Coffeehouse-Style Storefront to Give Worshipers Three Choices on SundaysBy CHRIS DOWD
Dozens of children had just hunted and found every last one of the 2,200 Easter eggs hidden in the sanctuary. (The blessed rain had made it too messy to hunt them on the municipal lawn across the street.)
The ushers had set up and filled two extra rows of chairs in the back. The pastors and choir had gathered in the Narthex behind the cross, ready to enter to Christ the Lord is Risen Today!
The congregation rose in unison to proclaim with passion, “Christ is Risen!” The brass ensemble and pipe organ led the way, the singing commenced, the procession started, and Easter worship began in earnest.
The sense of joy, celebration, and possibility in the room that morning perfectly captures the mood of First UMC Sherman at this important moment in its history.
And those who attended learned that soon they would have a new option for worship — an off-site modern service this fall.
Founded in 1859, First Sherman has been an important part of life in this county seat for over 150 years. With a long history of community involvement and civic engagement, this 1,200-member congregation is strategically located at Elm and Mulberry streets downtown.
With an inspiring history and a vibrant present, the congregation is beginning to look to the future, with the planned launch of an off-site modern worship service this fall. Monthly preview services begin in May.
Dr. Jeremy Blackwood is director of music ministries: “We are about the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ. With the addition of the modern worship experience, we will provide three distinct worship possibilities for the congregants of First Sherman.
“This will be a fantastic way for us to meet people where they are and help them grow and mature as disciples of Christ. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead for us in exploring opportunities for worship, education, and mission for all people. What a joy it is to be part of this church!”
Targeted particularly toward younger adults and those who do not have a church home, the modern worship service is something the church has explored for a while. At the introduction interview for incoming Senior Pastor Chris Dowd in 2013, several Staff-Parish Relations Committee members brought up the possibility.
The preview services that will begin in May are the culmination of two years of prayer, demographic research, discernment, reflection, and planning. Even those in the congregation who do not plan to attend recognize the importance of trying new things to reach new people.
Sixty-year member Jean Kunitz says, “I feel there has been a revitalization of late with more emphasis on young adults and youth, which is good. I feel we are headed in the right direction.”
When modern worship launches this fall, First Sherman will meet three distinct spiritual needs. Chapel worship, in the beautiful 100-seat Hopkins Chapel, uses the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal, and offers a more relaxed, intimate setting.
Modern worship, in a storefront near campus, will have coffeehouse-style music, modern liturgy, and a weekly celebration of Holy Communion. And, of course, there is traditional worship in the beautiful sanctuary, which opened 60 years ago this fall.
The newest staff member, director of youth ministries Brittani Welch, is a wonderful illustration of what First Sherman is all about these days. Welch’s niece is in her youth group. Her nephew was just confirmed. Her daughter is in third grade, and her son is in the church’s preschool.
Her in-laws will continue to attend the traditional worship service while she’ll spend at least part of her time in the new modern service.
“Our transition to a high-energy church is evident in our congregation’s support and church leadership,” Welch said. “We have opened doors to let the future flood in, while honoring our past. First Sherman is on a path of radical acceleration, changing not only our community but the world.”
This time next year, First Sherman’s dream and prayer is that there will be even more Easter people raising their voices on our holiest Sunday — this time in multiple sites, introduced to Christ by a historic church looking to the future. For more information, visit www.firstmethodistsherman.org.
Chris Dowd is senior pastor of First UMC Sherman.