Transforming the world in a rural cooperative ministry

Shirley Townsend-Jones (right) and a young volunteer from the BCACM pause for a photo while packing food boxes for distribution. PHOTO: SHIRLEY TOWNSEND-JONES
Shirley Townsend-Jones (right) and a young volunteer from the BCACM pause for a photo while packing food boxes for distribution. PHOTO: SHIRLEY TOWNSEND-JONES
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Shirley Townsend-Jones, (Advance #982995), the Church and Community Worker missionary with the Bennettsville-Cheraw Area Cooperative Ministry (BCACM) in South Carolina, grew up on her family’s farm in North Carolina. It was a time and place when seeds of caring and generosity were planted and grown in the family, just as the seeds they planted in the soil produced abundant and nourishing food.

“We were always reaching out with produce and whatever we had, trying to help other people,” Townsend-Jones recalled. “That became part of our lives, helping to meet the needs of people in the community.”

Living in a rural, African American community, she said the church was at the heart of social activity: “People worked all week, and when the weekend came, that’s what you looked forward to – meeting people, hearing the word of God and socializing. We were always involved and working at the church.”

Today, Townsend-Jones is still helping to meet the needs of people in rural communities, and, following God’s call, the church has become the heart of her life’s work. In 1981, she worked as a Church and Community Worker with the Black Church and Community Development Program in the Rockingham District (now the Gateway District) in the North Carolina Annual Conference. In 1991, she transitioned to work with the BCACM in South Carolina.

Members of Project M.E.N head out for an event. PHOTO: SHIRLEY TOWNSEND- JONES  
Members of Project M.E.N head out for an event. PHOTO: SHIRLEY TOWNSEND-
JONES.

The BCACM is made up of nine United Methodist churches in the Marlboro and Chesterfield counties of South Carolina. All of them are in rural communities of the Marion and Hartsville districts of the conference, and all have predominately African-American membership.

The pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Bennettsville, the Rev. Judith Knox, serves as the director on the cooperative ministry; but Townsend-Jones is the glue that holds it all together. She’s traveled across the 96-mile radius of the cooperative ministry many times, visiting each church.

Transportation, for example, has always been an issue in this rural area, and BCACM is raising funds for a new bus to continue to support the ministry.

The cooperative ministry works to strengthen its churches in outreach, witness, service, Christian education and leadership development. Financial support comes from the churches in the cooperative and the South Carolina Conference.

BCACM supports two mentoring ministries: Ladies of the Future for young women, and Project M.E.N, (Mentoring, Education and Nurturing) for young men. The physical gatherings for the young people, children and older adults have stopped for the time being. For Townsend-Jones, this has been a difficult impact of the pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic has challenged the mission ministry, with members of the churches and the communities laid-off from work, seniors losing some of their support networks and schools closed. The churches have sought to help all people in need, not just members. Townsend-Jones affirms that, as a unified body of believers making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the ministry does not discriminate.

“We learn to roll with the punches,” she said. “We miss seeing one another, but this is a new day, a new plan God has for us. We just do what we need to do to stay safe. God will do the rest.”

excerpt from a story by Christie R. House, writer and editor consultant with Global Ministries.

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