Loving like Jesus: Trinity’s anonymous Barnabas encouragement ministry

By Jessica Brodie

AIKEN—For the past 11 years, a secret society of neighbors at Trinity United Methodist Church has been quietly reaching out to the congregation, cheering them on in times of joy and offering comfort in times of sorrow or illness.

Their members are entirely anonymous—for years, reportedly not even the pastor knew who was a member of the group—and they take great pleasure in loving like Jesus, no thanks required.

The group reaches out across all areas of the church, from the seniors to the youth to the adult Sunday school classes and more, praying and then taking a name or names of people to “adopt” for the month. Then they get to work, preparing a love basket, making a prayer shawl or buying a gift card or other thoughtful individual present tailored uniquely to their “adoptee’s” current situation. Finally, they dispatch their special treat courtesy of a delivery person, who has pledged not to reveal the name of the benefactor.

“It touches you in ways you can’t describe. I get choked up even talking about it; it’s so God sent,” said Danny Herring, who has received Barnabas care packages over the years both for his heavy workload as chair of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee and during his two knee surgeries. “They don’t want to be thanked; they just want to take care of the people around them.”

Now more than a decade in and stronger than ever, Barnabas volunteers hope their story will encourage other UMCs in South Carolina to consider starting a ministry much like theirs.

A Christ-like ministry

The person responsible for bringing Barnabas to Trinity 11 years ago said the idea came from a close friend who had a similar group in her church.

“It began to lay on my heart: this is something that could really benefit Trinity,” the coordinator said.

The Rev. Rodney Powell was the pastor at the time, and the coordinator said that when he heard the news, he called it the most Christ-like ministry he could think of, giving it his full blessing and endorsement. And just like that, the Barnabas ministry at Trinity was born.

They gathered 12 people representing various aspects of the church and got to work. One of the first people they encouraged was a family whose toddler had recently been diagnosed with cancer. The news was devastating, and Barnabas began to pray about what they could do to encourage the family. They ended up putting together a family package with a children’s movie, popcorn, sodas and snacks, along with a card expressing their love and concern.

Over the years, they’ve encouraged so many people at Trinity, from a teenaged girl diagnosed with diabetes to recent graduates, widows, shut-ins, new babies and a couple dealing with Alzheimer’s. Four times a year, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and Easter, they also reach out to residents of nearby nursing homes, sending little packages of cheer during times these residents might feel especially lonely.

“Anything from balloons to flowers, to baking small loaves of pumpkin or banana bread, sending an apple and a knife, paper goods for the holiday—something to say we remember you, we love you on this holiday, and we miss you,” the Barnabas coordinator said.

They do all the cards themselves, creating them on the computer and personalized for their “adoptee” with the Barnabas signature.

And all of this they do without any funding from the church; it is totally self-sufficient.

Trinity pastor the Rev. Lee Phillips Jr. is newly appointed to the church, and he said the ministry has even encouraged him; he and his family received notes and cards from the Barnabas group before they even moved to Aiken.

“It makes me feel good to know there are folks who are willing to do this and not seeking any praise or reward … but loving in way to give the praise to God and Jesus,” Phillips said. “Jesus talks about loving one another ‘as I have loved you.’ … They are loving as Jesus loved.”

You know you’re remembered

Ann Robinson has been encouraged by the ministry a few times, back when she fought a battle with cancer in 2007, and more recently, when she broke her hip and was in rehabilitation for three and a half weeks. One of the gifts she received, a Willow Tree angel, still sits prominently on a shelf with other treasured items.

“It’s very uplifting, makes me feel like someone really cares,” Robinson said about the cheer she’s received. “You know that you’re remembered.”

Mary Jo Herring has been encouraged both during her retirement and when she experienced knee and hip replacements. She and her husband do not have family nearby, and she said the ministry makes them realize their church really is their family, too, that you’re not going through this time alone.

She received a prayer shawl during her hip replacement, and she said it brought her extraordinary comfort.

“It was a godsend; when I put my hand on it, I would feel not only the closeness of my church family, but it would remind me God is with me no matter where I am,” Herring said. “It just makes me feel comfort in knowing I have a church family that really cares.”

Churches interested in starting a similar ministry are welcome to contact Trinity’s Barnabas team. Write Barnabas Ministry, c/o Trinity UMC, 2724 Whiskey Road, Aiken, SC 29803.

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