'Market Night' emerges as one of the 'best Holy Spirit surprises' in Newcastle, WY
October 28, 2019
Story and photo submitted by the Rev. Brenda Torrie
Pastor, First United Methodist Church, Newcastle, Wyoming
At a church meeting, the United Methodist Women's president wondered aloud if she might want to be involved in the newly revived Thursday Night Market Night where folks would bring their produce and their wares to sell to their neighbors. It was being held at Railroad Park, around the corner from the church, beginning mid-July to mid-September from 5 to 7 p.m. The church decided they would include in the mix some hearty doses of God’s honest-to-goodness hospitality.
It was Brenda Torrie's first summer as pastor at First UMC in Newcastle. Enthusiastically, she threw herself in to be a part of the hospitality team exiting the church building to mingle with her neighbors. Next thing she knew, they had hospitality bags for adults, chock-a-block full of bookmarks with inspiring scriptural verses, postcard invitations to our soon-to-be-launched Messy Church, and other information about our church happenings. They had bags for the kids, too, which also included the Messy Church invitations and little trinkets and Bible verse games.
They had a pop-up shade cover and a great big red sign that hung across the front, with “First United Methodist Church” printed on it. And the weather, for last summer, was spectacular every Thursday evening. They never got rained out once. Their table held an array of baked goods donated by church members, some hand-crafted doggie toys (my Georgia still has her purple pony) and whatever else they had on-hand to sell. The proceeds from these sales turned out to be a future blessing.
Armed with all of this and an ice chest filled with freezer pops, the team set out to offer face painting for the kids (and some adults who were game). This was the best part of their evangelism. Kids were naturally drawn to the face painting and as we team members painted faces. The adults talked with the kids and their parents who were waiting for them. What they realized was that many of the same families came to Market Night as a free activity. So, every week they were building relationships with those families, remembering names and faces. And every week they sent them home with a stack of postcard invitations to Messy Church. The message was, “If you love this, then you’re gonna love Messy Church!”
It was the relationships that Torrie and her staff built that did it. There had been only one or two children at Sunday services for years. When First UMC's Messy Church launch came around in September, they had a core group of excited kids who couldn’t wait to come. And they brought their parents along. The effect was nothing short of miraculous. While Messy Church is a worship service in and of itself, families began to join in the traditional Sunday morning worship. Time with Children during worship carried the same enthusiasm as did Messy Church. Soon, worship increased from three to as many as 15 children on Sunday mornings. The congregation was feeling vital and joyful. Some of the church folks came out just to sit at the market to share in the obvious joy that had been unleashed!
As the bake sale intake grew, Torrie wondered what to do with this “unmarked” income. Seeing the power of advertising, just in the little home-crafted postcards, she asked if the church could earmark the funds for advertising purposes. The proceeds came to around $800 and when it was time to advertise our Advent and Christmas Eve worship series in the newspaper, they had the funds. The ads were beautiful and eye-catching. The church went from 64 worshiping on a given Sunday to 98 within a four-month span.
“I will be truthful that the 98 did not hold, but we still averaged in the low 80s post-Christmas. And some of the new families stuck,” Torrie said.
This one little well-planned outreach bursting with goodwill has brought manifold blessings upon the community, especially for the children who are now connected with the church. One of the moms of a new family the church got to know at Market Night was deployed to Kuwait. They blessed her in worship, attended her send-off party, sent her cards while she was away, remembered her in prayer and promised to love her children in her absence. They are one of the most faithful families we have at our church. And their grandma helps us out with Messy Church every month.
“I know it sounds incredible that so much fruit has been harvested from one little foray into the community, but I tell you, this has been one of the best Holy Spirit surprises of my ministry,” said Torrie. Having a worship service that appeals to all ages was the take-away for Market Night.
“We now have stronger connections within county programs to make a real difference in the lives of families. It was as though we found a thread and it kept unraveling to reveal a beautiful tapestry of relationships fostered by God’s spilling-over love,” she said. “Into which wilderness is God calling your church?"
"My advice," she added. "Step in, hold on, and give the reins over to the Spirit!”