Discipleship through community: How a Louisiana church is making an impact in its small town

Discipleship through community: How a Louisiana church is making an impact in its small town

by
Daniel Sperry for Nazarene News
| 23 Mar 2023
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Friendship Meal Ministry
Caption

From left to right: Valarie Wyatt, Tami Faust, Karla Knippers, Bethany Ericson, Pastor James Ericson.

In rural Louisiana, one church’s name perfectly embodies its congregation. Friendship Church of the Nazarene in Robeline, Louisiana, has impacted its small community in various ways. 

Robeline is the quintessential rural southern town in America. Inside the city limits, there may be roughly 200 people, and within the mailing address, there are approximately 1,000. Friendship Church of the Nazarene is not the only church in town, but they know how to be “The Church.”

Recently, a beloved member of their community received his United States Citizenship. Although he does not attend Friendship Nazarene, a few members wanted to celebrate his accomplishment and throw a surprise party. Lead Pastor James Ericson was happy to open the church up for that event. 

“You could see the pride beaming off him,” Ericson said. “He was so excited, and we were excited for him because everyone in the community knew him. He is just one of those guys who will give you his shirt off his back.”

One thing that has helped Friendship Nazarene become a central point of the community is that the ministry ideas and opportunities the church seeks are inspired by its members.

Ericson said when he became pastor of Friendship Church of the Nazarene in 2015, he was told that the church was looking for a community pastor. For Ericson, fulfilling that expectation in part involves joining hands with the people of his congregation when they feel inspired by ministry ideas.

Reiterating this idea in a sermon Ericson preached recently, he mentioned his hope of filling all the church rooms with some sort of ongoing ministry at the church.

"That ministry doesn’t come from me. It’s not my idea. It’s our idea,” Ericson said. “I want them to feel comfortable sharing whatever ideas the Lord lays on their heart because if He lays that on their heart, and they feel like we need to run with it, I’m going to support them 100 percent.”

The church’s monthly meal ministry is one of the bigger hits in the community. On the last Thursday of every month, the church opens its doors from 6-8 p.m. and serves a meal that anyone from the community can eat free of charge. 

While the church gives a budget to put together the meal for 35-40 people each month, the idea came from two ladies in the church who felt the need to start some sort of food ministry for the community. During a fellowship meal at the church they all ended up at a table together and began to share what God had been placing on their hearts.

“They started talking about what they’d love to see in the community and how to reach it,” Ericson said. “That meal ministry came up, and they said, ‘Yes! Let’s do that!’”

A meal is served monthly thanks to the hard work of Tami Faust, Valarie Wyatt, Bethany Ericson, and Karla Knippers. They’ll serve anything from spaghetti and meatballs to proper Louisiana gumbo. 

Thanks to an app called “Bless Every Home,” the church sends invitations by mail to every house within a 25-mile radius. People from the community who don’t go to Friendship Nazarene and even those from another denomination show up regularly.

“They come to this meal because they love the sense of fellowship, they love the sense of community, and I think that acts of service make a huge impact on them,” Ericson said. “I think being connected makes us grow stronger. And if the church is at the center of that, it shows them that I may not be their church pastor, but I’m still kind of their pastor in a way.”

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