Kingdom Sightings is a small church spiritual journal where people can share stories of God's grace and people's faith from Virginia United Methodist Churches with attendance under 150.  This is a place to share stories of faith as we help one another grow in recognizing the presence of the Kingdom and its grace in our own unique places and settings across the Virginia Conference.

At the 2014 Annual Conference, several videos and spoken times of witness were offered.  We’d like to share the videos from our small membership churches with you here. Their stories are truly inspiring.
Click here to view video about Norfolk UMC, Elizabeth River District
Click here to view video about Westover UMC, Charlottesville District

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Notes from Annual Conference Members

Here are some of the notes people left at our display table during the Annual Conference. Thank you for your witnesses!

Prospect UMC in Mechanicsville recently collected 100’s of stuffed animals for the local fire department to the children in tragic situations. The church was just as blessed as the fire department.

We are a busy church for one so small--busy building ministries for the Kingdom. - St. Peter’s UMC, Montpelier. 

Be willing to go where the Spirit leads – and God leads each church in their own path! - Central UMC, Salem

Our small church feeds, clothes, and gives Christmas gifts to over 50 children each year. Our average attendance is 62. Try that for #'s. – Pleasant Grove UMC

Our three small churches feed over 350 a week—we were told 25 would be tops! We have a weekly fellowship with community folks at Berger King’s and are in training to do GED classes. God is good! - Prince Edward Charge, Farmville District

[Our church of] 25 members have paid our apportionments in full every year. – anonymous

Our small church holds a carnival every October to raise money for someone who needs help. On this one day we will raise 10,000 to 18,000 dollars and give it all away. - Oak Grove UMC

We deliver foods to food pantries, serve lunch twice a month, support Heart Haven, Overlook Retreat and Camp Center, just to name a few, and do so much more. - Cherryvale UMC, Staunton District

We have Agape Dinner each Thursday followed by a Bible study. Bowling Green has a food pantry and distribution. We are small at Bowling Green UMC and Shiloh UMC but we are mighty! - Bowling Green UMC / Shiloh UMC, Bowling Green, VA

Thomas Chapel of Farmville is “The little church that does so much.” “Reach out to immediate community.”

 Try a wow! Wednesday youth /after-school program; youth music program; puppet ministry. Let youth lead! - Mt. Olivet UMC, Winchester District

We offer several opportunities each week for worship. We will have a Wednesday evening Bible study with a light dinner beforehand during the summer this year. - Rehoboth UMC, Partlow

Wood ministry: 333 truckloads of wood to 69 needy families from July 13 to June 14. - Rouzie’s Chapel UMC, Beaverdam

 We help the homeless a lot. We are active in PIN (People in Need) Ministry in Virginia Beach (My wife volunteers as office staff) and we sponsor several homeless families to help them locate permanent shelter and funds. Surprisingly there are many homeless living in Virginia Beach, a very affluent city. Christ teaches us to help those around us who are in need. We do. - Tabernacle UMC, Virginia Beach

We support Friends of Barnabas 2 times a year, sending doctors and nurses in the spring and a carpenter group in the fall. We take 10% of our offering each month to send to hunger ministry groups such as Hunters for the Hungry, local food bank, etc. – Swansonville UMC, Dry Fork

We may be small and getting grayer but we managed to bring 133 kits to Conference. Just think what we could do. 50-60 weekly attendance. - Aldersgate UMC, Norfolk

Arts Ministries: Having small classes – lifting up music, drama, visual art, etc. as vessels to celebrate God’s creative spirit! - Anonymous

Four persons have started a covenant discipleship group, and after struggling to get off the ground it has found its tragectory. The participants find it extremely valuable to their spiritual walk. - St. John's UMC, Buena Vista

Our church combines with other small churches to do special groups--youth, older adults, food banks, and others. - anonymous



Good Timing

In an attempt to better meet the needs and concerns of our surrounding area, our congregation recently reviewed statistical data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as MissionInsite, a map-based analytic tool provided by the Virginia Annual Conference.

The information revealed – amongst other things – that weight loss, dieting, and general physical well being, is a primary concern of those living in our community, so our church decided to contact the local healthcare system to see if we could partner together to provide preventative health screenings and other health-related educational programs.

It just so happens the nearest hospital was looking for venues to do just that.  In fact, our region of the county has been sorely neglected over the years, despite a growing elderly population and increased numbers of those living in poverty, so the healthcare provider was ecstatic to learn of our interest in helping address these issues.

Indeed, it is by the grace of God that we enter into this new and exciting partnership in the hopes of providing some much-needed resources to our local community. And it’s a helpful reminder that the winds of the Holy Spirit continue to blow. We just need to hoist our sails from time to time.

Craig Newman, Pastor
Rockingham Court UMC
Roanoke, VA 


Words of Faith That Sustain

I met M. five years ago at an assisted living facility. An elderly lady, she had never married, had little family to speak of, and somehow was in a place that was particularly pitiable. That may be why a story she told me once or twice was so memorable.

M.'s older sister had been like a second mother to her. In one of their last conversations, M. said to her, "When you go, I won't have anybody." Her sister replied, "No, you will never be alone, because Jesus will always be with you." I had a difficult time reconciling those wonderful words of faith with the reality I was seeing. I would think about that story whenever I went to visit M. I enjoyed seeing her open, child-like spirit, as she said hello to fellow residents passing by in the hallway.

One day this week I went to see her and was instead greeted by an empty bed. A nurse told me that she had died early that morning. "She was special to us," he said. "There is only one M." I had known from my visits that the staff had really taken a liking to her.

Was she lonely? Often, most likely. Was she alone? I do know that she happened to have a wonderful, caring roommate. The staff was kind to her and often treated her as a friend. She had someone who wrote cards to her and a regular visitor from her church. In her last days, she had someone who daily prayed with her and for her in the name of Jesus. At least that much I know.

John Choi
St. John's United Methodist Church, Buena Vista
Staunton District

Known as a Praying Church

Blue Grass United Methodist Church in Highland County is experiencing God blessing us with spiritual growth, with new people, with a sweet spirit in the congregations. We have a morning and evening worship service and truly have two different congregations. It is an exciting time in our church. We are known in our community and county as a praying church and receive many prayer requests from outside our congregation. 

Our Prayer Shawl Ministry is a vital part of our prayer outreach. In two years the ladies of our church have knitted 296 prayer shawls. They go mainly to the sick of our community but have gone to Texas, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Maryland. The person to receive the shawl is prayed for while the shawl is being knitted, and then the congregation lays hands on the shawls and pray over them. We see a scriptural basis for this in Acts 19:12.

There have been many positive reports from those receiving the shawls. Some tell of feeling a warmth flow through them, some tell of being filled with a spirit of peace and calm. Some non-Christians receiving the shawls have accepted Christ into their lives. A lady in Pennsylvania was paralyzed from the neck down. The day she received the shawl she began to wiggle her toes, and now is walking contrary to what the doctors said was possible. People in despair have had their spirits lifted. Many are amazed that people who don't even know them would take the time to make them a shawl and pray for them. On occassion we have people in other churches ask if we would do a Prayer Shawl for one of their members.

We know that the shawl is but a piece yarn, but because of the power of the God to whom the prayers were lifted up, hope, peace, and love have come to many who were in despair. We believe in miracles because the God of miracles still rules and reigns.

An interesting footnote is that one of the ladies who knits our shawls is in a nursing home and will turn 100 in July. For her it is a way to continue to serve the Lord. 

The Rev. Andre Crummett 
Staunton District
Blue Grass Central UMC
Hightown UMC



Blessed With Small Children in Worship

Many small churches complain of not having young children. At Dahlgren UMC, we are blessed each Sunday with about 20 children in our Traditional Service. Approximately one-third of our traditional worshipers are children between the ages of 3 and 10. Why is this? I believe because we are responding to Jesus’ call “…Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Luke 18:16 (NIV)

After much discussion on whether children should be in the worship or not, we compromised. The children stay in the traditional worship service until the after Children’s Sermon. At this point if they choose, they are invited to the social hall for Children’s Church consisting of snacks, a Bible story, music and crafts. The children love this time and many encourage their parents to attend church. Also, we have a Little Lambs program, on the first Friday morning of each month. Little Lambs brings together mothers (or sometime dads) and young children for fellowship, Bible story time, music, crafts and a light lunch. This time is for all in the community and reaches many who don’t have a church family as well as those belonging to other churches. It allows young mothers to have social time while watching their children play and interact. A number of church members help to coordinate the many activities. Church members get to know the young mothers and they get to know us. This time serves to introduce families in a non-threating way to our church. Also, we have preschool four days a week. This, too, allows the community to be familiar with our church.

Because our members value small children and serve diligently in the areas mentioned above, we have sent a strong message to community that we care. The front page of our bulletin gives a very clear welcoming message, “Where children are seen and heard.” My advice to churches that would like to see more children is to start a mother and child time during the week for all those in your community. Then design your worship so that it is very obvious that all children are welcomed and valued. 

Carolyn P. Nelson
Dahlgren UMC
Fredericksburg District

Spurring One Another On

Hebrews 10:24 (NIV):
"Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds"

Mount Horeb and Collierstown UMC are located in rural Rockbridge County near Lexington. During one of this winter's Artic outbreaks, members of our Bible study agreed that hot soup was a tasty way to warm up. Soup is a comfort food that reminds us of home. But as we reflected on the needs in the community around the church, we remembered that our local food pantry was having difficulty keeping up with a large influx of needy families. We concluded that many local families might not be able to afford to buy soup, and might not even be able to receive soup from the food pantry due to shortages. We felt God calling us to action.

What was proposed was that we set a monthly goal of 100 cans of soup for each of the churches in our small membership charge. The soup was to be donated to our local food pantry. Our combined average weekly attendance is around 50, so this was a goal of a can of soup per person per week.

Once we began collecting cans of soup, we reported the totals for each of the two churches each week. A friendly competition began to emerge, based on Hebrews 10:24, and the churches began to "spur one another on toward... good deeds." The final week of the month, the two churches cooperated to make sure their totals we exactly equal at nearly 150 cans each, well beyond our initial goal. The graceful generous Spirit poured out within these two congregations allowed us to bless the food pantry, and we were blessed to be able to be Jesus' hands and feet in our community. 

Jim Bollinger, Pastor
Collierstown Charge, Staunton District.



Seeing God's Word Right in Front of You

A young couple in my Sunday School class at St. Peter's UMC was recently faced with the layoff of the primary breadwinner. Fortunately, within a couple of weeks, he was offered a new job. Unfortunately, the new job is in Maryland, three hours away. It was a difficult decision, but he accepted the job that puts him away from his wife Monday through Friday every week.

On the first day of his new job, on his commute from his lonely, new apartment he saw a billboard. It read, "Trust in God that this is exactly where you're supposed to be." 

Stacy Gilman
St. Peter's UMC, Montpelier
(Richmond District)

Meal deliveries deliver more than meals

A few years ago during a time of job loss, lay-offs and other concerns, Maple Grove UMC in the Danville District decided to offer a community meal in our Fellowship Hall as a night-out to support those who needed encouragement. Unfortunately, not many in the community accepted our offer. 

With food already prepared, someone suggested that we deliver some meals to the elderly and shut-ins who lived nearby. This re-directed effort was very much appreciated by those receiving meals. As a result, our church decided to continue delivering meals as a ministry. Members of the congregation suggested names of those who might appreciate a hot meal. Within a few months, the list had grown to approximately 50 people on our delivery routes.

The great thing about this ministry is that we often found those receiving the meals appreciated the visit even more than the meals. In addition, delivering to individual homes gives members of our congregation the opportunity to meet those in our community that we may have missed because of their limiting conditions. Several in our church have expressed how they were blessed in our efforts to be a blessing to others. It is great to serve a God who consistently blesses all involved when we work to serve Him.

Bobby Thompson

Using Meeting to Make Disciples

In preparation for our first Council Meeting for the year at St. Peter's UMC in Montpelier (Richmond District), I was constantly praying for guidance and courage to change the format. The day before the meeting the David Jeremiah sermon I listened to made reference to John 15:5, which really caught my attention: "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." (NRSV)

Then the day of the meeting, the focus of the daily devotional that comes in my e-mail was about the same Scripture! I love it when God gives me a clear answer. It was the perfect direction and focus I needed to convey to our Council members. Focusing on the portion of this Scripture where Jesus tells us to "abide in Him," I wanted to encourage our Council members to do this through prayer. So, I had the courage to change our meeting format to include 20 minutes of personal prayer in the sanctuary before we started the meeting.

Stacy Gilman

Crediting the Grace of God for New Ministry

A man in my church has been dealing with  a spinal cord disease; it has gradually taken away his mobility and racked his body with pain. But during this ordeal he also had a spiritual awakening, and one Sunday during worship he went forward to profess faith in Christ. This happened more than 10 years ago, and since then he has been eager to serve God's call, even as his physical strength kept diminishing.

Last year I began talking to Bill about starting a new Sunday school class. Meanwhile, one of our historic classes--one that was once large but had sent many to join the saints in heaven--had dwindled down to just a couple of members. It occurred to us that we could invite them to join this new project. We all sat down and shared our thoughts, and as this was a step of faith for us, we fervently prayed for the hand of God to guide us.

It has been almost a year now since the new (and reborn) class began. It is partially named after the historic Durham Class, but most of the members are new to being in a small group. It is now one of our stronger classes. Bill serves as one of the leaders, and he cheerfully keeps crediting the grace of God for its ministry. Seeing the challenges he deals with just to get to the church each week, and how we were led to pray from the beginning, I could not but acknowledge the same.

John Choi
Saint John's United Methodist Church (Buena Vista)

Putting the Pieces Together

I love the Psalm 71.  Footnotes in many versions of the Bible call it a “Prayer in Old Age.”  What I love about this Psalm is how it tells us so clearly about God teaching us, holding us, being strength for us across all the years of our lives: from birth through the gray hairs (of which I have many already). At the same time, Psalm 71 moves from the message of God being present with us throughout our lives to telling us of our job in response:  to get the news out to all the world of God’s love. 

I am one of those life-long Methodists who can say we were baptized Methodist and confirmed United Methodist.  If you asked me how I became United Methodist, honestly I’d have to say because my mom and dad stood with me in their arms as a baby 52 years ago to be baptized at the font in Fieldale Methodist Church on the Danville District. They kept taking me to church from that point on. 

Many people had important roles in helping me make my own commitment to accept Jesus and become a member of the church. More have had important roles in supporting me along my journey of discipleship.  There were many pieces of discipleship that had to come together to get me to this point in my life.  There are many pieces of this initiative we’re calling Vital Congregations that have to fit together to renew and revitalize our churches. 

It’s not the size or the resources of the church that matter.  It is about how we as laity and clergy partner in ministry to bring all the pieces together into a beautiful picture. It is about how we take our vows – our baptismal vows, our membership vows - seriously to live out our lives in the example of Christ in the world today. And in the process, we make our congregations vital.  And if we do it filled with joy and modeled after the example of Christ, it is authentic, and fruitful, and multiplying no matter whether we're 6 years old or 96; live in the city or on a farm somewhere in Virginia; go to a church of 30 or 150; or speak English, Spanish, Korean, or as people describe how I talk – “Southwest Virginian.”

This blog will be a place to share the stories of how our Virginia Conference churches with an average worship attendance of under 150 are being transformative in their ministries.  The first contributors will be members of the Small Church Leadership Team. Before long, we will invite you to share your stories of faith. Together, this will become our collective small church spiritual journal.  We hope you will find stories of celebration, hope, and vital spirituality in the words that we share with one another.

Martha Stokes
Center for Lay Leadership Excellence
Virginia Conference UMC


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