I had the privilege (Just six years ago.) of receiving Sherry Harris into our Conference after her great seminary run at Vanderbilt. She had a great ministry at Vestavia, UMC, then in June was appointed to our dynamic Wesley Memorial in Decatur. I’ve watched Sherry utilize the Transition Teams approach to her First Ninety Days, a program of pastoral beginnings that has been pioneered in the Northwest District. In less than three months, Sherry has been able to give dynamic leadership to Wesley Memorial, in great part because of her careful, energetic strategies as a new pastor. I asked her to give a brief narrative of her work. – Will Willimon
As I reflect on the First 90 Days of my new appointment at Wesley Memorial UMC in Decatur, Alabama, I realize the connecting theme is movement. Thanks to the leadership of Superintendent Mike Stonbraker, the Northwest District has a process to allow both the receiving church and new minister to “hit the ground running” and get moving! Wesley’s transition team was invaluable as we met together to share the vision and the needs of the church before our first Sunday together. Like many of our churches, Wesley Memorial found its neighborhood changing demographically while 85% of the membership moved into different areas of the city. The choice was clear: Should Wesley Memorial relocate the church closer to its current membership or find fresh ways to be the church in a changing neighborhood? After months of prayer and discernment, the congregation decided to stay put and move out into their community in brand new ways. It was a faithful and bold decision.
The scriptural record reveals to us a God of movement who always reaches out to humanity in transforming love. God’s church must do the same, so Wesley Memorial decided to go back to the basics together. Wesley 101, a sermon series and bible study (adults, youth and children) based on The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk taking mission and service and extravagant generosity, energized an entire congregation.
The results have been amazing. Fueled by extravagant generosity giving is on the increase for both the budget and special projects. After realizing our campus signage was confusing to first time guests, all of Wesley’s buildings now have large and user friendly signs. Radical hospitality continued with an update of the church’s nursery and parent pagers to provide even better child care. Members of the congregation decided to take a risk and volunteered to serve in Scout Reach, a program to bring the benefits of scouting to boys in deprived neighborhoods who ride the school bus to Wesley Memorial every Monday afternoon. The church community garden provided fresh produce to church members and those in need and there are plans to widen its impact even more in the next year. Three new Sunday school classess are in the works and over a dozen new people have committed their membership to the community of faith at 1211 Westmeade Street SW. Worship continues to grow in passion and in numbers.
As the minister of a church on the move, I am humbled by the energy and momentum I witness each and every day. But the power behind Wesley’s movement into the community is best described by a new member of the church. When asked why he wanted to join Wesley Memorial, he replied, “My wife and I believe the Spirit is on the move here and we want to be a part of that movement.” I thank God each day that I am allowed to serve a church willing to take risks and move forward in the Name and Spirit of Jesus Christ. I look forward to seeing where God will lead the church named Wesley Memorial UMC in the months and years to follow.