By Rev. John Hill
The mission statement
for the North Alabama Conference is simple, direct and can be summed up in three words: Discover, Develop, and Deploy. A needed question to go along with that statement is “How do we accomplish this?” I think that is a fair question and one I continually ask the congregation of Flint Hill UMC (Southeast District). Fortunately, it is a question the congregation is willing to wrestle with and seek to answer.
Wednesday Night Tutoring
One of the ways Flint Hill UMC has answer this question is through our tutoring program.
This program was started under my predecessor Rev. Dee Dowdy but has been embraced, led, and maintained by the congregation. Each Wednesday night during the school year, Flint Hill UMC offers free
tutoring to any student in our community. We have students from all over Alexander City and the incredible part of this is that 90% of those being tutoring are not otherwise affiliated with Flint Hill UMC! I’m also proud to say that through the tutoring program we are reaching across demographic and racial lines. The tutoring program averages 35 students and approximately 28 are African-American!
When I first visited Flint Hill UMC as the incoming pastor, it was on tutoring night. Rev. Dowdy showed me the facilities, the sanctuary, and my future office. All of that paled in comparison to the tutoring ministry I witnessed. There were rooms of youth who were being tutored by teenagers, young adults and the elders of the church. This in itself is a great thing. However, what pushed it over the top for me was the fact that I saw African-American children being tutored by older white people within a church that is well over 150 years old. Sadly, this doesn’t happen everywhere. I was blown away! Not only were the members tutoring, they were encouraging, patting students on the back, hugging them, giving them high fives and showing them genuine love. I was amazed to tears.
Breaking Down Racial Barriers
When I arrived at Flint Hill UMC, I found this effort to break down the racial barriers was not just limited to the Wednesday night tutoring ministry but had also infiltrated our Sunday morning worship -- a time when whites and blacks come together as the body of Christ with the common goal of worshiping God.
We now have an average of 13 African-Americans worshipping on any given Sunday morning. That’s 10% of our worshipping congregation! We’ve had three African-Americans join the membership of the church in the last three months and one who was unanimously elected to serve on the Administrative Board. Three weeks ago, I had the privilege of baptizing an African American young lady and a 60-something year old white man in the same service! WAIT, this isn’t supposed to happen in a 150+ year old church is it? Yes, it is supposed to be happening and as Christians we should be ashamed that it is not happening more.
Many people have asked me what is the root of this success. Believe it or not it’s pretty simple. My answer is that it is the power of the Holy Spirit coupled with the Flint Hill congregation’s level of spiritual maturity. They get it when we read Jesus saying, “Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” They understand that we are not divided from our neighbor by race, ethnicity or financial means. They understand that we are all a part of the body of Christ and we cannot love God without loving our neighbor. Do we all agree? No. Do we all see things the same way? No. Do we have differences of opinions? Yes. However, we do have one thing in common and that is our desire to draw closer to God in our spiritual journey.
Flint Hill UMC seeks unity within the body of Christ. Being united in our love for God is where the secret lies. We share the understanding that division is not the will of God within His Church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ and heirs to the most-high God.
It’s very easy to allow all the things we see on the news to divide us. Recent events in Ferguson and New York are prime examples of how quickly division can spread and how dangerous it is when it does, especially when religious leaders, local churches, clergy, and denominations assist in fanning the flames of division. We as leaders in Christ’s Church should be the ones bringing about unity in all instances where division has the opportunity to creep in. I believe if we don’t we will have to account for our actions. If division divides communities against themselves, we will witness what it can and is doing to churches.
Yes, it’s rare to find a 164-year-old church that is so willing to step out of its comfort zone and reach out to a totally different demographic. Yet, the people of Flint Hill UMC have done just that. They have a mentality that it’s not about us; it’s about the Kingdom of God. They have a willingness to get outside the box and love others as we have been called to do.