Editor’s Note: This is the first story of a monthly series about Fresh Expressions, a movement formed in the United Kingdom in 2004. Surfing ministries, pub groups and kayaking gatherings are communities that reach new people in new places by new ways. There are currently more than 80 Fresh Expressions in the Florida Conference.
Priscilla Scherrah never expected “Wonder Woman” to be spiritually inspiring. Actually, she never thought of “Wonder Woman” at all until she had to pick a movie to see with a group of friends. And, these weren’t just any friends.
|Pastor Priscilla Scherrah of Christ UMC in Leesburg decided to start a Fresh Expressions ministry to view area films and follow with spiritual conversations at a local IHOP afterward. "If you meet someone at a movie, you meet them where they are" spiritually, said one member.|
The friends who go to the movies twice a month are part of her new Fresh Expressions ministry, Cinema Conversations.
Every other Monday, 10 to 15 people meet at the AMC Theater in Leesburg to watch a movie and then adjourn to the IHOP across the street to have a bite to eat and a conversation about its deeper spiritual meanings.
Some of the people attend Christ United Methodist Church, where Scherrah is pastor. Others got involved through a MeetUp page, a social media site that connects people with common interests.
One of the regulars is Eric Mashatt, who attends Christ Methodist but was brought up in a Pentecostal church. “We didn’t go to the cinema,” he said. “I thought it would be interesting to see how something we couldn’t do in the Pentecostal church could be a tool to witness for the Lord. I think it’s worthwhile. If you invite someone to a movie, you meet them where they are. It’s an excellent tool to do that.”
Fresh Expressions is an initiative to reach the unchurched and in Leesburg that’s retirees.
“This is a retirement community,” Scherrah said. “There are some young families, but mostly it’s an older group. Many older folks have never been to church. It’s a wide-open mission field.”
One man who comes had quit going to church after a nasty divorce, Scherrah said. “He loves coming. He told me, ‘This is my social life.’ I’m not sure he’s coming for the religious part. He does participate and talk about the presence of God. But right now, what he needs is Christian fellowship.”
Mary Ann Steen, 81, said she thinks it’s a good way to interest people both outside and inside the church. “I’ve enjoyed it,” Steen said. “I like the conversation afterward where we relate it to our faith. Hopefully, it will grow. But it’s been nice even for our own congregation. You’ve got to (spiritually) feed people who are already in the church.”
Many of the retirees are snowbirds, who spend the winter months in Florida. Scherrah said Sunday attendance at Christ Methodist can be 160 in the winter months and be half that in the summer.
Scherrah said she is always on the lookout for places where people gather in Leesburg.
|Fresh Expressions are not always centered around millennials. In Leesburg, Fla, these seniors were able to join Cinema Conversations by simply buying a matinee ticket.|
“I had been to the mall, and they had just redone the theaters with nice reclining seats and it seemed to be a place in Leesburg where people were gathering,” she said.
Scherrah said she’s never been a moviegoer, but last fall she decided to give it a try. The cost to the church was minimal—the price of a MeetUp page. Everyone buys their own ticket and food. They go to a matinee because the tickets are cheap.
“I watch what’s coming up at the theater,” she said. “Sometimes there’s not real good choices.”
They’ve seen a couple of Christian films: “The Shack,” about a man who is invited to a meeting with God and “The Case for Christ,” the story of an investigative reporter who sets out to disprove the existence of God.
Then the choices got tougher. “Lion” is about a man who was raised by an Australian family and returns to India to find his real family. It’s a gritty film with a backstory about human trafficking, an issue of particular interest to United Methodist Women.
That prompted a lively discussion.
“There’s a scene when men come in and start swooping up children and several of our people didn’t understand what was happening,” Scherrah said. “It’s not just a Third World problem. It’s here in the U.S. and Central Florida. And that’s just the reported cases.”
The group talked about how they should respond. “We talked about praying but also being vigilant. If we see something suspicious to call the authorities. It might be a false alarm, but it could also save someone’s life.”
Another film, “The Circle,” raised issues about social media and privacy in the internet age. It tells the story of a young woman who gets a job at a tech company that at first looks like a great opportunity. It begins unraveling as technology starts to invade her personal life.
“It really made us stop and think about our use of social media and the implications of it,” Scherrah said. “It made us think of “1984” and how Big Brother is watching.”
Another lively discussion ensued about how to use the internet responsibly and put in safeguards, especially for children.
“The Last Word” is a film about a woman who is dying and asks a reporter to write her obituary before she dies. The reporter talks to a lot of people, but no one has a kind word to say about the dying woman. So, she decides to spend her final days trying to make a positive difference. She manages to rewrite her own ending while befriending a young girl.
“We really liked that movie,” Scherrah said. “It spoke to us about our own destiny. We asked, is our discipleship making a difference in people’s lives? Or, are we just concerned about ourselves?”
Then there was the week when the pickings were slim, so they went to “Wonder Woman,” the story of an Amazon princess who is thrust into the outside world where she must discover her power and use them for good.
“We were amazed at all the things that had Christian implications,” Scherrah said.
--Lilla Ross is a freelance writer based in Jacksonville.