Coming soon to an online device near you: ‘Whenever, Wherever Church’

August 11, 2023
By Alan Wild

A weekly online worship service produced by the Kentucky Annual Conference will launch Sept. 10 at 11:00 a.m. ET, with an eye toward attracting United Methodists who have been displaced by churches that have disaffiliated from the denomination.

The endeavor, called Whenever, Wherever Church, will premiere each Sunday morning on the conference’s Facebook and YouTube pages. A moderator will be online to welcome people. Afterward, the worship service will be available for viewing anytime. Each service should be about 30 minutes long.

Each week, real-time follow-up sessions – with a focus on the previous Sunday’s sermon – are planned for Thursday evenings on Zoom.

“There’s a lot of different applications for this. It can be used in house churches, Bible studies, or it can be used in nursing homes or for personal use, even,” said the Rev. Dr. Kimberly Pope-Seiberling, the conference’s New Church Development director.

Conference Communications is producing Whenever, Wherever Church, which will include all the features of worship – a call to worship, prayer, music, Scripture, and sermon. Current plans are even to offer communion, with an online form that people can fill out, then Pope-Seiberling will help connect them with a local pastor.

Cathy Bruce, associate director of Connectional Ministries for communications, and Connie Offutt, communications assistant and video specialist, recently spent parts of five days taping the sermons and calls to worship from various clergy and lay members.

Bruce is enthusiastic. “I think this is such a good idea,” she said. “I pray that it takes off.”

At this point, the conference is committing to 17 weeks – through the end of 2023. Depending on participation, it could extend into 2024.

“I think it should catch on. We just need to give it a little time to get some traction,” Bruce said, adding that people are so used to doing things online these days, “this is just sort of a natural progression.”

All the video for the first 17 weeks has been shot at various locations in St. Matthews UMC in Louisville. Assuming the services continue, tentative plans are to tap churches and pastors from different parts of Kentucky. Bruce and Pope-Seiberling said.

Pope-Seiberling, who became NCD director on May 1, said the idea came about because of a desire on the conference’s part to reach out to continuing members – those who were members of churches who voted to leave the UMC but who wished to remain in the denomination. Efforts are also underway to reach out to those members to help them connect with another church nearby.

But some areas of the conference include small pockets of people in areas where there aren’t enough continuing members to appoint a pastor and organize a traditional church, Pope-Seiberling said. Others are a half-hour or more away by vehicle from the nearest United Methodist church. The idea was to offer them an additional option to remain connected.

Pope-Seiberling said she isn’t aware of any other conference that is doing anything like Whenever Wherever Church.

Bruce said this is the first such project she has worked on during her 17 years at the conference. She likened the opportunity to the way the Louisville Archdiocese has built community with its weekly television service, “Mass of the Air,” which started in 1977. That show bills itself as “a televised Sunday mass for those who are sick, homebound, or who cannot attend Sunday mass in their parish,” according to its website.

“I would love to see this take off and turn into what ‘Mass of the Air’ has been for the Louisville Archdiocese,” Bruce said. She also said that this is not an attempt to “poach” members from existing churches, so local pastors shouldn’t feel threatened. Besides continuing members, the idea is to capture sick and shut-ins, and also perhaps some new people, she said.

Pope-Seiberling is grateful for the pastors and laity who have volunteered their time, as well as St. Matthews for providing a shooting venue.
“I feel like it was a collaborative effort, and that’s cool,” she said.
  • Keep watching for more details on Whenever, Wherever Church. And mark your calendars for Sept. 10!