By Ken Carver
Special to the Baptist and Reflector
COLLIERVILLE — They are a “Circle of Friends.” They have no organization chart. No elected leaders. No budgeted funding. They keep no minutes. Yet they minister mightily to the widows of Collierville First Baptist Church.
God has called these 20 women to serve the church’s widows in ways that the church’s deacons — who also have an active widows ministry — can never do. They complement the deacons’ ministry. Officially, they are an arm of the Woman’s Missionary Union.
In October the Circle of Friends celebrated their fifth anniversary of service with a luncheon that brought together many of the 135-plus ladies under their care. At the event, senior pastor Chuck Herring voiced his fondness for the Christ-centered ministry, noting that the idea did not come from a ministerial staff member, something he deeply admired.
“Brenda West (the group’s de facto leader) was burdened for these special ladies, so she prayed for the Lord’s guidance,” said Herring. “She shared her vision with some other women and got them involved. I praise the Lord for Brenda’s passion for widows and her willingness to attempt something great for the Lord.”
Assisting Brenda West in this organizationally loose but spiritually tight-knit group, are three key ladies. Kay Orman and Kay Horne take notes about the next month’s menu and e-mail the group with that and other information, and Kay Horne keeps the list of widows and workers current. Ernestine Glover, a CFBC administrative assistant, updates the names, contact info, and birthdates of current widows in the church.
So how does this special ministry — which started with 12 people — work?
The widows, who are also called friends, not widows, are divided by their birth month. Depending upon how many widows share the same birth month, one or two of the Circle’s workers accept responsibility for their watch care. Generally, each worker is assigned five to seven widows. A few of the workers are themselves widows.
Each month a birthday luncheon is held for that month’s widows at Brenda West’s home. Hospitality and service are her spiritual gifts, and she is happy to open her home for these monthly celebrations.
The worker or workers responsible for a specific month’s widows plan the menu a month in advance, and other workers volunteer to bring the various food items, including a birthday cake. All of the expenses are borne by the workers.
Ninety minutes before a luncheon begins, the workers gather at the West home. They share news about the widows, discuss any changes and challenges that have arisen, discuss the menu for the next month’s gathering, and pray. Soon, that month’s honorees arrive, and the party begins.
Throughout the year the workers maintain regular contact with their widows through phone calls, greeting cards, home or hospital visits, and hugs at church. If they learn of a need that a widow’s deacon needs to know about, they follow up with that deacon. “There’s no competition between the Circle of Friends and the deacons,” Bill West states. He is Brenda’s husband and a deacon himself.
Brenda West’s mother was widowed in 2014. Brenda was distraught at the fact that 350 miles separated them and she was not available to minister to her mother. At the same time, she was having a hard time finding her niche within the WMU. That’s when WMU director Betty Only said, “Well Brenda, why don’t you start something new?”
“There must be widows in Collierville who face the same challenges my mother faces,” she recalled. Soon, God began to unfold His plan to her. He even gave her the ministry’s name — Circle of Friends.
A retired home economics teacher, Brenda liked to “do dinners.” The idea of monthly birthday luncheons came into focus. As the concept took shape, she shared her thoughts and growing burden with fellow choir members and her Sunday School class.
“The Lord put the right people in my path,” she said. “It is all the Lord’s work.” Five years later it still is, and growing almost every month.
If anyone is interested in forming a Circle of Friends, contact Brenda West at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and a ton of inspiration. Be sure to include “Circle of Friends” in the subject line.