Today was our last Sunday at Wesley UMC this year. Because we decided to come back to Fort Frederica and St. Simons Island, we will be able to attend this church next year. And our last Sunday at Wesley turned out to be a doozy!
The service this morning was two and a half hours long! United Methodists are usually one and done. Worship services at the Disciples church Tom and I attended in college were 90 minutes. So, a two and a half hour service may be close to the record for us.
But there was a good reason for the worship service being so long. Today was the 30th Anniversary of the founding of Wesley UMC. Not very long in church years. The church was founded by some members from St. Simons UMC who felt that there needed to be a United Methodist Church on the northern part of the island. The church was chartered with 110 members in 1987. Today there are over 1,000 members.
Instead of the usual three services, there was just one service today. The parking lot was packed when we arrived 15 minutes before the start of the service. Good thing we walked! The sanctuary holds about 600 people and it was almost full.
The service started with 30 minutes of music. There were several fantastic solos, including an arrangement of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that really touched my heart. We sang “He Lives,” “In the Garden,” and “Victory in Jesus.”
There was a baptism, new members joining, and a burning of the mortgage note. This congregation took out a $3 million loan in 2005 to build a new sanctuary and paid it off last month. Pretty impressive. Three of the four previous ministers attended and gave short messages about their memories of Wesley. The stories were funny and touching. One pastor told the story of chasing his dog, named Bishop, through Epworth by the Sea, a neighborhood of retired UMC pastors, district superintendents, and – yes – bishops. Another pastor came clean about the time he won the Chili Cookoff with chili he bought at Burger King.
Although the service was long, it was a wonderful time of worship and celebration. But it was also a difficult thing for me. My church experience is knowing everyone and being intimately involved in the life of the church. As we travel, however, we only make superficial connections at the churches we attend. Even though we attended worship every week at Wesley, and went to Sunday School most weeks, we never felt a part of the congregation. It never felt like our church home.
Was it our fault? The fault of the congregation? Was the church too big or too formal? Tom and I are so used to being at the center of a church’s life that it is hard for us to connect when we know we will only be around for a little while. I guess this is the cost of our wandering life right now. It really makes me appreciate the courage of people who are new in a church. Making a new church your home isn’t easy.
Today was our last Sunday at Wesley – for now. We will be back. Maybe by next year we will learn how to fit in to a congregation. At least we know we are always welcome in the family of God.