Birmingham First UMC
First United Methodist Church of Birmingham, Michigan, is an active congregation that empowers its members into mission and ministry in the community and across the globe. Its website states, “The purpose of the First United Methodist Church, Birmingham, is to gather persons into the body of Christ, nurture them as disciples of Jesus Christ and equip them for ministry and mission in the world. With deepening commitments and expanding ministries, our vision is to change lives and become a model New Testament congregation for the denomination and the center of Christian faith in the community.”
This congregation of 3,300 members takes seriously the call of the gospel to spread the love of Christ in the world. Last year church members visited four states and nine countries in addition to their work in metro Detroit and throughout Michigan. Additionally, they gave over $1,000,000 to more than 90 programs. “It would be easy for this congregation to just send our money, but we have been intentional about engaging our members in committing their own service to these ministries as well,” said John Harnish, senior pastor of Birmingham First. “Bishop Edsel Ammons told me that there is no such thing as a local United Methodist church; we are all part of a global connection. Anyone who comes to our church understands our larger commitments.”
Birmingham First is also committed to theological education through preparing people for ministry. Both Birmingham First and the United Methodist Women from that congregation are members of the seminary’s Leadership Circle of Congregations this year. The Leadership Circle is made up of churches and church organizations that contribute $1,000 or more to the seminary in the current fiscal year.
In addition, since the fall of 2000, Birmingham First has been opening its doors to become a teaching congregation to Garrett-Evangelical students during the January intensive term. Seminarians experience home stays with church members, and they are exposed to the inner life and workings of this congregation and other area United Methodist ministries, including Hope United Methodist Church and Cass Community Social Services. In January, 11 current students took part.
“In this experience, the theory that seminarians are learning in the classroom crashes on the rocks of reality,” said Mark Fowler, the trip’s leader, executive director of the Institute for Transformative Leaders and Communities, and The Murray H. Leiffer Associate Professor of Congregational Leadership. “The students learn what leadership entails from three contrasting perspectives, and at the same time congregation members see in these students the hope and future of The United Methodist Church.”
Garrett-Evangelical and Birmingham First have developed a strong and reciprocal relationship. Four of the five current clergy on staff at the church have a connection to the seminary. Brian and Monica William are graduates from 2002 and 2004, respectively. John Harnish holds an honorary doctorate, and Rodney Quainton was formerly on staff of the Stead Center for Ethics and Values at Garrett-Evangelical. Garrett-Evangelical graduates who have served as associate pastors in the last ten years include Matthew Hook (1991 and one of last year’s distinguished alums), Jeff Nelson (2004), Carl Gladstone (2004), and Lynn Hasley (2004).
Garrett-Evangelical has also benefited from its relationship with Birmingham First. Dale and Barbara Glick, members of the church, serve on Garrett- Evangelical’s Council of Laity. Two life trustees, Cliff Bath and Jay Hook, and two current trustees, Ann Littleton and Roger Cummings, are members of the church.
Garrett-Evangelical is grateful to Birmingham First United Methodist Church and to its congregation for the important role they are playing in bearing witness to the love of God through Christ – and for the role they are playing in preparing future leaders of the church.