John Etheredge is an SDOP trailblazer
May 15, 2017
Matthew 14 tells the story of Jesus and His disciples seeking a place of rest after a long day of teaching, preaching and healing. But the crowds continued to follow. When He is asked about what to do, He turns to the 12 and tells them to feed the crowd.
“That particular text stays in my mind all of the time. Jesus says, ‘You do it,’” John Etheredge said. “I take that to mean it’s my responsibility. I do not have the call to be a pastor of a church, but I do have the call to ministry.”
Etheredge, of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, is a lifelong Presbyterian who stumbled into working with the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People by accident while talking with leadership of New Hope Presbytery.
“As I learned about the committee and what it did, I was really impressed. As a result, I came on the committee for New Hope Presbytery and later served as chair,” he said. “Then I started looking into it and discovered there was a national SDOP committee.”
By 2002, Etheredge was an official member of the national committee. After serving two terms, he rotated off in 2010, but the call to serve was still there and he found his way back on the committee again two years later.
“One of the things I’m convinced of is very few people in this day and time know about SDOP,” Etheredge said. “When it came into existence, there were a lot of people who were familiar with the program, understood it and knew what SDOP represented. But a lot of those people are no longer on the scene, so we’ve got to promote it in such a way that people understand what we do and why we do it.”
Etheredge says he’s made it his personal mission to get to as many presbyteries as he can and ensure he’s on the docket to speak, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
“I was in South Carolina last year doing a Minute for Mission at a church, and found that only a third of the people I spoke with knew what SDOP was,” he said. “I want to work very hard to get people in the pews to understand what we do and how it is funded.”
In the nearly 15 years of his involvement, Etheredge says he’s seen a lot of success come out of SDOP.
“This one community was having problems with high blood pressure, diabetes and other illnesses. The pastor of a local church asked for a grant from SDOP to start a garden with about three or four acres,” Etheredge said. “Seven or eight years later, I’ve seen this expand to 25-plus acres and they are providing food for the community, selling their products at farmers’ markets, restaurants, schools and hospitals. It was exciting to see SDOP help get this project off the ground and running.”
The key to SDOP’s future, Etheredge says, is connecting with young people by any means possible, especially through social media. He believes the leaders of tomorrow have a unique way of looking at things and the church needs to listen.
“My son said ‘Dad, I don’t see God in heaven. When I look outside and look at the trees, that’s where I see God.’ It took me a long time to comprehend what he was saying but it finally connected with me,” Etheredge said. “This new age of people just sees things differently and they’re the ones we need to tap into.”
The Rev. Alonzo Johnson, coordinator of the SDOP, has high praise for Etheredge and his commitment to the ministry’s mission.
“His passion for the work also speaks to his passion for justice in seeing communities transformed and hope come alive in them,” Johnson said. “John is tireless in his commitment to the vision and work, and is a model and a resource in getting others enthusiastically engaged in the work of SDOP.”
“Seeing people improve their lives has given me more joy and that’s what it means to go a little further to make sure I do my part,” Etheredge said. “I thoroughly enjoy what I do because I find it so richly rewarding for me personally. Everyone has their own niche, but this is the one that brings me the most joy and I feel like we’ve actually accomplished something.”
Rick Jones, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Self-Development of People National Committee member – John Etheredge
Let us join in prayer for:
New Hope Presbytery Staff
Julio Ramirez-Eve, associate for Hispanic Ministries
Gun Ho Lee, associate for Multicultural Ministries
Vanessa Hawkins, associate for Nurturing Ministries
Andy James, associate for Small Church Ministries and Technology
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Dear God, inspire us to “set aflame” the story and teachings of your Son, Jesus Christ. May we all feel the energy and enthusiasm of youth as we spread your word. Amen.