News and Views

Stars shine at Mt. Zion UMC

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By Rev. Barry Hidey

Q:  What do you have when you take 300 special guests, 325 volunteers, parents, aides, paparazzi, a former pro-football player, several stretch limousines, glowing faces, endless smiles and put them in a banquet hall with a dance floor?

A:  A Night to Shine at Mt. Zion UMC.

The Tim Tebow Foundation’s Night to Shine is a world-wide unforgettable prom-night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. On one night, Feb. 9, 537 churches in 16 countries, representing 37 denominations, came together to host a Night to Shine for approximately 90,000 honored guests, through the support of 175,000 volunteers.

Mt. Zion UMC in Bel Air, MD was a host location for Night to Shine for the first time this past February and I was blessed to serve as a volunteer that evening. When the limos dropped off each group of special guests at the red carpet, my assignment was to hold the door and welcome each guest as they entered the church.

Each guest had a partner that spent the evening with them. They walked with them into the banquet hall when they were introduced by name as the King or Queen of the prom -- to the cheers of the crowd. Each guest was seated for dinner and enjoyed an evening of eating, dancing and smiles.

My son, Garon, and his two housemates had the night of their lives. One of his housemates, who doesn’t talk and typically doesn’t engage with others, had the biggest smile as he danced the night away. His other housemate, who is a huge Oriole fan, ran across the room to meet, and later dance with, the Oriole Bird.

Watching and talking with some of the parents, I saw smiles and tears of joy because their son or daughter had one of the best nights of their life. The guests that night were people who often don’t get invited to prom, wear a prom gown (which were provided to anyone who needed one), wear a suit, rent a tuxedo, or get their hair done or shoes shined. But this night was different.

When Nancy Rose spoke about the experience of her 25-year-old son, Rusty, she couldn’t stop talking about how touched and excited Rusty was by that night. I was deeply moved by the evident joy in her voice because of what it meant to her son.

What a powerful ministry Night to Shine has started. We live in a broken world where many who are often thought of as “the least of these,” but are actually beloved sons and daughters of the King, don’t get their time to shine.

This night was a powerful demonstration of the love of Jesus made personal in each guest.

As Rev. Craig McLaughlin told me, “What we have experienced at Mt Zion is that the more love we give to those who are forgotten, ignored, judged, despised, the more love we receive. Jesus repeatedly told his followers to reach to the poor, the broken and the outcast. The Night to Shine was one of the best nights of my life. It was like experiencing a little bit of heaven right here on earth.”

Perhaps the best part of the evening was knowing that this was just an extension of Mt. Zion’s “Beyond Capernaum,” the ongoing weekly ministry to youth and adults with special needs, their staff and parents lead by Brian Malcolm.

Even after the doors closed and this year’s Night to Shine finished, Mt. Zion’s ministry to those with special needs continues to be the largest in the region, giving 500 to 650 people each week a place to feel appreciated, valued and have fun.

My hope is that this special night was just the beginning of transforming our community into one that values everyone, regardless of ability, so that our sons and daughters of all abilities feel deeply loved every day.

I think Tim Tebow said it best, “Night to Shine is more than just a Prom Night. This is a worldwide movement centered on God’s love for people with special needs.”

The love of God will continue to shine brightly.


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