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It’s been said that the seven last words of a dying church are, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Pastor Brett DeHart is not content to maintain the status quo. He’s been the Pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Augusta for nearly three years now. He is intentional about keeping the church’s traditional worship vibrant, but is very open to new ideas and new ways to meet and minister to people.
Aldersgate began in the early 1960’s, as people made the move further out of Augusta. The church has a strong history of reaching families and supporting missions. Its growth continued into the early 2000’s and since that time, attendance has dwindled. Pastor Brett has observed that Covid contributed and probably accelerated what was already going on. One upside to the pandemic was that it gave folks an opportunity to evaluate the role and level of importance the church played in their lives.
The church’s traditional worship is still a solid part of the church’s life and ministry. However, as Pastor DeHart is quick to point out, “We are finding new ways to reach new people.”
One of those ways is through Messy Church. It got its start about 20 years ago.
Pastor DeHart said, “England of course is a good couple of decades ahead of us on the church trajectory. Their churches have declined throughout Europe at a much faster pace than in America. They had to get more innovative and creative sooner, and so we’ve learned some things from them. Messy Church is one of those.”
Messy Church started during Covid with three drive-in events. It’s been going on for about 18 months now. It’s an interactive experience for adults and kids with games, crafts, a Bible story, and dinner for the whole family. Messy Church currently meets monthly on Sunday afternoons, with about 50 people participating.
“For most of the folks, initially at least, it’s their first church experience, which we’re perfectly fine with,” Pastor DeHart said. “It’s just church done a little differently. The goal was how we can reach people that might not be open to our traditional settings. Recovery, really is in that same vein.”
These additional gatherings require that those who participate take ownership and step up to help serve. That deepens community and sustains these opportunities.
Why start with a Messy Church? Pastor DeHart explained, “The DNA of this church has always been reaching families, kids, and youth. At one time, the church had 19 kids in a two-year-old class.” Messy church isn’t the way things have always been done, but still matches the church’s DNA.
The Table Recovery Church is another gathering which now meets at 11:30 a.m. each Sunday at Aldersgate. It just started on May 7. Pastor DeHart presented several new options and ideas when he started on staff at the church. Several members of the church had been through recovery or had family members who had helped build momentum for the idea. Right now, 12-15 folks have gathered for The Table Recovery Church.
When asked about the response that has been had, Pastor DeHart said, “People so far have been very positive, we do have some people coming back and they’ve said for them this feels right. It’s not an AA meeting or NA meeting, but it has a lot of those characteristics. So, we’ve got some people that are fresher to the recovery experience and then, we have some that are 15, 20, and 25 (years) sober who want to give back, which is step 12.” There is a good amount of open sharing that is part of the experience.
I asked where The Table Recovery’s name came from. Pastor DeHart said it was a combination of dinner church, the idea of meeting around a table, and recovery ministry.
“Powerful things happen around a table,” he said, “Also from a Christian perspective, a great deal of ministry happened around a table. Not just the last supper. So often, he was going with Nicodemus and having a meal at his house (I must come and dine at your home) … There’s so much… It’s said that if you look at Jesus’ ministry, most of what he did was healing and eating. Oftentimes, healing happened at the meal as well.”
A couple of contemporary Christian songs like, “Come to the Table” by Sidewalk Prophets and “To the Table” by Zach Williams have been used and provide great reminders that Jesus invites all of us to the table and that he has a place for us there.
Pastor DeHart was intentional about finding a table to serve as the altar for Table Recovery Church. He found one made from decades-old reclaimed barn wood. It’s scratched and dented. It’s rough and provides a great visual image, especially for those in recovery. Pastor Brett said, “We all come and despite our scratches and dents …we can still be functional as the table illustrates. God can redeem, reclaim, and restore.” It’s a powerful symbol.
So far, folks who have come represent a wide age group, from 20 to around 80.
“We want it to be a broad-based program,” he said. “We talk about addictions, afflictions, and compulsive behaviors. Everybody is in recovery that is the Christian story. We call it sin. We’re all in recovery from sin. Get off your high horse, you’re no better than anyone else. We all fall short of the glory of God. The Christian story is that Jesus is looking to heal all of us.”
Pastor DeHart also made it clear that the church’s goal is to be “A safe place that offers hope, help, and healing.”
“When people come back, that’s also an indication that you’re doing something right,” he emphasized. “We ain’t here to fix each other, we’re here to support one other.”
Aldersgate is also preparing to launch a new single-parent ministry this fall. These gatherings will include a meal and will be designed as a place where people are encouraged, and community is found.