My Experience with Fresh Expressions of Church

June 07, 2018

by Reverand Charles Dirico, Sr. Pastor at Thrift UMC.

My experiences with Fresh Expressions of church.
 
In the summer of 2016, I began serving as the Director of Community Engagement at Mouzon United Methodist Church (now Selwyn United Methodist Church), which is located in South Charlotte. The problem was that because it was a new position, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. So, I began doing what a favorite seminary professor of mine had instructed me to do on such occasions, I LISTENED. I listened to the surrounding community. I listened to the congregation. And most importantly, I listened to God. As a result, TWO Fresh Expressions of church were birthed during my time at Mouzon UMC!
 
Our first Fresh Expression of church began that winter as a result of our having polled attendees of the neighborhood block party Mouzon hosted. Those attendees were asked how THEY DESIRED for the church to engage with them. The most popular answer was through the offering of a yoga class. So, we followed through with that and began offering one each week in our fellowship hall.
 
Fairly quickly though, those classes began to evolve into something more. They eventually became the YOGA CHURCH that is held in the dedicated yoga studio on the church campus. Today, each Yoga Church meeting includes fellowship time, a devotional, Christian hymns, and prayer. And on occasion, they’ve even included Holy Communion and missional activities. 
 
Mouzon UMC’s second Fresh Expression of church began in the Summer of 2017 as a result of a team from the church being a part of a “relational” missions trip to the Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville. While there, the team began asking, “Why isn’t there a place like Haywood St. in Charlotte?”
 
So, as a result of our listening to them, we began partnering with a group from Huntersville UMC who were already providing a meal to homeless persons in Uptown Charlotte. While Huntersville UMC continued to focus on the meal, Mouzon began focusing on relationships, as we had practiced in Asheville. Eventually, our folks even began worshiping alongside our new homeless friends.
 
Both the meal and worship occur each week at a small, rarely used, building known as the Hope Chapel. It’s located directly between the Urban Ministry Center and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte. What happens there truly is less of a ministry FOR the homeless, but more of a ministry WITH the homeless.
 
In having led these efforts at Mouzon UMC, I have personally learned a few things that might be helpful to others who are interested in doing something similar in their respective settings:
 
FIRST, and you might have guessed it by now, LISTEN. Obviously, if it hasn't come from God, it won't be successful. It will also fail if it did not come from those you are trying to reach. So, ask them IF and HOW they would like to engage with you and your congregation. Also, listen to your congregation in order to better asses their abilities and desires. You will also surely fail if you attempt to engage in this work alone.
 
SECOND, and related to that, be prepared to go to battle. While support from your congregation is needed, do not expect unanimous support. Anything new that a church does tends to be interpreted by some as a challenge to the things they’ve already been doing. So, with that in mind, be prepared to share how what you are doing came from your having listened to the community, the congregation, and God. Who can argue with that? Both Yoga Church and the Hope Chapel Ministry faced challenges. Yet, even though I am no longer serving at Mouzon, they both still remain.
 
THIRD, be OK with failure. Creating a Fresh Expression of church is tough business. It may not have been the right season or the right setting, or you may have simply been wrong. That's fine. I helped to create both a farmers market and a pub ministry at Mouzon, and while both had their moments, neither remain. So, if things don't work out, just return to where you started, and LISTEN.
 
 
(On April 29th, in order to deepen its engagement with the community, Mouzon UMC changed its name to Selwyn UMC. The church is currently in the process of hiring a new Director of Community Engagement to replace Charles, who has been appointed to be the Senior Pastor of Thrift UMC, which is located in NW Charlotte. Charles intends to remain involved with both Yoga Church and the Hope Chapel Ministry while serving there.) 
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