Church Put New Ministry in New Wineskin
By Polly House
Mt. Joy UMC in Wilmington, DE, had the same problem a lot of churches have: a lack of young adults. They wanted to change that.
“We had a group of Baby Boomers, several children, but few young adults,” said Rev. Provey Powell, Mt. Joy pastor. “I was saddened by this.”
About two years ago, a delegation from Mt. Joy attended a UMC-sponsored School of Congregational Development. During the event, they learned about opportunities to apply for grants from Discipleship Ministries to fund new initiatives.
“We applied last year to fund New Wine Ministries,” Rev. Powell said. “I knew this could be a wonderful opportunity for the church and the local community to join forces to reach a mostly Millennial and Gen Y age group who weren’t coming inside the church building. NWM would be a new faith community, one not dependent on the four walls of the church, something non- traditional.
“I liked that the application process and the awarding of the grants was a quick turnaround,” Rev. Powell added. “We had already fleshed out the bones of what we wanted for NWM, so we were ready when it was time to apply. Fortunately, we had an experienced grant writer and developer working with us who was able to streamline the process.”
“I knew this could be a wonderful opportunity for the church and the local community to join forces to reach a mostly Millennial and Gen Y age group who weren’t coming inside the church building."
Last fall they launched NWM with the Soulful Café. Housed in the local Community Center building, it is a place for young adults and families to gather and talk, sing, play music, do stand-up, and just interact with each other. Three of the church’s Millennials hosted. It was well received, a big success.
Then January came, bringing in the coronavirus.
“Things just stopped,” Rev. Powell said. “But our three hosts, well, they just didn’t give up.”
Jazlyn Handy, 23, is a seventh-grade English and special education teacher.
“I just wanted to see if we could make Soulful Café work even with the virus,” she said. “People really liked gathering and sharing. We had them sign up on a Google app, and we now do the Café on Zoom.”
“I’m not only a host. The Soulful Café has helped me personally,” said 24-year-old Nyrie Watson, another host. “It’s almost like a therapy session. We initially thought we would have the Café go through Lent, but people wanted it to continue. We have grown and become a community. Not everyone goes to church, but they still want to get closer to God.”
A.J. Fawra, 31, said he was nervous at first when they switched to a virtual Café.
“We didn’t know if many people would show up on Zoom, but they did. We have grown to about 200 (signing up as) participants,” Fawra said.
Rev. Powell said he knew they had a good plan when they applied for the grant, but the coronavirus outbreak forced them to quickly adapt. That, it turned out, was a blessing in disguise.
“It wasn’t what we thought it was going to be; it’s better,” he said.
Mt. Joy’s New Wine Ministries received a grant from the Racial Ethnic Local Church Concerns program. The purpose of this grant is to provide funding to strengthen the ethnic local church through leadership training, small groups, worship, stewardship, and spiritual formation as they engage in developing disciple-making systems inside the church and in the community. Priority is given to new programs/ministries that move churches to places where disciples are formed, grow, and make new disciples of Jesus Christ who will transform the world. Programs must involve racial ethnic church members in planning, leadership, and decision-making.
Discipleship Ministries provides the funding. Grants are available for up to $7,000.