A few weeks ago Tom and I visited Sunbury United Methodist Church. For the last four years, Tom and I have mostly been attending Lewis Center United Methodist Church when we are in Ohio. We really like the congregation. Pastors Tom and Phil were both wonderful preachers and the church is a nice mix of ages and worship styles. The church has an excellent mission outreach and is very involved in their community.
Unfortunately, Pastor Tom retired in 2020. This is the third time, since we retired, that we have really liked a church and the pastor only to have the pastor retire or be reassigned shortly after we started attending. Even though we give the new pastor a chance, we have ended up mostly moving on to another congregation. After all, we haven’t been involved, except to attend worship on Sunday morning.
When Pastor Matt replaced Pastor Tom in 2020 we were in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Lewis Center church was very proactive about the pandemic, offering an outside worship service all through 2020 and 2021. They offered online worship in December, January, and February and resumed outside worship in March. We enjoyed the outside worship services, sitting in our car and honking “Amens.” But Pastor Matt is not the preacher that Pastor Tom was. Pastor Matt is young, which is great, and has many gifts as a pastor. He is energetic, creative, and really cares about people.
Tom and I spent more time in Ohio last year and we are planning on being around more this next year. We are ready to get a little more involved in a church and in local activities. We still really like the Lewis Center United Methodist Church, but is it where we want to get involved and make a commitment? In trying to answer that question we decided to visit the Sunbury United Methodist Church.
Sunbury United Methodist Church is a large church that is closer to where we live. They have two worship services, a “contemporary” service at 8:30 and a “traditional” service at 11. According to their statistics, they averaged about 200 people at each service before Covid-19. The sign out front lists the pastor as Rev. Dr. Gordon Myers.
We got to the church a few minutes before 11 and followed the flow of people into the sanctuary. Before the service several people came over and introduced themselves and welcomed us. Tom and I were wearing masks, but we were the only people in the congregation who were doing so. All the people who came over wanted to shake our hands, but we are uncomfortable doing that right now. The regular worship attenders were hugging and talking with each other without any social distancing. When the choir came in they were all seated next to each other and also didn’t wear masks.
The worship service was a different kind of traditional service. Instead of liturgy and familiar hymns, there was a definite gospel feel to the service. We didn’t have a bulletin and everything was projected on the screens at the front. Rev. Myers had an informal style, but it was so informal that it took us a while to realize he was the pastor. The songs were led by a gospel quartet and it was hard to know if we were supposed to sing along or just listen.
There was a meet and greet time toward the beginning of the service which is always very awkward when you are a visitor. This meet and greet at Sunbury went on and on as most of the 60 people present wanted to greet all of the other people present. Many of them stopped by to meet us and introduced themselves and asked our names. Obviously they could tell we were visitors and everyone else was not. We appreciated how friendly and welcoming they were.
Rev. Myers greeted us during the meet and greet time, extending a hand to shake and seemed surprised when I refused to do so. I had watched him shake hands and hug too many other people in the congregation to want to get close to that hand. There weren’t any bottles of hand sanitizer anywhere in the sanctuary. Tom and I are still feeling constrained by the pandemic.
After visiting Sunbury United Methodist Church, going back to Lewis Center United Methodist Church was an easy decision. There are so many things we like at Lewis Center and only a few things we don’t like. Is it a perfect church? No, but we are not perfect people, so we fit right in. I went in to talk to Pastor Matt about some ways Tom and I could be more involved and he was very welcoming and open to our involvement. We are now greeters at the 11 a.m. service once a month.
How do you decide what church to attend? If the pastor changes, do you leave the church? This has been a difficult thing for me. As a pastor, I felt people should be connected to the church, not the pastor. But, as a congregant, if the pastor’s style doesn’t speak to you and your only connection to the church is worship, then it is hard to get anything out of going. I’m not sure I know the answer. I do know, however, that I need to do a better job of listening to how the Holy Spirit is speaking to my heart through whatever message is being given. If I want a better pastor, then I need to be a better congregant. If my mind is less critical, my heart and soul can connect to God wherever I worship.