Their vision was to create a central place where families could come for assistance and would be welcomed into a loving environment. In this place, they would be treated with dignity, as volunteers discerned whether there was a true and earnest need.
Founding of United Ministries
United Ministries would serve as a “clearinghouse of compassion,” so that families in crisis would no longer need to go from church to church, repeating the story of their circumstances in each place, getting assistance in bits and pieces as they could. It would also serve as a central data bank of information about the people receiving assistance and what they had been given, and thus reduce the opportunity for people to abuse available assistance. A non-profit corporation was formed with a Board of Directors representing many area churches of various denominations. Funding was provided by the supporting churches.
The goal for United Ministries was to be the outreach ministry of area churches — not another entity. Churches were encouraged to join the mission with the intention that United Ministries would grow as the number of participating churches grew. The hope was that churches would see this as a wonderful mission, rooted in the Gospel:
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” —Matthew 25:40
Participating churches felt United Ministries gave them the capacity to partner with other ministers for a more productive, caring, and efficient way to help those in need. Members of many churches felt they had not been good stewards because their individual churches had no way to responsibly screen people or consistently help people.
Clients were first seen in 1987 on a stairwell at the old Rex Cowley Building at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Pensacola. In May of 1991, United Ministries moved into its new building on East Lee Street, shared rent-free with Loaves and Fishes. This was the culmination of several years of planning and prayers.
Directors of United Ministries
The organization was directed by Norma Crooke from 1986–1996 and Mary Jo Paul became the first paid director from 1996–2000. Harriet Riley followed as director from 2000–2007; Pat Griffin served as director from 2007–2011; Ashley Wilkinson Meyer served from 2011- 2013; Jean Covell Silva served from 2013-2015; Frances Cutshaw served from 2015-2020; and Rev. Ashley Wilkinson Meyer currently serves once again as the director. Two staff members and 15 volunteers work in the office each week.
United Ministries Today
Meeting the needs of families in crisis is challenging work. The staff, volunteers and Board of United Ministries would like to increase the assistance given to each family, both quantitatively (increased amount of financial aid) and qualitatively (increased opportunities for counseling and financial literacy). While churches and individuals continue to support United Ministries, funds also are sought from community foundations and grants. Through partnerships with various community agencies, United Ministries works to address the needs of clients in a more holistic manner.