On Saturday, November 2nd, 2013, the members of Concord UMC in Bracken County kicked off a new alternative service in the fellowship hall of the church. At the first gathering, there were 47 persons present, mostly representatives of the church who wanted to reach the unchurched and marginally churched of the area.
The worship was unusual for most of us. We started with a greeting and prayer and then invited everyone to a meal of lasagna with all the fixings. As people ate, there was an eclectic mix of background music and conversations all around the hall. After the meal, we explained how we envisioned these services to proceed. We also invited people to participate freely as they felt comfortable. We then moved to scripture reading and an interactive sermon. People were encouraged to dialogue even during the sermon if they had questions or comments. Following the sermon, there was more discussion as we then moved to a time of worship where we responded to the proclaimed word. We sang along to recorded music with the words projected on a screen. As we began to prepare for the closing of the service, we took prayer concerns and shared in a time of prayer, after which the benediction was pronounced.
The basic format of this service remains the same each week; meal, music, and conversation followed by an interactive sermon and discussion, singing, and finally, prayers and benediction. Over the winter months attendance slowly dropped as those supporting the service found other things to occupy themselves, and the Christmas season drew many away to other activities. However, a core group was beginning to form.
Since the beginning of 2014, we have averaged 16 on a typical Saturday night with 12 of those attending only the Saturday service. Of those 12, over half were openly hostile to the church six months ago. The rest were marginally churched.
Saturday, March 1, 2014, there were twenty-three in attendance. The order was basically the same as usual but for this night we were to be treated to something special. There were two messages for the evening; the first was the story of Jesus’ Baptism and what that means in our lives. After the message we had a baptism remembrance service out of the United Methodist Hymnal for those who had already been baptized. Then, those wishing to be baptized were invited forward and we baptized two; a 7 year old and a 16 year old. Those wishing to join the church were then invited forward. This night we had three adults who had been baptized as children but left as teens make their first professions of faith and joined the church. We then shared the story of the temptation of Jesus, which warns us that even though we are committed to God, temptations can come and we need to be strong. Hugs and tears all around as we were sent forth to live as we believe.
We at Concord UMC in Bracken County feel that if we do what God asks us individually and as a church, then He will provide the harvest. We saw evidence of this with this alternative service where souls are being won, praise be to God. And all Gods’ people said “Amen.”