There’s No Place Like Home: Bethany UMC’s Youth Say “Good-Bye”
By: Sherri Gragg
In January 1950, Bethany UMC Houston held its first worship services in the auditorium of a local junior high school. Two years later, they moved onto the property from which they would passionately serve their community for the next 66 years. Especially the children.
Jesus Loves Me, This I Know
Every Sunday, year in and year out, Bethany UMC taught countless children that Jesus loved them as they rocked them in the nursery, welcomed them into Sunday School, and walked beside them during the uncertainty of adolescence through a variety of youth programs.
Within the first year of ministry, the church opened Bethany Weekday School where countless preschoolers learned their ABC’s, colors, and how to write their names- all under the banner of God’s great love for them. No ministry to Bethany’s children carried more lasting impact than that of the children and youth choirs.
On June 10, 2018, more than sixty former members of the Bethany Youth Choir returned home one last time to remember and celebrate the happy years they spent singing together, deepening their faith, and just having fun. They also came to say “good-bye” to the church that made them into the men and women they are today. The friends gathered to remember years spent under the faithful tutelage of youth choir director, Gary Patterson and treasured mentors, Paul and Sue Ofield, who served Bethel UMC for 60 years; Paul as the Music Director, and Sue as the church organist.
“When the news came that Bethany UMC would be closing its doors after 68 years of ministry, members of the Bethany Youth Choirs of the 1970’s and 1980’s knew they needed to have one last chance to praise and worship God in the church that had shaped their lives,” said the Rev. Ric Walters, pastor of First UMC Wallis. “When the weekend of June 3rd came around, 60 of us gathered to reminisce, rehearse, and relive the days of Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and other rock musicals.”
Bethany’s Kids Return Home
The reunion began on Friday evening for dinner at the home of fellow choir member, Tommy Butler. The following Saturday afternoon, the group lined the same pews in the choir room where they had spent so many hours as teens. Once again, Patterson took his place at the front of the group to lead them through rehearsal in preparation for Sunday’s special “youth-led” worship service. After dinner Saturday night, the friends joined in a sing-a-long of all the songs they performed when they were part of Patterson’s travelling youth choir.
The former youth choir members led worship during the next morning’s service. Four of the choir members also shared their testimonies of what their time in the choir meant to them. They reflected on the blessing of life-long friendships, the gift of community, and the legacy of service, all of which were forged during those precious years of singing with the Bethel Youth Choir.
As the service concluded, Bishop Scott Jones presented Patterson, and Paul and Sue Ofield with crystal awards to honor them for their many years of faithful service to Bethany UMC.
A Legacy Continues
Bethany UMC’s legacy of ministry to children and youth will continue on as it transitions to become the new center for the Bishop’s “We Love All God’s Children” initiative. According to Walters, the former choir members are thrilled.
“Today is about time,” Walters said as he concluded his remarks to the congregation, “time for the place that nurtured many of us from infancy and through adulthood, to become something else.”
It is time for new set of little feet to run the halls of Bethany UMC, time for new young faces to line the pews of the choir room, but the message to this next generation of children will remain the same one that Bethany UMC has proclaimed so faithfully since its founding-
Jesus loves you, all of you.
And so do we.
See the final youth service in its entirety via Youtube