Methodists can serve a mission here at home

New depot » SLC warehouse will provide emergency kits for the needy and missionary work for the faithful.
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United Methodists have a long history of relieving suffering worldwide, a tradition that began in the wake of World War II.

Now, they'll be doing the work from Salt Lake City.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief will consecrate a warehouse in a west side industrial park on Saturday, its second in the United States.

Emergency kits, including buckets of cleaning supplies, for victims of disasters throughout the United States and Pacific Rim will be assembled at the depot, said the Rev. Brian Diggs, the new director.

But it will serve a second purpose as well.

It will provide Methodists -- indeed, anyone -- a chance to serve a mission without leaving the country.

Already, church groups from a range of Western communities -- Las Cruces, N.M. to Roseburg, Ore. -- plan to spend a week in Salt Lake City, working at the depot or in the community on service projects. The depot is booked with volunteers through mid-August.

The original depot, more than twice the size of the new one in Salt Lake City, is in Louisiana and is scheduled with volunteers two years out.

"It's not maybe as glamorous as going to a third-world country and building a health clinic, but it has the same effect," said Diggs, who will end a 10-year stint as pastor of First United Methodist Church downtown to run the depot full time in July. "One of the hallmark strengths of Methodism is reaching out to those in need.

"Our goal is to be booked year-round and have people from all over the country come and do mission work here," said Diggs, who applied for the job because he wanted to be involved in the church's global outreach.

The depot is partnering with Crossroads Urban Center, which itself has Methodist roots, to share warehouse space, volunteers and, potentially, a forklift. Crossroads' food co-op is in the same warehouse.

If a visiting missionary doesn't want to help with what Diggs calls the "kit ministry," assembling health, layette, bedding, sewing and other supplies in kits, Crossroads will help find another service project.

Jamie Michaels, who will complete a two-year mission for the church in August, helped Diggs set up the depot.

Dubbed a U.S.-2 missionary, Michaels said it's important that the depot model how missionaries can work in their own communities providing ministry with those in need, not just to those in need.

"It's easy to do service abroad and keep that distance," she said. "But there are also people in our immediate community who need our help."

Michaels, who will attend the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., in the fall, said she was drawn to the United Methodist Church in part because of its social justice tradition, which includes not just advocating for the poor but working with them.

Raised in the Unitarian Universalist tradition, Michaels had always figured there were two ways to serve as a minister: to teach or to preach.

Now that she knows a pallet from a forklift, her vision has changed.

"I'm learning that the forms of ministry are varied and many."

Join the fun at the grand opening of the new depot

The United Methodist Committee on Relief will host a grand opening for its new West Office and Depot today, from noon to 4 p.m. The depot is at 1479 S. 700 West in Salt Lake City.

The event will include a barbecue at noon, ribbon cutting and consecration at 1 p.m., relief supply workshops and tours. A Christian rock band will perform and guests are invited to bring kit supplies or finished kits as "housewarming" gifts.

The Most Rev. Elaine Stanovsky, bishop of the United Methodists' Rocky Mountain Conference, will attend, as will UMCOR national leaders.

Get involved

The United Methodist Committee on Relief will host a grand opening for its new West Office and Depot today from noon to 4 p.m. Details › C2