Holston Conference Honors Three with Denman Award

The Denman Evangelism Award was presented to (clergy) the Rev. Paul Seay, First United Methodist Church and Charles Wesley United Methodist Church in Abingdon, Va.; (lay) Norma Smith, Concord United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.; and (youth) Lorelai Ziegler, Allen Memorial United Methodist Church, Athens, Tenn. These photos were originally posted on Facebook and as part of the Monday recap for Holston’s 2024 Annual Conference.

Pastor reflects Christ’s Invitation, receives Denman Award in Dakotas Conference

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

Pastor Thanael addresses attendees at Annual Conference in Bismarck.

Rev. Thanael Certa-Werner received the Harry Denman Evangelism Award for Clergy at the 2024 Annual Conference in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Some words embody Pastor Thanael’s call to life as a follower of Jesus, which he lives out as a clergy: joy, excitement, eagerness, humility, and passion, while embracing and continually reflecting Christ’s invitational grace and love to all people.

When Rev. Certa-Werner was asked to serve as pastor of Burke and Herrick UMCs, little did anyone know that something more would be asked of him in creating an even larger parish that would also include Gregory UMC, in Gregory, South Dakota.

Rev. Thanael Certa Werner. Photos by jlynn studios.

Rev. Certa-Werner, with unwavering faith, immediately envisioned the immense potential these three congregations could unlock in reaching people and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ in Gregory County. Rather than being deterred by the challenges of declining worship attendance, inactive ministries, or financial worries, all three congregations united under a parish covenant, embarking on a transformative journey.

They took a bold step, identifying themselves as the Abundance Parish, a faith community that thrives on God’s abundance, not scarcity. This shift in mindset, coupled with the assurance of a welcoming culture, has led to a significant increase in worship attendance and participation in various church activities within and beyond the church walls.

A specific example is that even before the parish had officially formed, Pastor Thanael was planning a joint confirmation class for the youth of all three congregations. On Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2024, 15 youth confirmed their faith, including two who were baptized. The confirmation celebration is an authentic witness to growing God’s Kingdom.

Inviting and including people of all ages reflects Pastor Thanael’s heart, grounded in the commandments to love God and others. Certa-Werner’s presence is felt in the communities he serves, from nursing homes to school events and in walking alongside people in their discipleship journey. His life, words, and actions reflect the grace and love of Christ, a testament to his deep commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus. This dedication, aimed at helping others experience God’s transformative love, is a key reason for his recognition with the Harry Denman Award for Evangelism. 

This story was originally posted at https://www.dakotasumc.org/news/sharing-gods-abundance-2024-harry-denman-award-winner-rev-thanael-certa-werner. It has been reposted with permission.

Louisiana UMC Conference Recognizes Three Denman Award Recipients

In the above photograph, Carolyn Dove (left) is accepting on behalf of Nicholas Doine

The Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church proudly announces the recipients of this year’s Harry Denman Evangelism Awards, recognizing outstanding efforts in spreading the gospel through actions and commitment.

This year’s distinguished honorees, Nicholas Doine in the Youth category and Jan Cooke for Laity, have demonstrated exceptional dedication and service, embodying the spirit of evangelism in their communities.

Nicholas Doine: Youth Award Recipient

Nicholas Doine, a member of Pineville United Methodist Church, has made significant contributions to the church and his community, particularly among the youth. As a seasoned staffer at the Louisiana Happening retreats and the current Rector, Nick has spearheaded innovations like an online registration system, enhancing the accessibility and efficiency of this vital youth ministry.

His commitment extends beyond administrative duties; he actively engages his peers in faith through writing and preaching, particularly during the youth-led services.

Nick’s influence is not confined to the church walls.

He is an inspirational figure in his high school and a committed volunteer at various community organizations including Manna House, St. Mark’s Food Ministry, and several local food banks and missions.

His tireless volunteer work and ability to inspire his peers make him a deserving recipient of the Harry Denman Youth Evangelism Award.

Rev. Debra Keller: Clergy Award Recipient

Rev. Debra Keller, known for her heartfelt approach to worship and community service, has been honored with the Harry Denman Clergy Award.

Rev. Keller strives to make worship meaningful for young and old through various forms of worship, including offering services in local parks, particularly on Easter and Mother’s Day, welcoming all people to join in the celebration.

Her church’s partnership with the ecumenical group Helping Hands, both personally and financially, exemplifies her dedication to spreading God’s gifts to others.

The church’s participation in Back to School Blessings provided food, drinks, and 125 backpacks to children in the community, along with fifty-five $25 Walmart gift cards to help families with additional school costs.

During Christmas, Rev. Keller’s church hosts “Breakfast with Santa,” offering a hot breakfast and free pictures with Santa Claus to the community.

Rev. Keller’s commitment to service is evident in her church’s collaboration with other churches for events like the Martin Luther King Day “Day of Service” and the Brazil Family Benefit, raising over $1000 for a family that lost everything in a fire.

In response to the Jackson, Mississippi water supply crisis, Rev. Keller and her congregation delivered over 200 cases of bottled water. Additionally, the youth of her church have participated in Habitat for Humanity and delivered socks and blankets to a local nursing home.

Rev. Keller’s compassionate spirit and love for others truly exemplify Jesus’ teaching that to be His follower, one must have a servant’s heart. Her extensive efforts to serve and uplift her community make her a deserving recipient of the Harry Denman Clergy Award.

Jan Cooke: Laity Award Recipient

Jan Cooke of Asbury United Methodist Church in Lafayette is a beacon of faith and dedication in her community.

Jan’s leadership in the Community Outreach program and her coordination of the annual Spring Fair are just a few examples of her commitment to evangelism.

Her ministry, “Pearl’s of Faith,” provides spiritual support and community to women, reinforcing her role as a cornerstone of church activities.

Jan’s approach to evangelism is deeply personal and inclusive, focusing on connecting with people from diverse backgrounds, including those new to Methodism or those with past negative church experiences.

Her ability to share the gospel through both word and song, complemented by her role as the church pianist, exemplifies her multifaceted approach to ministry.

Her initiatives, such as distributing Valentine’s cards to nursing home residents, collecting essential items for disadvantaged children, and organizing donations of school uniforms and winter coats, demonstrate her practical application of faith in action. Jan’s extensive involvement in these acts of kindness and her continuous effort to draw more people into the loving embrace of the church community rightfully earn her this year’s Harry Denman Laity Award.

The Louisiana Conference of The United Methodist Church celebrates Nicholas Doine and Jan Cooke’s extraordinary contributions. Their dedication to evangelism and service profoundly impacts their communities, making them exemplary recipients of the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards.

As we honor these individuals, we are reminded of the power of committed faith and the difference it can make in the lives of others.

This story was originally posted at https://www.la-umc.org/newsdetail/celebrating-evangelism-the-harry-denman-award-winners-18374212. It has been reprinted with permission.

Minnesota UMC Conference Celebrates Women Living Out the Gospel

The Minnesota Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church presented the Harry Denman Evangelism Awards to two individuals in May. The following article appeared on their website.

Rev. Faith Totushek accepts the Denman Award from Rev. Fred Vanderwerf.

…These shining examples of United Methodists making a difference in their communities and across Minnesota by living out our gospel imperatives to grow in love of God and neighbor, reach new people, and heal a broken world. Here’s a look at each of the recipients and their contributions:

Denman Evangelism Award: Rev. Faith Totushek and Fabiola Rivera, Grace UMC and Yom Kippur Iglesia Methodista, St. Cloud
Since Rev. Faith Totushek began serving Grace UMC, she has fostered key cross-cultural relationships, including with Fabiola Rivera, which led to Spanish-speaking visitors expressing interest in the church. Just as these relationships were developing, a hurricane hit Puerto Rico, which led to an influx of Spanish-speakers migrating to the St. Cloud area. Grace UMC responded to the community need with bedding, towels, and household supplies.
Two years ago this spring, Rivera and her husband Juan launched a Hispanic Saturday dinner church and Bible study at Grace UMC, where 20-40 people gather to break bread and be in community.

Rev. Faith Totushek (second from right) and Fabiola Rivera (fifth from right) celebrate at a Hispanic Heritage Month event.

Rivera holds a deep-seated passion for serving others, particularly those who are new to the country and may feel isolated or disconnected. By partnering with Grace UMC, local organizations, community groups, and the church’s food shelf, she has established a comprehensive support system—of both spiritual guidance and practical assistance—that meets the needs of newcomers and their families. Rivera believes that by building relationships based on mutual respect and empathy, she can effectively share the message of God’s love and redemption.

Inclusion of the Hispanic community has spilled over into Grace UMC worship services. The scriptures, communion liturgy, and songs are shared in both English and Spanish. Congregants can read a Spanish translation of the sermon.

Rev. Dr. Fred Vanderwerf, who presented the award, said that Totushek’s greatest contribution to evangelism efforts at Grace UMC has been her intentional commitment to supporting Latino people in leadership. In the church office, in the Bible study ministry, and in the flourishing church food shelf, new life has come forth under Latino leadership.

Totushek readily admits: “It’s hard. It’s not easy. It takes energy to be in community cross-culturally, but it’s worth it!”

Armanda Vanderheiden accepts the Denman Award from Rev. Fred Vanderwerf.

Denman Evangelism Award: Armanda Vanderheiden, Christ UMC, Rochester

In 2023, Armanda Vanderheiden—a member of Christ UMC in Rochester—started a ministry for women called Tea & Tacos to highlight female voices in theology and to cultivate strong intergenerational relationships. The Saturday morning gathering regularly includes 10 to 12 people of all ages for discussions. She also holds monthly social or outreach events. Tea and Tacos has welcomed women beyond Christ UMC, who are drawn to the discussion topics and the supportive community that Vanderheiden fosters.

In 2023, Vanderheiden also organized a Teen/Tween Pride after-party during Rochester Pride weekend. She partnered with a local arcade to host the event and reached out to LGBTQ+ affirming congregations in Rochester to help sponsor and staff the gathering. More than 70 youth attended the after-party in a safe and welcoming space, and a donation of $500 was made to the Trevor Project through ticket sales and church support.

Vanderheiden’s heart for creating safe and inclusive spaces reflects the radical welcome of Jesus. She understands the value of personal invitations, trust, loving acceptance, and creating physical welcoming spaces. She is not afraid to speak openly about her faith and her love for Jesus, and she understands the value of listening as a form of evangelism. These safe spaces and loving relationships have made a tangible impact at Christ UMC and in the greater Rochester community.

This article originally appeared at https://www.minnesotaumc.org/newsdetail/awards-given-for-evangelism-faith-professions-healing-a-broken-world-18382910. It has been reprinted with permission.

Missouri UMC Pastor Recognized for For Connecting Community with Church

Rev. Candace Fowler, of First United Methodist Church in Sedalia, Mo., received the 2024 Harry Denman Evangelism Award from the Missouri Conference of The United Methodist Church. She describes herself as, “a relational theologian if I’m anything, so when I came into this Wesleyan tradition, that Christ came to the world to be in relationship with us, how can we not do anything but be in relationship with people?”

She goes on to say about the growth in her church (45 baptisms and 65 new members in 2023), “There’s a secret sauce, it’s discipleship! That’s how things grow! That’s the secret sauce!” She also says that the credit for the award goes to the teams who are empowered share God’s abundance – generosity, love, grace, freedom, justice, and mercy – with others. “When your life is focused on those things, things always grow …. We are Christians because the power of the Living God has changed us … God gets the glory.”

Missouri UMC Denman Award Recipient Shares Love of Gaming with Love of God

Tom Keller was inspired after participating in the eSports Center during Unite at Central Methodist University. It inspired him to start an eSports league for the youth ministry at Ashland United Methodist Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. In less than a year, the number of youth that have found a place at church has doubled from 20 to 40 students.

Tom says, “To just see all kinds of kids of all kinds of different backgrounds be very overtly passionate about video games to just come out, hang out, and then to be a part and stay a part of our lesson and engage in discussion, you know, be teenagers with other teenagers is just an awesome experience just to get to see that and be a part of that.”

He goes on to say, “Evangelism is, for me, just trying to make disciples in whatever way I possibly can… there’s always a community of some kind that people can lean into and be a part of, and it’s really just a matter how can I invite those people to be a part of that community and just join us together and be a part of the walk.”