As thousands of United Methodists worked through General Conference business, others spent several hours serving the people of Portland, Oregon. At the same time, United Methodist Rural Advocates daily let delegates and visitors serve some of the city's homeless.
For one day, volunteers from around the world served at Bethlehem House of Bread and at the Oregon Food Bank.
Bethlehem House grew out of the merger of two churches, explains the Rev. Jeremy Hadju-Paulen, pastor. "Our church, Tigard United Methodist, really took a risk in taking on this property and this building and re-purposing it for ministry in this way," he said, "but it's been such a blessing to us and it's really one of the primary ways we are connecting to the community around us."
The shopping style food bank provides emergency food supplies for 110 families each month. Supplies come from the Oregon Food Bank and food drives at businesses. The church's food ministry also includes a community garden where neighbors can grow their own vegetables.
Serve and learn
Ruby Anderson of Southfield, Michigan, attended General Conference as a reserve delegate from the Detroit Conference. Working at Bethlehem House let her serve – and learn best practices for better ministry in her own church.
"I'm always looking for things I can take back to my church and the groups I work with," said Anderson, an active volunteer, "because I think we are all ambassadors for knowing what to do and not just doing for the sake of doing."
Many of the volunteers were thankful for a chance to shift their focus some from meetings to hands-on ministry.
The Rev. László Khaled-Abdo, a delegate from the Hungary Provisional Conference, worked at the Food Bank. Being part of the day of service was "important because we are Christian and that means not only our faith but our service with the poor and among the people," he said.
The work of The United Methodist Church was happening both in the convention center and at the service sites, said the Rev. Cindy Gregorson, director of connectional ministries in the Minnesota Conference and a General Conference observer.
"It's in the votes and in the legislation," she said. "It's (also) what we can do to make a difference in our community. I wanted to remind myself about why I'm United Methodist by doing good and making a difference in the world."
"Do this also as Jesus did in our lives," the Rev. Joselito Javien Ortiz, delegate from the Northwest Philippines Conference, advised his fellow church members.
Meals for the homeless
In the same spirit of compassion, United Methodist Rural Advocates (UMRA) spent most mornings giving conference-goers materials to be in ministry with homeless people they might encounter as they walked to and from the convention center.
According to the Portland Housing Bureau, on any given night more than 4,000 people sleep on the streets or in shelters across the city.
Rural advocates distributed some 1,500 colorful cards with messages of hope and love made by children in churches across the connection. Accompanying them were meal vouchers to the Sisters of the Road Cafe, which provides nourishing meals in a safe, dignified space.
"We hope delegates and visitors will take a card and a meal voucher and share it with someone on the streets here in Portland and it will be a sign of Jesus' love for them," said the Rev. Laura Beach, a United Methodist Rural Advocate from the Western North Carolina Conference and pastor of Boone United Methodist Church.
"No matter what happens inside the Convention Center, we hope that this will be a way we can feel Jesus' presence with us and show that love in the city," said Beach.
Adapted from "United Methodists' Portland Day of Service" (http://bit.ly/day-of-service) by Lila Marigza, freelance video producer, United Methodist Communications, and "Helping Homeless with a Meal and a Message" (http://bit.ly/meals-for-homeless) by Anne Marie Gerhardt, director of communications, Northern Illinois Conference.