The Changing Face of Worship

Date Posted: 7/14/2016

Worship in this postmodern world is happening in new places and new ways via visual arts, trendy music and even in a context around a shared meal. Read about new endeavors in the Texas Annual Conference as the UMC offers new environments to bring the good news in a way that is both culturally relevant and theologically responsible.
 
Tamir Pena’s first “Gastrochurch” experience took place last fall at the invitation of Rev. Kaitlyn Bowie-Hankins of Houston’s First UMC downtown campus. Under the leadership of Rev. Meredith Wende Mills, Gastrochurch is a newly formed worship experience centered on a shared meal. “This is not a typical new church start, because some participants are active members of churches, while others aren’t involved in church at all,” Meredith shares, adding, “The only requirement for coming to a Gastrochurch event is a desire to talk about meaningful things.”
 
Notes Tamir, “Pastor Meredith’s idea to gather together and guide a group of people who may or may not know one another and who may or may not be Christians or regular church-goers into intentional conversation over the course of a deliciously prepared dinner is as innovative and creative as it is simple.” And, she adds, “Jordan Mills is an amazing chef!”
 
Every menu is planned around a theme wherein the pastor incorporates interesting facts, stories and questions that are presented as each course of the dinner is served. Adds Tamir, “If you haven't heard Meredith speak, she is a gifted and engaging storyteller who grabs your attention immediately.” Topics previously discussed include: community, feasting and fasting, hospitality, forgiveness, flavor, and reconciliation. It is up to the participants at each table (usually groups of 6 to 8) to decide how deeply they wish to delve into the questions and how vulnerable they are willing to be with what they share.
 
Until about two years ago, Tamir, age 48, believed church was a box to be checked off before going to brunch. “It has been my experience,” shares Tamir, “that people are quite open and honest and will share equally with people they know well as with strangers they have just met. I believe this speaks to how much people really want to connect with others, listen and to be heard.”
 
According to Tamir and her husband, Pastor Meredith’s vision for Gastrochurch seems to be very much in line with where the future of the church is going -- back into homes, at times other than Sunday mornings, centered around a table and very much a return to the Biblical roots when church was held in houses instead of houses of worship. “Many of us today are seeking ways throughout the week to connect with and experience God outside of a building and in a more relational way,” she shares. 



Flavorsome Format
As one of the Texas Annual Conference newest church starts, Gastrochurch events are held in the evenings, and they last about two to two-and-a- half hours. Every event has a theme, and the theme dictates the menu as well as the reflections and questions for the evening.
 
Typically, the meal is prepared on site, by Jordan Mills with occasional assistance from a group of volunteer helpers. Gastrochurch brings in all the ingredients for the meal as well as all of the dishes, glassware, utensils, pots, pans, so there is no extra burden on the host. The meal consists of several courses: appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert and all courses revolve around the theme of the dinner. Notes  Tamir, “Our farm fresh dinner was locally sourced, organic meat and vegetables, and the South African dinner was food native to the region. People who have dietary restrictions (vegan, food allergies, etc.) are provided special meals to meet their needs. The volunteer helpers bring each course to the table and most dishes are served family style.”
 
With every course, a facilitator gives a short reflection and a discussion question for the table. The questions get more intimate as the evening progresses. After the meal, there is a short break during which people are free to leave if they need to. After the break, the remaining attendees share in a short communion service.
 
“Statistics show every year that there are people hungry for spiritual connection, but not interested in conventional church,” notes Meredith. Gastrochurch seeks to be one of many ministries that are offering a spiritual community to people disenchanted with church.  She believes that, for some, Gastrochurch might be a spiritual supplement to their normal church activity. For others, it might be a path to reconnect with a local church or the place that becomes their spiritual community.
 
“I think Gastrochurch is a fantastic idea,” shares Kaitlyn Bowie. “This is a really unique format and opportunity for people to invite friends, especially those who would never consider attending a worship service. From the beginning I have definitely seen people reach out and bring friends.  I think this has the potential to be a uniquely creative and relational environment.  As much as people think of church on Sunday as a relational touch point, it’s extremely easy for people to walk in and walk out.  It’s impossible to walk into Gastrochurch and not be engaged in meaningful conversation.”
 
Adds Kaitlyn, “I think there is opportunity both for people who feel stagnant in their faith to be challenged to go deeper, and also it’s a beautiful avenue for people to invite non-churched friends.  It’s also my deep hope that it begins to reach out to people completely unaffiliated with a church.  I believe that as Meredith continues to relationally connect and network in the food scene in Houston, which many of these doors will also open up. Meredith is a creative and gifted leader, and I believe the Holy Spirit is involved in this new community.”
 
Share this new worship opportunity with friends via www.gastrochurch.org. The website provides location information, and allows registration for an event, or for the email list.
 
One Life Church: New Missouri City Church Launching by Year End
Rev. Keith Somerville also champions church environments that are comfortable, welcoming and non-threatening. As the leader preparing the groundwork to launch this new community, his vision is to “create a dynamic, barrier-free environment for all people to grow in mind, body and spirit,” through multi-sensory worship, leadership classes and an open culture of love and purpose.
 
“One Life Church began praying and meeting July 13, 2016 in Missouri City, Texas with a projected date of first service during the season of Advent,” he shares. His leadership team is most excited about engaging people of various backgrounds.
“With regard to the many different types of people we’ve already met in this area, we are excited to hear how God has impacted their lives. We have also met persons who have never thought of God being involved in their lives. It is exciting to hear about the opportunities God is giving us to share the Gospel.”
 
So far, initial leaders and members are engaging the community by being present where they are, demonstrating by example how believers are just like everyone else. Adds Keith, “We will also have BBQs in the park, family fun days and conduct workshops in the community that address the needs of the community including healthy habits, building strong families, how to start your own business. Ultimately, the goal is to constantly connect our Faith with everyday life.
 
One Life has already formed a partnership with Building and Restoring
Hope Adult Day center, a facility serving clients who have mild to severe mental and physical disabilities. Bradford Deyon adds, “The mission and direction of One Life is nothing short of exciting. A church for all people that takes a holistic approach to ministry is refreshing. Our lives have many different components, spiritual, physical, and emotional. Each is a vital and important part of an abundant life. Like the body of Christ each component is essential and can't be ignored. This approach is the future of relevant ministry and One Life is at the dawn of a new day in Missouri City, Texas!
 
Church planters spend a great deal of time in prayer and reflection because obstacles are a given part of attempting to share the Gospel in a new territory. “We have faced several shut doors, closed minds and hearts, thus far,” he shares, “but we have also encountered some incredibly encouraging supporters including Rev. Jay Jackson and the South West District. Additionally, Rev. Marty Vershel (First UMC Missouri City) has graciously given me office space and administrative assistance and the list of clergy that have offered support is too numerous to mention.” Adds Keith, “The Connectional system is alive and flourishing in the Texas Annual Conference!”
 
An avid believer in leadership development, Keith is putting plans in motion for a leadership academy to be called Lion Chasers. One Life’s vision states the goal of providing lectures and workshops that train Christ-centered leaders, as well as the pledge to take Godly risk and do unconventional, transformative work.
 
He hopes to incorporate visual effects and dramatic expression in a multi-media rich atmosphere, but he seeks divine leadership as the next steps unfold. “As for One Life, we are open to God revealing where we should pitch our tent.”
 
Church Within a Church: New Cristo Reina Hispanic Ministry
The Cristo Reina congregation began much like Jesus and His disciples – as a group of about a dozen meeting in a small classroom at Bear Creek UMC.  Pastor Franklyn Rodriguez recalls that at least six within that original group were eager to work in evangelism to personally reach out to others who did not know God within the community.
 
Consequently, “ he shares, “This small group grew rapidly to become a group of 40 people, which forced us to move to another place with more space than our classroom. This growth brought hope and joy to those who had been a part of this new Church.”
 
Once in the fellowship hall Cristo Reina was organized in different ministries and functions to serve in the community. “From the first day we opened, the church has experienced a lot of movement and vibrancy in the purpose for which we were called. Our message is addressed to all people who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior, and specifically directed to a Hispanic audience and a community that needs this great news of salvation more than ever.”
 
Today, the church continues to grow at a solid pace and has an attendance of 100 to 120 people every week. Priority has been placed on developing strong children and missions ministries as well as discipleship ministry,” Franklyn shares. “We have also invested in music so it will be the most excellent possible for God and for those who hear it.”
 
He is excited about the present and the future.  Adds Franklyn, “We are at a crucial moment in the church where each member and friend works hard to keep this revival that has begun to happen in our community. Our approach is that the Holy Spirit flows in everything we do and that He is in every small or big decision. We focus on prayer each day and week, and pray to be a passionate church for God and more of His people.” Adds Franklyn, “We are so thankful to have our own set of leaders but to be one church with Bear Creek UMC for the glory of God.”
 
"This year's new church starts represent a diversity of mission fields, target demographics, and ministry styles,” shares Rev. Jeff Olive, TAC New Church Development Director. “Each of these pastors is an innovative and passionate leader who are taking risks to follow God's lead in their lives. The bounds of the Texas Annual Conference hold some of the most diverse demographics in the country and our conference is committed to creating new places to reach all God's people."