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Joy is Rising in Orwigsburg, PA

Advanced Financial Academy Project Update

In the coming weeks and months we will be highlighting the ministry projects that were undertaken by our Advanced Financial Academy students.  

Stacy Gonzalez serves at Salem UMC in Orwigsburg, PA in an appointment that started in July 2021 after she moved to Pennsylvania from Texas.  She wasted no time getting to know her community and learning how Salem UMC could further integrate their ministry in the area.  Here is Stacy’s account of the birth of Joy Rising with an accompanying video.

Just about a year ago (July 2021), I was appointed as the pastor of Salem United Methodist Church in Orwigsburg, PA. A few months into this appointment I was enrolled in the Advanced Financial Academy. I was deeply inspired by our first session, especially the focus on asset-based community development. I was also deeply challenged. There was a lot of talk around examining our church’s under-utilized resources. As I began to think about Salem, I had to really think about this! Salem has a small building, no parking lot, and they were going through a challenging time after Covid caused a drastic decline in attendance and giving.

What are this church’s assets?! It has to be something out of the box! And then I began to think about their yearly block party that I had just recently experienced for the first time! For the past twenty years, every August this small church puts on a block party for the entire community. It’s an afternoon of pure joy- bounce house, hot dogs, popcorn, ice cream, face painting, games, live music, etc. It’s all free and everyone is welcome! Joy for all!

I began to think about this idea of joy and how it was so wrapped up in Salem’s identity…maybe joy is our asset?!

And I thought about what a difference it could make in our greater community if we expanded this idea of JOY! What if this joy isn’t just a once-a-year thing? What if it’s a regular part of our lives, and what if we begin to spread this idea that everyone is worthy of experiencing it?

So, I began to reflect on how we could expand this idea of joy…

Orwigsburg is located right on the edge of the coal regions, known for their depression and poverty. We have a title one school in our neighborhood which means at least 40% of students and their families meet the federal poverty guidelines. So many of our families are struggling just to get through the day that joy isn’t even a consideration. We are town with a lot of small-town pride which means we don’t often talk about these struggles.

I began to wonder- what would happen if we address these challenges through the lens of joy? Injecting joy into our community, empowering our neighbors to share joy with one another, and over time looking at the barriers to joy that exist (affordable housing, food insecurity, access to mental health and addiction resources, etc.)

From these ideas I put together a dream team consisting of Salem members and community partners. Together we began to talk about this idea of joy, and from two inspiring meetings- “Joy Rising” was born.

From this dreaming and planning came our mission statement that “Joy Rising will enrich the lives of our neighbors by offering meaningful experiences of joy that are accessible to all people.”

The hope is that this is a project that will begin small and organically grow over time. It will begin with offerings of free joy throughout the year- we will inject joy into our community through bursts of pop-up joy (free coffee days, ice cream truck afternoons, acts of random kindness, music nights, etc.). We will also offer a presence of joy at community events.

As we establish ourselves and grow, we hope that over time we can also begin to address the barriers to joy in our community- what is keeping people so tired, so stressed, so impoverished, that they can’t even begin to think about joy?! And how do we begin to address those issues so that joy becomes a possibility and quality of life is improved.

Through it all, our hope is that this joy will also be contagious- that people will be inspired to share it with their neighbors, and that this will create a chain reaction that fills our community with hope and life!

This is a simple concept that we think can have a tremendous impact.

Joy Rising will be a permanent partner of Salem United Methodist Church in Orwigsburg, PA. It will be supported by the church but also be a separate organization that hopefully over time will acquire it’s own 501c3 status. The hope here is that this will be something that connects with even those who are church-resistant and will open itself up to community partners that might not otherwise support a religious organization. There will be no religious component to Joy Rising events and offerings, aside from following the commandment to love our neighbors. Joy will always be offered for free with no strings attached.

In a time when it’s so easy to be overwhelmed and run down by life, Joy Rising is going to break in with the reminder that this isn’t the end of the story. Joy is possible and it is meant to be experienced and shared.

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