Members of the congregation at First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden have extended their arms to the Rev. Melissa Stump, the new — and first female — pastor at the 125-year-old downtown Winter Garden church.
“People have been really hospitable with bringing over meals, and they had a great reception at the church,” Stump said. “We got cards, and people gave us gift cards to places to eat.”
In addition, church members met at the parsonage on West Tilden Street to put in new flooring and apply a fresh coat of paint.
The Stumps — Melissa and David and their two daughters, Kaley, 18, and Faith, 8 — are experiencing Winter Garden for the first time, so the warm welcome has helped them make friends and discover new restaurants. Their first impression of the area is positive.
“I love a good downtown area, so I’ve really come to appreciate that and the fact that we live so close to it,” Stump said. “Saturday, we spent some time at the farmers market … just supporting those people. My youngest played in the splash pad. We just love that kind of activity in a city and to see a city coming together in that way.”
Stump is trying out all the coffee shops, and she and her daughters “have hit up Scoops a couple of times,” she said.
SERMONS AND SERVICE
Stump was appointed to the position following the retirement of the Rev. Rusty Belcher, and her first sermon from the pulpit was delivered Sunday, July 4. She has started a seven-week sermon series on “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.”
“The first one was (titled) ‘Image of God,’ so I talked about how we're created in the image of God and God said we are very good,” she said.
“My first Sunday the lay person alongside me made a big statement about it, ‘We’re welcoming our first, in 125 years, our first female pastor,’” Stump said. “Everyone responded with clapping, and I think it was good. The reality is that a female brings a different perspective, different type of pastoral care, and a different leadership style. Stories that I share in a sermon are going to come from a different background and different life experience and understanding than from a male.
“The story of the birth of Jesus will come differently from a female than a male,” she said.
Stump always has been involved in feeding ministries and taking care of the needs of others, and she was excited to hear the church has a food pantry and volunteers regularly for the Coalition for the Homeless in downtown Orlando.
Stump has a background in special education as well and has a gift for discovering the needs of children and finding ways to support them.
“My firstborn was born an amputee, and my adopted daughter is biracial and experienced some race issues, so I have a real heart for the vulnerable and those that experience inequality in our lives,” Stump said.
In fact, her favorite scriptures address the treatment of others.
“Philippians 2: 1-11 talks about how we treat one another and taking on the mind of Christ and the attitude of Christ,” she said. “The Good Samaritan — I’ve heard it since I was a child in the church — how we are to care for one another. And Matthew 25, when it talks about feeding the people and clothing the people.
“I guess my favorites are 1. How God cares for his people, and 2. that we care for each other,” Stump said. “We are to treat everyone with love.”
To reach more people in the community and learn of the needs, she said, she hopes to encourage more church members get out from within the church’s walls to serve in the community.
Many people have told Stump she brings “a different kind of energy to the worship services,” and she acknowledges she delivers her sermons with passion. The church has returned to its in-person 9 a.m. contemporary and 11:15 a.m. traditional services, but they also can be viewed online.
A SECOND CAREER
Stump was a special-education teacher before she transitioned into becoming a pastor. While teaching, she also worked part-time in youth ministry at a United Methodist church. At the end of the school year, she was offered the job full time, which she accepted. She began Asbury Theological Seminary, in Orlando in 1999, graduating in the first class in 2003.
She has served at Methodist churches in Melbourne, Cocoa Beach and, most recently, in Lakeland. Her husband was a full-time youth minister until the family’s move to Winter Garden.
The Stump family is happiest when everyone is participating in outdoor activities, such as horseback riding, hiking and taking swings at the newly discovered Top Golf.
The four also enjoy serving together.
“Feeding ministry is a passion for all of us,” Stump said. “During the pandemic, we were going out and making food boxes, and people would drive up and get their boxes. During the pandemic we did a lot of gleaning … at the end of the farming season.”
Stump summed up family life at their home: “Being outdoors and serving — mixing those things together and doing it with others.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.