You Will Be Found: Broadway Brings a Message of Hope to Wildwood UMC
By: Sherri Gragg
What does the Gospel and Broadway have in common?
Wildwood United Methodist Church.
As the staff of Wildwood UMC bonded over their shared love of Broadway, worship directors began to envision a sermon and worship series built around redemptive themes within their favorite Broadway musicals. This fall, the dream became a reality with “The Broadway Gospel” sermon series. Although the format for each Sunday was a bit different, Worship Directors Michael Vaughn and Alex Westbrook worked closely with Senior Pastor, the Rev. Rhett Ansley to weave songs from the musical into the sermon.
The Broadway Gospel and Suicide Prevention
It’s Sunday morning at Wildwood UMC and at the close of worship, the light falls on center stage where a teenage boy sits at a computer writing a letter to himself.
“I wish that everything was different,” he reads aloud. “I wish that I was part of something. I wish that anything I said mattered to anybody. I mean, let’s face it. Would anyone even notice if I disappeared tomorrow…” (“Dear Evan Hansen”)
This cry for connection and significance is at the heart of the Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.” The musical, featured in “The Broadway Gospel” sermon series, tells the story of two young men who are struggling with mental illness and how the loss of one to suicide impacts everyone around him. Wildwood UMC worship directors, Michael Vaughn and Alex Westbrook, felt the story would serve as an ideal background against which to tell the story of Christ’s mercy and redemption for a community suffering a sharp increase in deaths by suicide.
“The statistics of suicide and mental health are out of this world,” said Westbrook. “Suicide is quickly becoming the second leading cause of death for people between 10 and 30 in the Greater Woodland area. One of the musical’s most well-known songs is entitled, ‘You Will Be Found.’ That really resonated with us, so we built around that phrase.”
Another important theme in the show is the importance of assuring those we love that they matter. According to Kim Hess, founder of suicide prevention organization, “Cassidy Joined for Hope” and mother of a teen daughter who lost her life to suicide, getting that message across to teens isn’t always easy.
Hess had a sobering message for Wildwood UMC when she spoke at the end of Sunday’s service; No family is immune. Her daughter had close friends and a loving family. She neither exhibited symptoms of depression or asked for help before she took her life.
The ministry of suicide prevention has moved beyond “The Broadway Gospel” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” Wildwood UMC wants to help those vulnerable to suicide find ways to connect and get the support they need. “It really transformed into a movement,” said Vaughn.
In the weeks following “Dear Evan Hansen,” the Wildwood UMC held a panel discussion in which church members could gain valuable tools from local mental health professionals. They also participated in the Out of Darkness Walk, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on November 3, 2018. The yearly event is held nation-wide to raise awareness of mental health and offer those struggling a safe place to find the help they need.
As statistics indicate that suicide attempts are ever on the increase in The Woodlands area, Wildwood UMC knows families need every resource they can find. “We have seen a very strong reaction to the sermon. We didn’t expect it to have such an impact.”