By Jessica Brodie
GREER—It seemed like a crazy idea. But as followers of Christ have come to understand, when God’s at the helm, he makes what seems impossible become reality.
In the middle of the pandemic, when in-person worship has been dwindling most everywhere, Sharon United Methodist Church started a brand-new contemporary service that struck a chord with unchurched residents in their booming community.
Now in its third month, the service is seeing growth as its numbers steady and more people come to worship—and choose to stay. Some have decided to do the traditional worship instead, while others prefer the more casual, modern style of the new service. Together, the church is seeing a combined weekly average of about 160 people, which is a 28 percent increase over its original numbers.
“It was a crazy idea to try this in the middle of COVID, but it worked,” said the Rev. Gryff Carosiello, Sharon UMC’s pastor, who noted it was God who made it happen.
After all, he said, there have been plenty of churches that have started contemporary services in the best of times that haven’t worked. But Carosiello had been feeling God nudge him to start the service at Sharon throughout the last year, and six months ago, he approached the church council with the vision.
They voted unanimously: yes.
“I’m super thankful for a congregation that is willing to risk a lot and try something new that doesn’t have the guarantee to succeed,” Carosiello said. “We wanted to use COVID as an opportunity to try something new.”
Sharon isn’t a big church, but the surrounding area is seeing much growth right now and is one of the fastest growing regions in the state. Located right down the street from the BMW plant near Woodruff, Simpsonville and Reidville, Carosiello said there are “subdivisions coming in all around us.”
The contemporary service is an additional service at Sharon, held at 9 a.m. and called the “Word and Table Service.” Their traditional service is at 11 a.m. Unique about the contemporary service is that is features communion every week; many United Methodist churches do communion monthly, while some do it quarterly. But for Carosiello and the team who started the new service, sharing communion together is tangible response to worship that brings the message home in a deeper way for people.
“To me, there’s no better response to God’s word than participating in communion together,” Carosiello said, noting that it was during communion when he experienced his call to United Methodist ministry.
That element of communion also ties in with the name of the service, Word and Table, which reflects the imagery of Christ inviting us all to his holy table to partake of his body and his blood, now and forever.
“We gather every single Sunday to hear the word of God preached, but also expecting to be visited by the word of God who took of flesh 2,000 years ago,” Carosiello said.
Between the new service and the increasing number of small groups and Bible studies offered at Sharon, he and the congregation have a vision of Christ’s table being further extended from the church, to the homes and restaurants of God’s people in the community, and extended even further to those without a church home—and to the poor, the naked, the hungry, and the lost.
Their proverbial leap of faith has led to renewed excitement in the 200-year-old church, which has seen its share of transitions over the years.
Kelly Newman, a member of the church’s outreach team, has been part of the church for a few years, and she said people were anxious when the new service started.
“But it all has worked out so smoothly,” Newman said. “It has been amazing to watch it all come together, with everybody working together and welcoming new people. It’s just great.”
Buster Wallof and his wife, Pam, are among the newer members at Sharon, moving to the area from Maine in September 2020. But when Carosiello invited them to be part of the planning committee for the new service, they were honored and excited. Now, after all their hard work as a team, Wallof said it’s thrilling to see everything come to fruition. He thinks there is a need for a contemporary service because there is so much excellent contemporary music now, and the new service is able to weave these songs throughout as part of the worship.
“It’s still a country church, but the flow of the service is very unique, with the songs integrated and blended in, and one of the best gifts is our music director, Carl Gibson. He’s fresh out of college, an accomplished pianist, very gifted, and brings the energy that is needed.”
Between that, Carosiello’s preaching and the communion offered each week, it’s a great way to help formerly unchurched people understand the full message of Christ within their hearts.
“It feels like home,” Wallof said.
Carosiello said it has been fun to see an up-close picture of God doing something they couldn’t do ourselves.
“It’s a great step in the larger journey God has given us as a church to make disciples,” he said.
“We know we are called to go into the community.”