By Allison Lindsey
Mr. Jim Ellis is affectionately known as the "Bee Guru" of Striplin Terrace United Methodist Church. His passion for bees has not only cultivated an understanding of these remarkable insects but has also ignited a new energy around hospitality among the Striplin Terrace UMC congregation in Columbus, Ga.
Ellis is a member of the local beekeeper’s association and a dedicated educator in the world of bees. Every month, the members of the local beekeeper’s association gather at Striplin Terrace UMC for their meetings, sharing their experiences, insights, and tales of beekeeping triumphs and challenges. Ellis’ keen knowledge and passion for bees is contagious, and his enthusiasm is particularly evident in his interactions with children. He visits nearby schools and has conducted classes at Oxbow Meadows, an Environmental Learning Center of Columbus State University focused on educating, inspiring and empowering all people, including those with minimal access to nature.
Ellis also began sharing his passion with his pastor and fellow church members.
It was during a conversation with Ellis about dirt daubers that Rev. Rodney Porter, pastor of Striplin Terrace UMC, had an “aha moment.” Ellis held up a dirt dauber and then removed the mound as he began sharing about the intriguing habits of wasps and their unique way of preparing sustenance for future generations.
"You see those black things there in the mound, those are spiders,” explained Ellis. “They are completely alive but they are paralyzed. The mother wasp goes hunting for spiders and when she finds one, she stings them, and it paralyzes them. She then takes the spiders back to the mound and places them there. When she has enough, she lays her egg and when the egg hatches then the babies have live food to eat."
In that moment, Rev. Porter drew a powerful parallel between the instinctive behavior of these wasps and Christians preparing for future generations.
"That's a preachable moment,” said Rev. Porter. “That is a generation preparing for a generation yet to be born. Which is, of course, what Christians do all the time.”
This story began Rev. Porter’s interest in the world of bees. Inspired by Ellis’ passion and under his guidance, the church began a journey that extended beyond understanding bees to establishing bee hives on the church grounds.
The endeavor bore sweet fruit, quite literally, as the hives yielded a surplus of honey. With so much honey, the church decided to share this gift with others. With almost forty pounds of honey harvested from one hive, members and visitors to the church are now treated to jars of honey, a token of warmth and hospitality.
"We love it that the bees are located on church grounds and believe it is a great way to touch visitors with a local product specifically from us,” said Mansfield Bias, a lay member of Striplin Terrace UMC. “We take great pride in the landscape of the church and even it is helping to share the good news of Jesus Christ."
As Rev. Porter and church members continue to learn from Ellis and continue to tend to the bee hives, they’ve discovered some wisdom from the beekeeping world - both practical and spiritual.
While bee hives only produce one yield per year, it's enough honey to last for years. Honey does not go bad, and it’s not to be put in the refrigerator, they’ve learned. It also didn’t take them long to learn that the hive is all about the queen.
“A bee hive will perish within a few weeks if there is no queen,” said Rev. Porter. “And, of course, that is also the church. A church that doesn't have God as its center will die off. Maybe not in a few weeks - but a church without God at the center will produce a church that wanders aimlessly and will eventually fall away.”
Striplin Terrace UMC continues to learn and discover through this newfound bee ministry. They are a congregation who can testify to the power of how one person’s passion, another person’s vision, and a congregation focused on hospitality can turn a church yard into a place of deep connection, love for neighbor, devotion to growing the kingdom of God, and, of course, enthusiasm for bees and honey.
Allison Lindsey is a member of St. Mark UMC in Douglas, Ga. and chairs the Conference Nurture Team.