How to use this story collection in your ministry context

Photo by Mark Mulligan

Westbury UMC’s apartment ministry invites you to consider, “Who is my neighbor?” This discussion guide offers tips for studying this and other questions individually or with your colleagues in Christian institutions, congregations and elsewhere.

The Rev. Janice Riggle Huie, bishop of the Texas Annual Conference, says that nurturing the Fondren Apartment Ministry at Westbury United Methodist Church was like planting seeds in faith, not knowing exactly what God would decide to grow.

With this collection of narratives, an essay, interviews and resources, Faith & Leadership is also planting a seed. The collection is anchored by a story but also includes a short video, interviews with Huie and the Rev. Dr. Elaine A. Heath, an essay by the Rev. Hannah Terry, profiles of three refugees who attend Westbury, tips for supporting innovators, and a worship service designed to invite discernment in your community.

These materials invite you to dive deeply into Westbury’s apartment ministry, with stories and tools to seed discernment, reflection and leadership development in your own setting and with your own colleagues in ministry.

The materials raise questions we know Christian institutional leaders are asking across ministry contexts: Who is my neighbor? Where is God already at work? How do we start and sustain new ministries? How do we navigate change, as Westbury will with a departing pastor and bishop?

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The collection highlights the themes of holy friendship and its deep listening; the long, slow work of building trust and learning from others who are not like us; and the ways in which we can be open to new ideas and have patience for the time they may take.

We suggest the following processes for learning from this collection.

Learning as an individual

Learning with a group

Questions to consider

Laypeople

  • How does the story of Westbury United Methodist Church and the Fondren Apartment Ministry help you understand and answer the question, Who is my neighbor?
  • With whom are you called to be in relationship? How is relationship different from service?
  • To whom do you need to listen more closely? How might you listen in a way that is prayer?
  • Where do you find holy friendship in your setting? Are you friends with people who speak a different language, literally or figuratively?
  • What resonates with you about the way leaders in the story have made decisions for ministry? What scares you?
  • What in these stories challenges your sense of vocation as a disciple?
  • How are you called to respond when leaders move on, like several of those in the story? How can you deal with the difficult feelings this sometimes evokes?
  • How do you imagine the apartment ministry might change the lives of the congregation members who have welcomed the refugees into their midst?

Pastors and congregational leaders

  • What aspects of the story can you imagine happening in your own community?
  • Hannah Terry says in her essay, “When we believe that God has already been at work long before we arrive somewhere, we are freed for joyful obedience.” Where is God already at work in your community, and how can you join in joyfully?
  • How open are you to whatever happens? How do you examine your deep expectations?
  • As a leader, how do you balance letting people figure things out on their own with holding them accountable for results?
  • How do you create ministry projects out of the mission and ministry of the church that will be sustained by the congregation over time and changing leadership?
  • How do you invest emotionally in a community that is fluid or changing?
  • Who is your Bishop Huie?
  • What might success look like in this challenging story of ministry? What might success look like in your own ministries?

Senior or denominational leaders

  • What does Westbury UMC and its apartment ministry suggest about your present ministries: whom you serve, how you evaluate, how flexible and nimble your structures can be?
  • How do you sustain relationships with neighbors in need while at the same time addressing systemic injustice and poverty?
  • How do you protect leaders who are innovative or who need time and space to discern their ministry?
  • How do you protect ministries you care about?
  • Bishop Huie likens this ministry to planting seeds in faith. What do you see growing in the story that provides you with hope? What seeds have you planted in faith lately?