By Jessica Brodie
GASTON—Roughly 70 percent of people in South Carolina do not go to church, and that’s not OK for a group of United Methodists who are hoping to do something to change that number for the better. They are hoping a one-day event, “Fresh Expressions,” will be a step in the right direction.
On Oct. 5, the Orangeburg District of the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church is hosting a daylong gathering to help churches reimagine what it looks like to do church. While the district is sponsoring it, the event is open to all people throughout the state and beyond.
“Ninety-seven percent of people believe in God and are searching for meaning in life, and the church has an opportunity to help,” said the Rev. Jim Arant, who is organizing the event along with the Rev. Jon Hoin and the Florida Conference’s Michael Beck and Garrett Rocha.
Arant said Fresh Expressions is a movement started in England to reach the unchurched by going to places people already congregate—bars, coffee shops, restaurants, golf courses and more. Pastors and church members help them begin to become more like a congregation, eventually steering them into the more formal institution that is church.
Attendees will learn from Beck and Rocha about their conference’s own Fresh Expressions movement in the hopes that South Carolina can join in and do the same. South Carolina pastors who are already reimagining church successfully will also share about what they have done, including the Rev. Wendy Hudson-Jacoby, whose church that used to meet in a pub has grown to a large and thriving new church star; the Rev. Josh McClendon, who focuses on fitness and faith; and the Rev. Hillary Taylor and her recent gun buy-back initiative.
The idea, Arant said, is that “you might look in your own community, such as a community center or other places where people gather, and work with them.”
Hoin said the Orangeburg event came about after Rocha shared with him the work he is doing in Fresh Expressions in Florida. Hoin is also doing double duty in trying to put together a support cohort of new Fresh Expressions pioneers in the district.
“We all feel that the church is at it’s best when it makes connections between people,” Hoin said. “God’s intention for people is relationship, and making new connections boosts our ability to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.”
“Taylor said she is excited about being a part of the event and sharing what she’s learned.
There are people who are dying for a community that shares their hobbies AND their faith. There are also people who are looking for the church to promote life-giving alternatives to the ministries that may have killed their faith. Some people don’t even know they want these things, but they are drawn to them when they see them—whether they identify as Christian or not.”
The cost for the full-day event is $12. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Beulah UMC, located at 1577 Old State Road in Gaston. The deadline to register is Sept. 30. To register, go to www.umcsc.org/freshexpressions2019registration.
To learn more about Fresh Expressions in general, visit https://freshexpressionsus.org.