Brunswick church is a hub for learning, teaching, training


By Kara Witherow, Editor

You don’t usually think of a church as being a hive of activity on a Saturday morning, but The Chapel was alive Saturday, Dec. 1, with about 75 people on the Brunswick campus for various trainings and ministries.

More than 20 laity, with each of the Conference’s six districts represented, were attending the fifth of 11 Certified Lay Ministry Training classes, all of which are being held at The Chapel. Five students, part of the South Georgia Conference’s partnership with Asbury Theological Seminary, were meeting in another of The Chapel’s buildings for their three-day preaching intensive class.

Across campus, 12 children were having fun, making crafts, and playing games with trained volunteers while their foster parents ran errands, went Christmas shopping, or took much-needed naps. And squeezed into a meeting room across from the church’s sanctuary, 22 people from Glynn and surrounding counties were attending a foster parent training session.

Being a hub of learning, education, and training has always been part of The Chapel’s vision, says Rev. Jay Hanson, lead pastor of The Chapel Ministries.

“From the very beginning the vison for The Chapel had three steps. Step one was to establish a healthy congregation which was as much like the kingdom of God as was possible on earth. Step two was to cultivate community partnerships with other churches and other organizations in order to work together to transform our city. Step three was to become a School of Ministry where people from other communities could come to learn and explore what it means to do community ministry through local congregations in their area.”

Lay Minister training

Jenna Rhodes, a member of St. Marys United Methodist Church, is one of those who is traveling to The Chapel to learn and grow. As a member of the Certified Lay Minister program, Rhodes travels about an hour from her home in St. Marys to Brunswick to attend the classes, which are designed to offer a good foundation to anyone who wants to be a stronger leader in their church.

“I’ve been feeling the nudge (to serve in a deeper capacity) for quite a while,” she said. “I’m not yet sure where it will lead, but this training is part of that.”

St. Marys UMC plans to begin a small group ministry soon, Rhodes said, and while she has been a participant, she’s never launched or implemented the process. What she’s learning through the Certified Lay Minister training will help with that effort.

“One of the things I love about being United Methodist is that we’re part of a bigger organization than ourselves and we have the opportunity to go to different people within our own denomination and glean the understanding of what’s worked for them and what hasn’t worked,” she said, noting that the conversation and collaboration among participants has been highlights of her experience. “The collaboration process has been really exciting for me. I love it all, I really do.”

Theological training

While those 21 students were being trained for lay ministry, another five students, part of the South Georgia Conference’s partnership with Asbury Theological Seminary, were meeting with Drew Thompson, The Chapel Brunswick’s campus pastor, and an Asbury professor for their three-day preaching intensive class.

Developed by the Office of Congregational Development and Asbury, the unique partnership allows students to continue their full-time jobs and pursue theological education as part of God’s call on their lives.

The opportunity to be in an intimate class setting, with peers, was a draw for Kim Dixon, a member of Pine Forest United Methodist Church in Dublin.

“I thought it would be interesting to do some of my coursework with people from the South Georgia Conference,” said Dixon, who is also taking classes online and at Asbury Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus. “It’s been great. Having those connections … it’s been a more intimate environment where we’ve gotten to know each other and have built trust and shared with one another.”

For Jen Hartley, a working mother and wife, the Brunswick classes make seminary more convenient and accessible.

“Having a class in our hometown has made this portion more convenient,” she said. “We probably wouldn’t have looked at seminary so seriously if it wouldn’t have worked out with our jobs, too.”

Reaching out to the community

While several were preparing for vocational or lay ministry, others on The Chapel’s campus were being trained to be foster parents or providing respite to foster families.

Churches need to partner with government agencies like the Division of Family and Children Services to provide hope, Rev. Hanson said, and that’s one way The Chapel is living out the biblical command to minister to widows and orphans.

The Chapel is partnering with Hope 1312 Collective, a Glynn County non-profit organization that aims to help children in foster care and their families. Ally Christianson, one of the founders of Hope 1312 Collective, was on site Saturday, helping provide respite care and oversee the training.

Partnering with local churches is key to providing hope and healing to children and families, she said, and making trainings and opportunities like respite care available and accessible is critical.

“We believe that the hope for these children and these families is capital H hope, through the church, ultimately, and any chance we can get to connect them with that kind of hope is important to do,” she said. “And I love for them to see that the church is here and it connects them with the local church, which is a big deal.”

Whether training future leaders or playing with children, The Chapel is fulfilling its mission and vision to make disciples, bring hope, and transform lives.

“We have always wanted to increase the impact of what God was doing here, and raising up leaders seems like the best way to do it,” Rev. Hanson said. “This is who we are. We will continue to live into it more fully and in new and larger ways, but leadership development is at the core of who we are. That goes from equipping our fourth and fifth graders in the TLT (Tree House Leadership Team) to providing theological seminary training for pastors and everything in between. We raise up and send out leaders.”

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