South Charlotte

Providence UMC casts ‘The Net’

Providence United Methodist Church’s new worship service, called “The Net,” is named after a Bible story in which Jesus instructs his disciples to throw their net on the other side of the boat.

They’d been fishing all night without success. When they followed Jesus’ directions, their nets were so heavy with fish they couldn’t pull them up.

Providence United Methodist is casting its own net in hopes of reaching people in the surrounding community who aren’t going to church.

The Net, which officially launches Sept. 21, will include a band, contemporary music and a more relaxed atmosphere.

The service will be in the church’s gym, and an adjoining room will be turned into a coffee café Sunday mornings.

The Net will be a departure from the church’s regular Sunday service, which includes liturgy and music led by a grand pipe organ that was once housed in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The Rev. John Fitzgerald, Providence UMC’s senior pastor, is quick to point out that The Net is an addition to, not a replacement for, Providence’s worship traditions.

“We’re saying that we embrace multiple styles of worship and want to offer worship that is rich in multiple ways,” Fitzgerald said. The church, he said, seeks unity in diversity.

Adding a contemporary service at Providence UMC has been discussed for years, but when Fitzgerald was appointed pastor three years ago, he put the idea to “due process.”

The idea was discussed by a church committee, the church council and the congregation. In a rare church-wide vote, which Fitzgerald said was held “to make sure everyone was heard,” a large majority voted in favor of the service.

To embrace a style of worship new to the church, Providence also has hired an atypical candidate to lead The Net: Casey Crimmins does not have a seminary degree, a Methodist background or a history with liturgy, and he became a Christian “late in life.”

Several months ago, Crimmins was working full-time at GE Franchise Finance in Charlotte. He was an involved volunteer at Threshold Church, a Presbyterian church that meets at the Siskey YMCA in Union County, where he served monthly as a worship team leader and sometimes preached.

“I’d always had a heart and a passion to go into full-time ministry, but I just didn’t know when it was going to be,” Crimmins said.

Through friends, he learned Providence was looking for someone to lead a contemporary service. He began his job as director of evangelism and discipleship there in late July.

“We were recruiting, and when you are willing to step over lines and look where God is leading and gifting people to serve, God will bless,” Fitzgerald said.

The church hopes the new service will draw many of the people its congregation has met at its community events, including a yard sale to benefit Haiti missions that drew thousands, and food-truck festivals on the church’s property.

“I think we have been intentional about providing opportunities for people to come to our campus with no strings attached,” said Donna Rogers, the church’s director of communications and events. “That’s helping to build a culture within our congregation to be welcoming.”

The service is geared toward those unfamiliar with the church or who have left the church.

“From a spiritual perspective, we’re looking to create an environment where those who are seeking can come and experience an authentic relationship with Christ,” Crimmins said.

Crimmins will preach at The Net, and Eric Hagemeyer will lead worship.

In run-through services leading up to the launch of The Net, more than 130 people of all ages have attended. Crimmins was expecting to draw only the 40 or so who are part of the The Net’s volunteer team.

Fitzgerald said that one man leaving the service said, “This is beautiful,” noting that the church was now supporting several styles of worship.

“It is exciting to embrace the idea of being a diverse church that is united in mission and purpose,” Fitzgerald said.