It was a pretty big weekend at First United Methodist Church in Watertown, South Dakota, with two baptisms, new t-shirts for everyone, an extraordinary fellowship hour— “Say Hi with Pie,” Bibles to third graders, the choir performing in worship after a break for the summer, and adult Sunday School and small groups kicking off.
Rev. Jen Tyler’s sermon series, “Ready to Launch,” is about resetting priorities in personal and spiritual lives to grow in faith. The series invites a celebration, including welcoming 17 new members to the congregation and two adult baptisms. So, new members were received, and the baptisms were held during the three worship services that launched a new ministry season.
“What better way to kick off our ministry year than by celebrating our newest members and baptizing two adults that were stepping into their faith,” said Pastor Jen. “We just did it all together in one weekend.”
Tyler, the lead pastor at First United Methodist Church in Watertown, South Dakota, used the story of Jesus’s baptism to start the series. She shared how Jesus launched his ministry with baptism and invited worshippers to launch into the new ministry year with a new priorities as part of the celebatory weekend.
Pastor Jen hosted a new member’s class at First UMC in early August. She invited the 20 participants in the class to profess their membership in worship at a worship service.
“I selected the weekend and invited everyone to come to worship and become members. Unfortunately, one person could not make it that weekend. A couple decided they were not ready and wanted to wait,” said Pastor Jen.
Two of the people in the new member class had not been baptized. Shirley, who age is a little later in life, had not been baptized earlier for various reasons. At one point in her life, she was told that she was unworthy.
“Her husband of 69 years got baptized as an adult. But Shirley wasn’t quite ready,” said Tyler. “The couple started attending at First UMC a little over a year ago. We talked about it on and off. Finally, she decided that the time was right, and we should do it now.”
Shirley’s baptism took place without her children present because they live away and could not make it that weekend. “She said that was OK because her church family surrounded her,” said Pastor Jen. “Her kids were able to watch the live stream.”
It was a joyful occasion. Tyler said, “She just radiated joy! It will probably be one of the highlights of my ministry. It was amazing!”
Connie was also baptized. She struggled throughout her life and wondered if a church should be a part of her life. Was she ready to take that step? Finally, pastor Jen met with her a couple of times, and she was prepared to take the step of being baptized.
“She had lots of family and friends there to support her—an aunt, the aunt’s children, a sister, good friends. This was a big, important step for her. Her closest friends in the community knew it and wanted to celebrate with her,” said Pastor Jen. “One of her sisters became a member at the same time.”
The new member classes at First UMC are shaped around the congregation’s purpose statement, tied to their discipleship pathways—Connect, Grow, Serve. In three one-hour sessions, participants spent time exploring these questions. How are we connecting to God and one another through the church and beyond? How are we growing in our faith and discipleship here in this place? How are we serving God and one another?
Each week, for three weeks, participants asked questions and gathered information. “I shared ways that you could connect at the church through fellowship opportunities. I introduced them to Grow Groups, to grow in faith. Then, I shared ways to serve the church and community,” said Tyler. “I framed that with membership. You need to connect, grow, and serve if you are ready to be a member. This is who we are.”
Participants got handouts and completed forms to get plugged into opportunities. “When you join the church, you move from a community person that we (as a church) are reaching out to—being a member within the church seeking to reach out,” said Pastor Jen. “I have never had a group of new members with so much excitement and energy around taking the step to be part of a church community.”
These new members are plugged in and are “Ready to Launch.” One new member has joined the choir. Another has helped to get a new Grow Group, focused on sewing, off the ground, with a list of new ministries. A couple even brought a pie to the “Say Hi with Pie” time.
One of the new members was a member before. He had moved away and came back to the congregation. “I didn’t think he would be excited. But, after he said his vow and turned toward the congregation, everyone welcomed the entire group. He took his certificate and danced down the aisle,” said Tyler. “There was just that tangible kind of joy at all the services!”