At a time when many people are ready to "take the summer off," one Nevada congregation is ready to "take the summer on."
Members of the First United Methodist Church in Nevada, and any community members who would like to take part, are planning to bring in the very kind of outdoor activities that often take people away from their time worshipping. Groups will meet to go fishing, to garden, to go biking — both around town and distance riding, to golf — both regular and disc, to walk and to enjoy canoeing and kayaking.
"The point really is not to go out and get people to ‘come to church,’ but to get out and find simple ways of connecting with people and getting to know them," said First United Methodist Pastor Chris Waddle.
Waddle credits the congregation’s worship arts coordinator, Jo McFarland, with planting the seeds of the summer program and doing most of the work to get it organized. "She is the one who made the connection with what I said (to the congregation) about ‘taking the summer on.’ We are very blessed to have her leadership."
McFarland said the idea goes back to a staff meeting where they were talking about how people really enjoy getting out into creation, and biking and such. She said at that meeting they talked about how it would be great to have a Sunday dedicated to worshipping outdoors, with different groups doing what they enjoy most in the outdoors. "We were planning to call it ‘Creation Appreciation Sunday,’" she said.
But at a visioning meeting, the idea took another turn. "The planning group decided to have groups meeting throughout the summer and developing real relationships, not only with each other, but with others in the community," McFarland said.
A group, made up of those serving on the worship committee and the welcoming team, was put together to plan for the active summer. "Pastor Chris challenged us back in May to be active this summer," McFarland said.
Along with the groups that will be meeting to enjoy fellowship and their favorite outdoor activities, the church will continue to hold its two regular worship services on Sundays, a contemporary service at 8:30 and a traditional service at 10 a.m. They also plan to have a special Creation Appreciation Worship Service at the end of the summer.
As far as a schedule of the outdoor activities, McFarland said each group is finding times that work best for their activities.
On Wednesday, June 18, the congregation will hold a community picnic at the SCORE Pavilion to introduce and invite others in to its active plans for the summer. "We’ll be grilling and giving away free hot dogs, and we will have outdoor games for kids."
The congregation will also have a few other special events, including worship at the Story County Fair on Sunday, July 20, at 8:30 a.m.; a pool party on Aug. 8 from 5:30-7 p.m.; and a block party on Aug. 27 in the church parking lot, with free food, games for kids and live music. All of these events are open to the public.
"I will not preach (at these events)," Waddle said. "We will play music that people who do not go to church will know and like, and we will have fun just for the joy of having fun together."
Waddle said while some of this summer’s special groups might have a few costs associated with their activities, most things will be free. If someone feels that cost is a barrier to their participation, Waddle encourages them to talk with members of the congregation. "I believe we can find a way to help him or her out. I can’t imagine not finding some way to include someone who wants to participate," he said.
Waddle believes that each of the activity groups will also tie in and element of caring about each other. "Nothing heavy. Just simple things like, ‘What are you thankful for this week?’ or ‘Is there any way you or someone you care about needs our prayers or support this week?’"
Some groups, he said, may also take time to stop and appreciate the creation around them in some intentional way. "The point is to make these gatherings places where people connect with each other and creation and the Creator. But no one will preach or pressure anyone in any way. People may be invited to share their thoughts, observations, experiences and yes, maybe even a feeling or two. But nothing too risky and definitely not pushy. We want people to have fun and get to know each other."
Waddle said he is excited most to see people develop new friendships as they enjoy these outdoor activities. He wants to see people worship regularly this summer, and also get outside the church’s walls to build real relationships with people.
For people who aren’t members of First United Methodist Church, more information about "Taking the Summer On," can be found at the church website: www.fumcnevada.org, or by calling the church office, 382-6536. Activity groups are starting at different times, but people can join the groups at any time.