Facing downtown Madison sits an unassuming two-story brick building with a sign above the entrance for the Western Rockingham Ministry Center. On the second floor, the Hands of God Ecumenical Ministry provides food, emergency utility assistance and emergency medical supplies. On the first floor, a dream has unlocked a larger vision for the future of western Rockingham County.
“My big dream is to make the church a friendly, warm place where people can come and feel included and feel wanted and know the love of Jesus,” the Rev. Tracy Schumpert explains. “A place where everyone is welcome.” The first floor of the Ministry Center offered some promise as a first point of connection for youth to engage with the church.
Tracy Schumpert is the pastor at Madison United Methodist Church in Madison, NC. She joined the Western North Carolina Conference in 2020 from the Oklahoma Conference, and has spent the last few years learning about her community and seeking to serve and to build upon opportunities to meet the needs in the western part of the county.
Her ministry team identified through its outreach work that youth needed an entry point to the church and learning more about a loving Jesus – an entry point outside the walls of the church. Additionally, the church looked at the legacy of the churches in the area and the need to work to engage more young people.
The vacant first floor of the Western Rockingham Ministry Center had room for a place where young people could convene and experience the church community without having to commit or feel obligated to join any particular church congregation. Schumpert refers to the center as “church-adjacent,” allowing people to enter into the church community but not feel like it’s a church building.
But they knew they couldn’t do it alone. Explains Schumpert, “We are not in a society anymore where people are going to come to us. We’ve got to create places and spaces where we can come to them. Our objective was creating this space but also creating places maybe in other areas throughout the mission network where those things can happen as well.”
So, she spoke with the Northern Piedmont District Superintendent, Rev. Bev Coppley. Rev. Coppley came up with a more cooperative ministry and what that might look like in reaching out to youth. One where resources could be pooled to meet the needs within Madison UMC, as well as with other United Methodist churches in the Western Rockingham Mission Network.
Encouraged by a member of the church community, Madison UMC participated in the Connect Church program
of the Rural Center.
“It was an incredible experience,” says Schumpert. “The whole process helped us think more thoroughly. We had the big dream and the big vision, and we were going towards that. The Rural Center was critical to us in being more thorough about our dream and our vision. It was very beneficial for us.”
The Western Rockingham cohort went through the steps of Connect with the help of coach Mark Monitor. They met with community members and saw that there was alignment in what the community wanted and the need for youth outreach that Madison UMC was seeing. Connect allowed the team to be more thoughtful in the process while also reinforcing their vision.
The Western Rockingham Ministry Center offers a space for youth to convene and connect with each other, where they can come and do their homework or play games. Plans are already being made to offer coffee hours, an internet cafe, and eventually, meeting spaces and a counseling center.
This is just the start of something bigger, and through Connect, Madison UMC now has a roadmap to go by when looking at other opportunities in order to build upon their work.
“This isn’t going to be our first and only outreach,” says Schumpert. “This is just the anchor point for us in a bigger ministry and vision and dream. We’re hoping that out of this will come an after-school program and maybe even a full-time person doing this work with the help of the Northern Piedmont District and Western Rockingham Mission Network churches. So we have some dreams for this for the future.”