topical Bible study and then a half-day workshop at a women’s retreat. She serves as Minister of Counseling and Spiritual Care at Hempfield UMC in Lancaster. Her title, “Courageous Conversations Around Racism,” reflected a personal passion of hers.
“I introduced myself humbly as a facilitator who does not know all the answers but is willing to work with a charged topic to create a sacred space where people can feel free to speak the truth about their experiences, ask questions and learn from others.”
In that safe space she led about 40 church women to seek greater awareness, understanding of and responsiveness to the social scourge of interpersonal, institutional and systemic racism, including its expressions in white privilege and oppression. She also encouraged them to take action to interrupt racism when it occurs and to become allies in the quest for racial justice.
Hopple’s fruitfulness project, titled Preparing for Paradise, sought to help people carefully consider and make end-of-life preparations. That includes gathering and making important information accessible to loved ones and taking other steps to “reduce the stress that families feel when a loved one passes.”
His experience working as a hospice chaplain taught Hopple “that there are many people who do not have their affairs in order, and fewer still whose families know their wishes.” He consulted with lawyers, funeral directors and nurses in various fields to determine “what people should know when planning for this inevitable period of life.” The packet he created includes a checklist, questions and information to help in planning funerals and memorial services.
The fruit of his project includes “having conversations that allowed people to contemplate their mortality, their spirituality and relationship with God, and their concerns for their loved ones’ salvation.”
Hopple has taught some of his new wisdom in several Tools for Ministry classes and at Laity Academy. His Preparing for Paradise resource can be found on the website of Christ UMC in Lansdale, where he serves, under the “Forms” tab: https://www.cumclansdale.org/guidespoliciesforms
Finally, Khan’s fruitfulness project was to launch a new website for the church he serves Faith UMC Stroudsburg. “It involved finding individuals within the church who were talented with technology and design, and enlisting their help to put it together,” he reported.
Indeed, apart from the goal of building the site, he said, it was an exercise in “delegating and trusting the team that God brought together. The website will always be changing and developing over time. it is essential for 21st century ministry.”
Visit our Flickr page to view more photos of the May Clergy Session, taken by the Rev. Steward Warner.