The following article was the “Church Spotlight” feature in the latest issue of fellowship! magazine. Click here to read more from the October/November 2013 issue. You may also download a PDF version of this article here.
By Emily Holladay
We praise and worship God, together.
We petition God, together.
We proclaim God, together.
We welcome all persons in God’s love, together.
We live for God, in every breath and heartbeat, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as followers of Jesus Christ, together.
Join New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., for worship any given Sunday, and you will hear this affirmation of unity and purpose enthusiastically recited by all gathered. Stay for any length of time, and you will see these words reflected in the way this congregation worships, serves, learns, loves and shares, together.
Since June 2009, New Millennium has met weekly for worship and Bible study under the leadership of pastor Wendell Griffen, a judge for the Sixth Judicial Circuit of Arkansas. The church is aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the National Baptist Convention USA, and also maintains a strong partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas.
“When we first started, we all decided at the same time that we were looking for something more, something deeper, so we started meeting at Wendell’s house for Bible study. We were just so thrilled at the level of understanding that we got from his teaching and the genuineness of fellowship that we started thinking, ‘Why can’t we do this all the time?’” said Suzette Cannon, a charter member of New Millennium.
The group now meets at Lakeshore Drive Baptist Church for worship, followed by a weekly book study, during which they read and discuss books from Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism by Allan Boesak and Curtiss Paul DeYoung to Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis to Desmond Tutu’s God is not a Christian.
Different church members take turns facilitating book discussions, and through conversations New Millennium has been challenged and inspired to explore different ways of serving and being arbiters of justice in their community.
“Leading our study of Radical Reconciliation helped me become more cognizant of what it means to follow Jesus and offer true forgiveness. The study helped me to look at things differently than I ever have before and move beyond what a person can give me to see the God in them – to see the humanity in them,” explained Regina Hunt, a New Millennium member.
Digging into difficult topics, the church is often convicted to take action in their community to promote justice in sustainable ways. One major example of their involvement is a partnership started three years ago with Bale Elementary School, a nearby school with students from financially struggle families.
Through Partners in Education, a program of the Little Rock school system, New Millennium began a long-term partnership with Bale Elementary to help families in non-conventional ways.
“As we were trying to discover our mission, we realized that there were several educators in the congregation, and thought we should find a way to work with the elementary school right down the street. So, we sat down with the principal, saw what needs existed and took action,” Cannon said.
The church began the partnership with a uniform funding strategy, providing uniforms to students whose families could not afford them. But, wanting to form deeper relationships with the families, the group decided to develop a program to interact with and educate both students and their parents.
Over the past three summers, New Millennium Church has developed and led an enrichment program for parents and children to learn life skills like managing time wisely, dealing with pressure, anger management and finding a moral basis for decision making. The parents and children come to New Millennium every night for two weeks during the summer for a meal and learning sessions led by church members.
“We interact with the children through stories and help them see how the decisions made by the characters apply to their own lives. Sometimes, it takes us two or three days to get the meaning of the story across to the kids, so it’s a learning and growing process for us and the children,” said Joyce Williams, a member of New Millennium who helped start the Summer Enrichment Program.
While the children are learning decision-making skills, their parents also take a class to learn skills that will help them better support their families, including role modeling, developing family traditions and managing responsibilities.
“One lady I worked with was able to find a job, because she realized that she had more to offer to her child and could do more for herself. We really try to teach the parents the value of self-empowerment and understanding your worth as a person so that you can be a better parent,” Hunt added.
New Millennium is now working on ways to maintain these relationships, so they can help the families support each other while their children are back in school.
In addition to the partnership with Bale Elementary, New Millennium actively seeks more ways to be involved in the fight against injustice in their community.
“We are a social justice church. We’re always looking to help empower people who have no voice. Recently, we joined a missional coalition that was responding to research about the bullying of Hispanic students by African-American students in the community, and were successful at getting the school district to be more proactive about applying policies to prevent bullying,” Hunt said.
Church members can regularly be found at city council and school board meetings and other community action events speaking out for the rights of all people.
“Every Sunday, pastor Griffen says that we should be working to correct the wrongs that have been done in our community, I’ve always been very proud of our church, because we go outside of our four walls and interact with our community. I’m proud of how we take action and the depth of action we take,” New Millennium member Ken Greenwood said.
From the first moments of their worship service on Sunday until returning the next week, the members of New Millennium Church truly live out their affirmation of unity and purpose. They strive to “live for God, in every breath and heartbeat, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as followers of Jesus Christ, together.”