Epworth League Building Community for Young People
By Lindsay Peyton
Rev. Katie Eichler isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to attracting 18 to 35-year olds to church. Instead, she is taking her cues from an association formed more than 100 years ago, the Epworth League. With the help of nonprofit FAM Houston, the historic organization is back and drawing more and more young adults.
Eichler first heard about the Epworth League in seminary a couple of years ago. The association, formed in 1889, was named after the village of Epworth, where John Wesley was born. After 10 years, there were already more than 1.75 million members in 19,500 chapters internationally. The League only continued to grow in popularity.
“It was a cultural phenomena,” Eichler said. “It was a big deal, and most Methodist churches at the time had a League.”
She explained that by the 1940s, the group ceased to exist. The United Methodist Youth Fellowship took its place, but it was not geared to the young adult population.
“I think that the church has struggled with that age group since it went away,” Eichler said.
That’s become a topic of conversation since Eichler became the associate pastor for children, youth and families at St. Mark’s UMC. While there are many 18 to 35-members at the church, Eichler felt there could be more catered to them.
“I talk to other pastors, and they say the same thing,” Eichler said.
Then, she had a conversation with a former student who moved to Houston for her dream job and could not find friends in the city.
“I had put this Epworth League idea in a drawer,” Eichler said. “I realized I’m not at liberty to put this in a drawer anymore.”
She approached Rev. Hannah Terry, founder and executive director of FAM Houston, with the idea.
FAM Houston works to empower refugees, immigrants and local Houstonians. The nonprofit defines itself by its values – hospitality, mutuality, storytelling and inclusivity.
“It was a natural fit for Epworth League to be a program of FAM Houston,” Terry said. “We are thrilled to be part of how God is growing this ministry in our city.”
She explained that both FAM and the League are both dedicated to building community.
In August, a launch team of lay people from Houston churches formed to dream up what the Epworth League would look like.
“It was wonderful to see the kind of genuine and authentic space they wanted to create for themselves and others,” Terry said.
Lauren O'Malley, who was a part of the launch team, said that the League felt like an answer to her prayers.
O’Malley has already started making friends and sees that members are doing the same.
“They’re getting the community they need,” O’Malley said. “Everyone needs it, but not everyone is great at getting it.”
At the Epworth League events, connecting is easy, she said. “It’s great to look around and see all of the people who have chosen to be in the same spot you are,” she added.
Madeline Beem also serves as a League leader and was a member of the founding team. She and her husband moved to Houston a little over a year ago.
“We’re still new to the city,” she said. “This is an opportunity to plug in with like-minded people our age.”
The citywide organization is a platform for 18 to 35-year olds to connect, worship and serve together.
There’s a League night on Tuesdays where members eat a meal, worship together and spend time becoming friends. A number of area churches also host Sunday morning group sessions for the League.
In addition, there are regular get-togethers for Leaguers. Recently, they gathered at the farmer’s market. They go to trivia nights, Texans watch parties and even out dancing.
In addition, the group joins for service projects. For example, after the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Imelda, they joined the relief effort.
Beem said that the possibilities for the group are endless. “There are no boundaries to it,” she said. “And anyone can be a part of this adventure.”
Eichler added that all are welcome to join – whether they attend a certain church or do not go to church at all. “Anyone can come,” she said. “It’s attached to the participants, and they can make it whatever they want it to be. We just want it to be something that’s a blessing in their lives, a blessing for the church and in the life of the city.”
For more information, visit https://www.famhoustontx.org/epworthleaguehtx