New, established churches successfully share setting
|Servant Church spent one Sunday working on a Habitat for Humanity house in East Austin and on another (below) invited neighbors to pack UMCOR health kits on World Malaria Day.
"Many people think it's so hard to reach young people to get them through the doors of the church, but that's not our experience," said the Rev. Abby Parker, deacon at Servant Church, a United Methodist congregation in Austin, Texas.
The new church plant, planned for a year by the Southwest Texas Conference, opened its doors in June 2010. Attendance at Servant Church, which shares facilities with established Asbury United Methodist Church, has already grown from 15 to 40 people—mostly in their late 20s and early 30s.
The Rev. Charles McClure, pastor, admits the approximately 30 "mostly older" members of 62-year-old Asbury Church were skeptical when asked to share their facilities. Many questions preceded a two-thirds majority "yes" vote.
"Largely our older people really didn't understand what the conference was trying to do targeting young adults," he said. "Their worship is different. They go about things differently, dress differently."
Determining the logistics of facility sharing was also difficult.
"There could have been better communication in the beginning about how to share the facilities and who is responsible," McClure said. "It's kind of like one family inviting someone else to live in their house and (then facing) the question of how it's going to work out."
The Servant and Asbury congregations worshipped together on Christmas Eve and are planning joint Lenten activities.
"The leadership at Asbury is positive," McClure said. "I think if we voted again it would be near unanimous."
"It has become increasingly cool to move back into the city, into changing neighborhoods," the Rev. Eric Vogt, Servant Church pastor, explained. "(This age group) is spiritual but not religious and (doesn't) see how they fit into organized religion. We wanted to create a community that would connect with some of their longings for community and purpose. Our faith and what we believe must become what we live."
Many of the Servant Church attendees are working low-paying social justice-oriented jobs, such as teaching in Title 1 schools and providing legal representation for the marginalized. They appreciate United Methodist traditions and work to adapt them for their context.
Action and interaction are valued expressions of their faith. Small groups meeting outside the church bring members together between Sunday services. Movement is encouraged, even during worship:
- Communion is celebrated weekly.
- A service table provides ideas for mission in the neighborhood and beyond.
- One can light a candle at a prayer station, post a prayer publicly or leave it in a prayer box.
- A table of art materials encourages artistic engagement.
"We actually want people to move, to use the whole space in ways that might be helpful for them," Vogt said. Creative expression comes within a traditional order of worship.
Guitarists and drummers reinterpret familiar old hymns.
The benediction often invites all to stand, face the door and hear "the work of the church is all week long and outside the church doors."
Fifth Sunday outreaches literally take worship out of the building. In January, members gathered in the fellowship hall—the building's original sanctuary, prayed, took Communion and then headed out for a "lived sermon"—cleanup of a nearby creek.
"We had been talking about water and our baptismal identity all of January," Vogt stated. Creek cleanup seemed like a great way to apply belief to action.
"Maybe 10 or 12 folks from the neighborhood joined us," he said. "We did a little ‘remember your baptism' prayer at the creek, worked 1½ hours, then invited our neighbors to come back and have soup with us."
Diane G. H. Kilmer, freelance writer, Nashville, Tenn.