University City

Church creates 2nd service to CONNECT

A group began meeting in September to plan a long talked-about second service at First United Methodist Church.

Discussions lasted more than half a year, and on Easter morning the church added the CONNECT service, a contemporary complement to FUMC's traditional 11 a.m. service.

CONNECT took shape after the Rev. Jonathan Coppedge-Henley and his wife, Elizabeth, were appointed as pastors of the church last year. One of Coppedge-Henley's duties was to start the second service, so he gathered a task force and began planning.

"We didn't want to do the same service we do at 11 a.m.," said Coppedge-Henley, who is pastor of congregational development. "We knew we needed to do something different."

He describes the task force as a mosaic, with each person bringing talents and creativity. Because few of them listened to contemporary Christian music, the group decided to focus more on "secular" music that had depth and meaning.

The group wanted the service to be experiential and participatory, and they enlisted Jennifer McSwain Martin, director of young adult ministry at Myers Park United Methodist Church who also has experience leading worship, to help.

During a discussion of religion one night, the task force decided to name the service CONNECT because the root word of religion is the same word for ligament, "as in connective tissue," said Coppedge-Henley.

"What we're trying to do in worship is reconnect with God, reconnect with each other, reconnect with ourselves and reconnect with all of creation," he said.

After four practice services, CONNECT debuted with 135 in attendance.

"It surpassed my expectations," said Coppedge-Henley. "We were thrilled with how well it went. I think people really came away enriched by the experience."

Leaders transform FUMC's cathedral-like sanctuary for CONNECT, decorating the alter with candles and flowers, draping unused pews in fabric and creating slide shows and images for the church's big screens.

Music Director Jennifer Wallis, who works at Howl at the Moon and recently was named "Best Female Vocalist" by Elevate Lifestyle Magazine, puts together a mixes of songs that have included Christian music and songs by popular artists such as U2, Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce.

Coppedge-Henley said the music of U2 was integral to his Christian life growing up. Now, he says one of the cornerstones of his theology is that "God does not know the distinction between sacred and secular.

"My faith was much more shaped by Bono than Billy Graham," he said. "My world was rocked in 1987 when I bought (U2's album) 'The Joshua Tree.'

"That's probably what kept me a Christian and helped me realize there was a way to be a Christian that didn't look like the church I grew up in."

CONNECT's music reflects Coppedge-Henley's outlook on music. For example, on Easter Sunday the congregation sang Beyonce's "Halo."

"Jennifer pointed out that could have been (describing) how Mary saw Jesus' face for the first time on Easter," said Coppedge-Henley.

He hopes the service will help people make many similar connections between worship and the world, easing the separation between life inside and outside the church.

"The idea is if we can help people see the connection between what happens in church and what happens in worship and what happens in their daily lives, we've helped Jesus not live in the church, but to live everywhere," Coppedge-Henley said.

All CONNECT services will include communion, which Coppedge-Henley said is open to everyone. The format also includes worship and a sermon from Coppedge-Henley.

The service is targeted to all people who are "looking for a connection to something deeper," said Coppedge-Henley.

"We're most interested in the people who know there's something more in life than just going through every day as if there is no soul, nothing transcendent," he said. "We're really hoping that we can help people make a connection to something bigger than themselves."