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Asbury, Maitland, launches dinner and conversation

Asbury, Maitland, launches dinner and conversation

Fresh Expressions

Most people define the word “constellation” as a grouping or cluster of stars. To members of Asbury United Methodist Church in Maitland, “constellation” refers to a new ministry that brings young adults together “to find their place in community.”

Started less than a year ago, “Constellation” is one of two Fresh Expressions ministries at Asbury that seeks to reach the unchurched, the de-churched or those who are more comfortable exploring spiritual themes beyond traditional church walls.

Elisabeth Douberley shares her thoughts on faith at Constellation meeting
Elisabeth Douberley shares her thoughts on faith at a Constellation meeting.

The group, whose members range in age from late teens to early thirties, meets at one of several local restaurants on Monday nights to enjoy food, fellowship and spiritual storytelling. There are no requirements to join, just an interest in sharing ideas about faith and a willingness to see God in everyday places.

According to Associate Pastor Mike Luzinski, the format is welcoming and informal.

“We share things that have happened in our lives during the week,” he said. “We ask people to share their ‘highs’ and their ‘lows’ of the week and to tell us where they have seen God during the week.”

“Often, we read and discuss a modern-day parable that has been selected from one of Peter Rollins’ books, or we will facilitate a spiritual discussion based on something that naturally flows out of our general conversation around the table.”

The group size can range from as few as four people to as many as ten or 12.

“Our average turnout right now is about six to 10 members,” according to Letha Heulitt, a young adult co-leader who has been instrumental in starting the ministry.

They meet at a different restaurant each week. Favorite spots include El Potero (Mexican), Ethos (Vegan), Athena (Greek), Blades’ Pizza (Italian) and Tijuana Flats (Mexican).

“No requisite knowledge of the Bible is required,” Luzinski said. “In Fresh Expressions jargon, we would be called a pioneer learning community because we are just getting started. I don’t think we have figured it all out yet.”

Luzinski has received strong support from both Heulitt and recent University of Central Florida graduate and ministerial candidate Shawn Klein, who is finishing an internship at the church and heading to Duke Divinity School.

Both have recruited members and led weekly discussions.

Heulitt and Luzinski received training and shared ideas on how to lead a non-traditional ministry at a Pioneer Learning Retreat and a Fresh Expressions Visioning Day sponsored by the Florida Conference.

Each member of the leadership team is aware that churches in general don’t seem to be tuned in to the young adult age group.

“Churches offer great programs for children, youth, parents and older adults,” Klein said, “but there is a big gap when it comes to student and young adult ministries.”

Young adults gather for food and conversation as part of new Ministry at Asbury UMC in Maitland
Young adults gather for food and conversation as part of the new ministry at Asbury UMC in Maitland.

“Most churches don’t know what to do with us,” Heulitt said. “My father was a minister, and I grew up in the church; but when I hit the 20 to 30-year age range, they seemed to want me to come back later.”

Luzinski said the goal of Constellation is to build a bridge to the church where people can connect easily. Traditional Sunday morning services only reach a small subset of people.

The team relies heavily on social media to get the word out and has set up pages on Facebook, Instagram and Meetup.

“We are working on relational evangelism as well,” Luzinski said. “We know that issuing a personal invitation to someone to join us is going to be more effective in the long run.”

Heulitt has helped one of her work colleagues become part of the group.

“We had several conversations about her spiritual journey,” she said. “She told me that she believed in God but not in the church. I kept telling her about our new ministry, and in time, she agreed to give it a try. Now she is one of our most faithful members.”

After nine months of community building, the team believes it has developed a strong core group but hasn’t perfected the “dinner and conversation” model. It’s a process of learning as they go.

The goal is to keep growing the ministry while offering a deeper discipleship experience. Heulitt said they want to encourage everyone to share their stories and to look for “God moments” in each other’s lives.

“We want our members to see the world the way Jesus sees it,” Luzinski said.

The future may contain more interactive social activities, outdoor activities and missional opportunities.

Asked what advice they would give others who want to start a Fresh Expressions ministry, Luzinski said, “My advice would be have courage and a mindset of experimentation.”

“We are learning to fail forward,” Heulitt added. “We believe it is okay to fail at something as long as you are moving forward.”

Asked what young adults are seeking from the church, Heulitt responded with “relationship and community.

“We are living in such a fragmented world,” she said, “we journey through our lives looking for connections, more openness and acceptance.”

Asked if “Constellation” is making a difference, Luzinski said, “We are having meaningful conversations. People are engaged.”

“I think it is making a difference,” he added. “I believe the Holy Spirit is using us to make a difference.”

—Suzanne McGovern is a freelance writer based in Orlando.

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