The first week of August, Wellspring UMC hosted a week-long series of seminars at the church called We Are All Ferguson. Like most stories I pursue for publication, I can’t make it for the whole event, so I just go and get a taste. In looking over the schedule, the daily title that I thought would be of most interest to this readership was Ministry on the Edge: Faith in Struggle and Justice.
It was a small gathering, and as I set down my camera bag and briefcase, I was shocked to look across the room and see Rudy Rasmus there.
Later that night, when I was relaying this story to my wife, I tried to explain who Rudy is in terms she would understand. “It would be like if you went to one of your forestry staff meetings in the Conservation Department, and as you were sitting down you noticed that Smokey Bear is sitting across the table from you.”
I guess I shouldn’t feed our celebrity culture, but I have to make an exception for Rudy. It’s not just that he grew an old urban church from tiny to tremendous in size, it’s not just that the congregation of thousands is mostly marginalized people, it’s not just the creative ways he’s come up with to pay the bills and make that work… it’s mainly that he’s a really good speaker. He has a real depth of life experiences to draw upon, he isn’t afraid to own up to them, and he crafts messages in powerful ways. You can learn more about him at www.pastorrudy.net.
So as the day went on, and we neared the conclusion of the seminar, I was both disappointed and impressed all at once in an awkward way. I realized that Rudy wasn’t there that day to preach or teach, he was there to listen and learn.
Rudy had traveled from his home in Houston, Texas, to the meeting in Ferguson to take part in a ministry that is just emerging. At Annual Conference this year, Rev. Willis Johnson announced the launch of the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice. The We Are All Ferguson event was the first big event for the center.
Rev. Johnson of Wellspring is working collaboratively. Partnering with him in the center is Steve Lawler, rector of St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Ferguson and Cornita Robinson, director of development at St. Stephens Church and The Vine. He’s also joined by Connor Kenaston, a US-2 missionary from the General Board of Global Missions.
Regardless of what you believe about things that have happened in Ferguson in the past year, if you believe in the United Methodist Church, you believe that it needs to be in Ferguson. Last spring I spoke with some people who were working to explore ways to help support a vital ministry in Ferguson. One of them was Rev. David Bennett of Kirkwood UMC.
“I believe this site and building is much more than just a home for Wellspring UMC, it’s a gathering place for the whole community,” Bennett said.
Now as the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice begins to take shape, its inspiring to see the beginnings of an institution with such an ambitious and essential charge. To keep up with its development, and learn how you can be part of the ministry, go to www.fueledtochange.com.