Ten: God Bless Us Everyone

For a time, you could find them scattered throughout Midland. In yards, of course. Even in ones of people who didn’t attend First Methodist or weren’t even Methodists. But also along public thoroughfares and placed in the windows of businesses. The iconic West Texas scene and simple yet powerful phrase caught people’s eye and captured their attention.

That’s what they were designed to do of course. These corrugated plastic black and white yard signs led people across the city to think of First Methodist as that “God Bless Midland” church.

The “yard” or roadside sign has been a staple of advertising for decades reaching back to the early years of automotive travel. Among the most famous are the Burma Shave jingles which first appeared in the early 1920s. Wood eventually gave way to cardboard then plastic as the primary sign medium. Messages “selling” everything from commercial products to politicians, from art shows to concerts, have appeared on these mass produced, easily distributed marketing tools. Churches adopted them to announce revivals, concerts, and special Christmas and Easter events.

With the God Bless Midland Campaign, First Methodist undertook a grander initiative, not one event or season but an entire year built around this basic premise–to bring an extra measure of blessing to the Midland community.

The campaign eventually produced a wide variety of other artifacts, from coffee mugs to wrist bands to gold coins. But it was the basic yard sign with its silhouette of a pump jack that more than any other symbolized this dramatic venture into extravagant generosity by First Methodist.

In the fall of 2010 a team led by Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Walker began turning a vision into a reality. At its core was the idea of dramatically expanding the practice of compassion among the congregation for the city in which they lived through large-scale projects that would stretch them beyond ordinary giving and serving. Projects would be designed with different recipients in mind, but all would bless both them and those undertaking the effort.

Robert Schnase, Bishop of the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, wrote about such projects in his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. In discussing ideas for extravagant generosity, he suggested considering big, bold, audacious, even a bit scary, ideas.

As the First Methodist church leadership worked to develop this idea, the phrase “God Bless Midland” became the defining tag for the entire approach. A basic black and white logo was designed and a website established using this phrase.

In late 2010, the God Bless Midland blueprint was finalized. Throughout 2011 there would be several large-scale projects, led by volunteers supported by a church staff person. Each project would include a team of at least 100 volunteers. A seedbed fund was added to the church budget, but the long-range plan was to encourage giving to underwrite these different events and activities. Further, these activities would not replace existing programs, such as AMOS, which would continue as always.

Brainstorming meetings produced a huge number of ideas which were whittled down to a half-dozen. Only those with enough volunteer buy-in and on a large enough scale made the cut. The original six blessing projects included: Feeding of 5,000 people in a single event, Constructing an entire Habitat House, Sponsoring a night at the Rockhounds Ballpark, Holding a Special 9-11 Remembrance Service at the ten-year anniversary of that event, Flowing at the Mall dispensing water to all who entered, and conducting Prayer Walks at every Midland County school facility before the start of the 2011-12 school year. That list would evolve and change as the year progressed.

Church staff member Kaci Rybolt was named coordinator of the program. As each event developed, a coach was assigned and the process of designing the details, recruiting volunteers, and gathering resources began. Media campaigns, both within the church and in the larger community, informed everyone about the program and each specific event. In one of the earliest press releases for church members, Kaci said, “It is going to be an amazing journey as we allow God to bless Midland through our church.”

Flowin’ at the Mall became the first event. On three separate dates in the spring, coach Jil Dolloff led teams who stood at the entrances to Midland Park Mall, opening the doors and handing out bottles of water. As Jill explained the idea, “We are helping the flow of people and sharing flowing water. Hence the term ‘flowin’.” 80 volunteers manned 14 mall doors and distributed over 4,000 bottles of water.

Prayer became the focus of the second event with Dee Kemp serving as the event coach. For a week in April, volunteers rode city bus routes carrying prayers throughout the city. Others visited all the city buildings to pray for local leadership. A team flew over Midland praying for the entire community. A small team of individuals reached the four corners of Midland County to make the prayer net county-wide.

The School Prayer Walk has become a special God Bless Midland event repeated before the opening of each school year.

As summer drew to a close, Coach Karen Walker led 140 volunteers in a School Prayer Walk. Teams visited every public school facility in Midland County offering up prayers for a safe and successful school year for students, teachers, and school administrators.

Scheduling complications moved the feeding event to the Fall. Mark Semmelbeck coached the event and he and his team worked diligently to create a fun evening. While the numbers were less than the original plan, almost a thousand people were provided food and entertainment.

Another 140 volunteers led by coaches Blue Hyatt and Jacob Davidson helped host the Night at the Rockhounds in August, distributing a thousand free tickets and hot dog meals. Team leader Hyatt described the event, “We are going to be able to provide a group of kids who may have never been to a professional game or seen a fireworks show with an exciting evening and, at the same time, show them and their parents that there are people out there in our community who care.”

Robert Hale led a team of 74 in the construction of a Habitat House in September. The group compiled over 700 hours of work time. As part of this project, church members contributed money, almost fully funding the house construction cost of over $30,000 and requiring very little of the seed money for the remainder. They then wrote prayers on the lumber that went into the structure, literally filling the house with prayer. When the house was completed, Dr. Walker led a special event welcoming the family to their new home and giving them several special gifts from the church.

The September 16, 2011 Tower Times issue reported the 9/11 tenth anniversary service.

1600 people attended the 911 Remembrance event coordinated by Valerie Hale and her 147-member team. The ceremony included speeches and reflections from local leaders. Among these was a moving recollection of that day in 2001 by former Secretary of Commerce Don Evans. Then special guest Lee Greenwood gave a powerful rendition of “God Bless The USA.” It was an amazing event!

In November, a group comprising many of the leaders of the God Bless Midland year met to assess how it had gone. Even as they celebrated the tremendous success of all that had been accomplished, plans were made to continue the idea into 2012. A new list of extravagant projects was created.

The Tabernacle Experience contained many moments for special prayer and meditation.

Some events, such as the school prayer walks returned. Other new events emerged. Among these was the bringing of a special full-scale replica of the Tabernacle of Moses to Midland. Visitors listened to an audio tour as they physically walked through the Tabernacle, experiencing a bit of what it must have been like for the Hebrews in the wilderness. A large team of volunteers manned the many stations involved, from gift shops to headset checkout to positions throughout the tour. Hundreds took advantage of the opportunity, including several bus loads of church and private school groups.

By the end of 2012, God Bless Midland had become part of the First Methodist “brand.” For the next few years, the term was given to any large-scale, beyond-the-ordinary church event. A new color logo with the same basic look graced the second generation of yard signs. Special concerts, distributing water at the Fourth of July Children’s Parade, renovation of several elementary campus facilities in more economically-disadvantaged parts of town, all became God Bless Midland events.

A simple phrase that called the congregation to action. An ordinary tool of advertising that became an agent of grace. The God Bless Midland yard sign became a visible image of the Methodist ideal of service, summed up so well by John Wesley. “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”


The First Methodist archives contain fragments of the rich history of First Methodist Midland. Arranging these ten artifacts in order constructs a brief narrative of this congregation of Methodists. Yet, the greatest legacy of this church lies not in these things but rather in the fruits of all the acts of faith, of love, charity, and service that span more than 130 years and which began when that small handful of people gathered and decided, “We need a church here, in this place.” Like the blessed in Psalm 1, First Methodist Midland has been “like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither.”


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