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Church alters image to reach neighbors

Church alters image to reach neighbors

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church alters image to reach neighbors

Dec. 22, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0592}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

To many people the church seems a mysterious or even unwelcoming place. At times churches and their members unintentionally reinforce this feeling by their actions.

Jesus admonished believers to welcome the strangers passing by their doors, and First United Methodist Church in Melbourne vowed to do just that this Christmas.

East of I-95 and just west of the Atlantic Coast’s beaches lies Melbourne, Fla., with its quaint historic downtown that hosts holiday lights, weekend Christmas festivals and music all Christmas season.

First United Methodist Church is located just down the road from the historic downtown and right on the path of the annual Melbourne Christmas Light Parade. Thousands of people from nearby cities attend the parade each year.

The Rev. John Denmark, senior pastor of the church, remembers his first Christmas parade.

“My first Christmas here, three years ago, I came to the church to attend a Sunday school class Christmas party. During the party I decided to take a walk to the front entrance of the church, which is on 192 or New Haven Ave. The front of the church was empty of spectators for the parade even though there were folks down the street and across the street waiting for the parade.”

Two police officers had been hired to keep people from parking in the church parking lot.

Denmark did not think that was a good public relations policy. Instead he felt it would be a great opportunity for the church to open its doors to the community and provide a place to park and view the parade and refreshment.

“The church was created by Jesus Christ to reach out to the world that is not in the community of faith,” Denmark said. “That does not take place when a church keeps to itself and does not relate to the neighborhood and world around them. Participating in joyous celebrations of the community, like Fourth of July and Christmas parades, are an opportunity to be well-received and can be an effective way to communicate your church's ministry.”

The church established a new policy that no church functions or weddings would be scheduled the day of the parade so the parking lot could be opened to families coming for the parade and the church could have an opportunity to make contact with them.

As they did last year, members were encouraged to come to the church during the Christmas parade and welcome parade watchers. They provided free hot chocolate, hotdogs, popcorn, cookies and bottled water and the use of restrooms and chairs for those who needed to sit, in addition to free parking.

The church’s 50 Christmas parade volunteers also gave information about church ministries and tours of the church. Denmark estimates the team reached more than 1,000 people that evening.

Denmark believes this kind of outreach changes not only the community’s view of the church, but the church itself. “The spirit of our church is lifted and folks have a sense of purpose as helping to make our church friendly and more welcoming,” he said. “I am so energized by the involvement of our members in outreach ministries. When we work together in these efforts we grow to know one another and love one another more deeply.”

Six major community events are held in downtown Melbourne each year, and the church has committed to participating in an outreach program for each one. In addition to the Christmas parade outreach, Denmark estimates the church’s Halloween, Easter, Fourth of July flag distribution and Mother’s Day flower distribution outreach efforts reach between 600 and 1,000 people each.

Denmark says the community is responding with their attendance and over the years he has seen people from the community who were touched by the church in some way during the outreach activities become active members of the church.

“I have always felt that United Methodist pastors must relate to the greater community to which they have been called in order to carry out the Great Commission,” Denmark added. “John Wesley said, ‘The World is my parish.’ Folks in the community are now familiar with a place and faith community to which they could go when a need arises.”

First United Methodist Church is located at 110 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne, FL 32901 and can be reached at 321-723-6761.


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla. His columns appear in the Naples Sun Times newspaper and Faith & Tennis magazine.