Roberts Memorial UMC: Leading by Example in the Virginia Conference

When Roberts Memorial United Methodist Church chose Africa University as the mission project for its 2016 Men’s Day celebration, its pastor and members had a strategy and a goal in mind—to go beyond the expected and do the extraordinary.

Established in 1832, Roberts Memorial UMC is the oldest continuous African-American congregation in the Virginia Conference and one of the oldest in the denomination. It is located in Old Town Alexandria and has 180 members. About 80 people are usually in attendance at the Sunday morning worship services.

In July 2015, the Rev. Dr. James G. Daniely, a campus minister for more than 20 years, became the pastor of Roberts Memorial UMC. He said that he looked up the apportionment sent by the Virginia Conference to support Africa University. It was $74,072.07 in 2015 or 80.69% of the asking, which was $91, 804.00. Daniely noted that the annual Africa University Fund (AUF) contribution for Roberts Memorial was set at $93.00 and his reaction was a combination of embarrassment and sadness.

“I challenged our men, and through them the church, to make a statement! The paltry goal was $1,000.00, and they responded by exceeding that by 300 percent,” said Daniely. “They were surprised and elated that the church lost nothing in the process.” 

The church’s strategy was to use the Men’s Day souvenir booklet to generate funds for this second-mile gift to Africa University. Advertisements were solicited from church members, businesses and friends in the community. Daniely says that when word got out that the sale of the ads would benefit Africa University, people responded. Several individuals made generous gifts to support what the church was doing for the university. In November, Roberts Memorial UMC presented a gift of $3,275.00 to James Salley, its Men’s Day speaker and the associate vice chancellor for institutional advancement at Africa University.

“I am hopeful that our gift will help to rescue someone in need and provide a message of hope that God is still concerned about ‘the least, the lost, and the left-out',” said Daniely.

Though he was never in doubt of the outcome, Daniely says that there is a lesson in the Roberts Memorial UMC Men’s Day experience for other congregations of a similar size.

“I hope other small and medium-sized congregations might adopt similar strategies to assist Africa University,” Daniely said. “If they attempt this, they will achieve success in the endeavor; but, if all they do is declare it's hard, difficult, or impossible to accomplish a goal of this nature, then nothing will happen.”

The Africa University Fund apportionment is one of seven general funds of The United Methodist Church.

Support for the AUF at the 100 percent level is vital. When congregations invest in the AUF, they’re ensuring that there are lecturers to teach and guide learning, that academic resources are available, that the lights stay on, that water flows from taps across the campus, and that new leaders are being nurtured and equipped to transform lives.

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