By John Crooks
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Sept. 11, 2017) -- Just over 25 years ago, Emerald Youth Foundation officially launched out of Emerald Avenue United Methodist Church to reach more children and their families in the heart of Knoxville.
During those early days of ministry, when asked why the church sought to engage with city kids, now-retired Emerald Avenue pastor Bob Bean often referenced Matthew 19:13-14: “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” (ESV)
Emerald Avenue’s current pastor, Rev. Tom Seay, agrees those verses ring just as true today as they did a quarter century ago.
“Children need to know they are loved, especially those who may not have support at home,” Seay said. “The members of Emerald Avenue really took that to heart in the late 1980s and began outreach in the immediate neighborhood. And here we are all those years later, as the founding church of Emerald Youth Foundation, which continues to do God’s work throughout the entire city.”
Emerald Youth Foundation annually serves more than 2,000 children, teens and young adults with a focus on outcomes in faith, learning and health – all in collaboration with city churches.
While many things have changed over the years in ministry with city kids at Emerald Avenue – like the style of Wednesday night worship and discipleship curriculum – the church itself has been ever-present and always ready to welcome young people through its doors to hear about Jesus’ love for them.
At Emerald Youth’s prayer breakfast in May, longtime Emerald Avenue member Norma Kelley represented the church as it received special recognition. She accepted a plaque on behalf of the congregation which read, “Emerald Youth Foundation recognizes the courage and faith of Emerald Avenue United Methodist Church for being the founding congregation of Emerald Youth’s ministry with city children and their families 25 years ago.”
Kelley remarked it was fellow Emerald Avenue member John Reese who helped lead the charge in the early years of the outreach, and the congregation couldn’t have done it without him. Reese, who passed away in 2001, was founding board chair of Emerald Youth Foundation.
Today, Emerald Avenue has about 80 neighborhood elementary, middle and high school students regularly involved through Emerald Youth Foundation.
“It remains a joy to be part of Emerald Youth,” Rev. Seay said. “The people of Emerald Avenue know God is at work in the hearts and lives of our neighborhood children.”
John Crooks is marketing and communications director of Emerald Youth Foundation