Rev. Ben Crismon, Senior Pastor, FUMC, Benton, was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Bishops' Club Luncheon on Friday, November 15, 2019 at the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock. The Bishops' Club Luncheon is an annual event hosted by the Foundation to honor our donors. Rev. Crismon's words were so heartfelt, we wanted to share them with you. Below, please find the text of his address:
"Good Morning, it is an absolute honor to be with you all today. I give thanks to God for all of you for your faithful commitment to God and the United Methodist Church in Arkansas. You are a blessing to many.
I am Rev. Ben Crismon, Senior Pastor at Benton FUMC, and a recipient of many incredible gifts and offerings from the Foundation. My incredible wife Mary is here with us today, and our three children, Sallee, Shepherd, and Calder are at school. We have all been blessed by the ministry of the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas in some way.
I want to share with you all a portion of my story, and how the United Methodist Foundation has played a dynamic role in my life and ministry over the last twelve years. It is a story of investment, of how the gifts of so many faithful people were invested in my life and ministry. I was raised in a United Methodist Church here in Little Rock and received my call into ministry when I was 12 years old. Throughout my time in high school, I was involved in my youth group, Ozark Mission Project, and continued to feel God’s call on my life to ordained ministry. I had some really incredible pastor’s who fostered my call and helped me to understand where God was leading. I enrolled at Centenary College of Louisiana, in Shreveport, a good United Methodist institution of Higher Learning, and sought a degree in Religious Studies with the intent to seek a Masters of Divinity in pursuit of my calling to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church. When the time came to apply to seminaries, I was guided by my District Superintendent, Phil Hathcock, to apply for a scholarship through an organization I was unaware of at the time. He told me that with my intent to come and serve Arkansas Churches, there was a Scholarship available to me through the United Methodist Foundation. Then, as now, I listen to everything Phil says because it is so full of wisdom and truth, and those words certainly changed my life. I also happened to be in school with a young woman named Emily who became a great friend, whose dad was named Jim and apparently he had something to do with the foundation.
I applied for the scholarship, as I applied to United Methodist Seminaries around the country. But before I was to interview for the UMFA scholarship, I received word from Perkins School of Theology at SMU, my desired seminary, that I had received a full academic scholarship from the University. Overjoyed with this news, I called the Foundation to withdraw my name from their scholarship applicants, not wanting to interfere with another student’s process. I was told by Mrs. Sandy Smith to apply and interview anyway, so I did. I wasn’t sure why though at the time, but I didn’t ask questions, and I had a phone interview with the Foundation Committee when the time came. It was at the culmination of that interview that I understood why they wanted to interview me. The Foundation offered me a stipend to cover a portion of my living expenses while in seminary, with the express intent for me not to have to take a secular job to make ends meet while I was getting an education. I can point to this gift as one of the most life-changing events for me. Mary and I were engaged to be married, we were moving to Dallas, on our own for the first time, balancing two apartments in the year before we were married, and we were so concerned about making ends meet. It was so tight that I had to quit taking my rogaine, which is why I look like this today, but she loved me anyway!
The gift of the foundation allowed me to take a job at a local church instead of going to work in a secular job. I was hired by First United Methodist Church of Hurst, TX by Dr, Mike McKee to work in Student Ministry, Dr. McKee is now the Bishop of the North Texas Conference, and my time spent at FUMC Hurst was full of hands-on ministry experience that dynamically shaped my pastoral identity and allowed me to hone skills that I use frequently today. I would not have been able to take a part-time ministry job without the gift of the foundation. I would have missed out on three years of hands-on experience in one of the most vital churches in the Dallas Fort Worth area.
But that wasn’t the only gift the Scholarship brought. It also provided a deep connection back to Arkansas. Being in Seminary in another state can feel isolating, and it can be easy to lose connection with your sisters and brothers in Christ back home. I always felt like I had the support of the Arkansas Conference, that I was loved and prayed for and connected because of the Foundation. This gift, while less tangible is no less meaningful. It meant all the world to me and Mary to know that we were being loved and prayed over by the Foundation.
I graduated from Perkins in 2011 and returned to Arkansas to being my ministry in full. I was unsure of what my relationship would be with the Foundation going forward but was deeply appreciative of the gifts that I had been given and was ready to start the process of passing those gifts forward to the Church.
But the UMFA wasn’t done investing in me. I was invited by the Bishop and the Foundation to attend a joint program with Perkins School of Theology and the Cox School of Business with a semester of weekly classes in which Business School leadership lessons were connected with Church and ministry. This opportunity helped me become a better pastor administratively and gave me the confidence to grow in my leadership. I feel as though this opportunity has allowed me to have significant success in capital campaigns in the local churches I have served. I arrived as the Senior Pastor at Benton FUMC in 2016, they were in a$1.8 million debt from a building project in 2007. Through the lessons learned from the Foundation’s investment in my ministry, we have been able to take that $1.8 million debt to $100,000 with no single gift over $40,000. We are on track to be debt-free by April of 2020 which will dynamically change our financial structure and allow us to engage in new and powerful ministry for the Kingdom of God. I am so thankful to how God has worked through the generous laity of my congregation, as well as providing me with the leadership training to work alongside them.
The UMFA continued investing in me and my family. They invited Mary and me to attend the “REV it Up” Conference, which is for young clergy to learn about Church and Personal finances. Mary and I gained a better understanding of how to lead our financial lives and set up investments for our future, our family, and for generosity towards others. It was also a blessing to have my wife included because she is such an important part of my ministry. She is my sounding board, advocate, guide, and coach, and for her to feel the investment of the foundation strengthened our spirits meant the world to us.
Throughout my ministry, the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas continues to play a positive role in so many areas. Benton FUMC has several endowed funds that support our campus and ministries that are wonderfully managed by the Foundation and allow us to be on a secure footing. The Foundation has provided training for my members and been a resource for me and the church when receiving gifts that are non-traditional. Through my work on the Board of Ordained Ministry, I was asked to chair a committee that selected the UMFA Scholarship recipients, and in a beautiful way, my experience with the foundation has come full circle.
And as I reflect on my life in ministry and the investment of the foundation in my life I am so thankful. But even more, when we realize that the investments of the foundation are really the investments of hundreds and thousands of faithful United Methodists, who sacrificed and gave of their time, energy, and finances so that I and many of my colleagues could better build the kingdom of God, I am humbled and overwhelmed. The beautiful and divinely inspired partnership of laity, clergy, and the UMFA has changed and is changing the lives of Arkansas United Methodists. I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Your gifts, your investment has changed my life. I am a better pastor, a better husband, and a better father because of your love, your support, and your investment in my life. It is my honor and privilege to serve as a United Methodist Pastor. And I pledge to continue to do everything I can to make use of the gifts you have given to lead United Methodists in Arkansas into deeper lives of discipleship and to reach out into our broken world and to share the love of Jesus Christ to make new disciples.
Thank you. For your gifts. For your love. For your prayers. In the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians, I thank God every time I think of you."
Rev. Ben Crismon is the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, Benton. He is a native of Little Rock and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Centenary College in Shreveport, LA, in Religious Studies. A graduate of Perkins School of Theology, Masters of Divinity degree, Rev. Crismon received a three-year UMFA Seminary Scholarship. Rev. Crismon is on the Arkansas United Methodist Annual Conference Board of Ordained Committee Ministry and chairs the UMFA Seminary Scholarship Committee.
Ben is married to Mary (Davis) of Hamburg, a Real Estate Agent, and they have three children Sallee age 6, Shepherd 4, and Calder 2.