It’s April and it’s Maple Fest in Perth, Ontario. Along the streets vendors are selling their arts & crafts, food, and of course, maple syrup. There are activities and entertainment all around town. Thousands of people come out to this event and fill the streets.
Then Santa shows up. People may consider him an anomaly on this festive street, strangely part of the celebration. Till a snowman appears. Then a big chicken, then Sylvester the Cat, all in procession about four or five feet behind each other. One by one, the characters go by, followed by a man in a suit and tie, holding a sign, “Asbury Free Methodist Church, no suit required.”
This flash mob sequence is one of the many things that Peter Goodyear, pastor of Asbury Free Methodist Church, dreams up in order to break down barriers, which are the ideas and presumptions people may have about church. It is his desire that his community in Perth knows that church is a friendly, safe place and they are welcome to join in.
Peter Goodyear loves his vocation. “I’ve got the best job in the world. I enjoy it and on the whole, I don’t find it taxing. It’s all about living the abundant life.” He has an obvious passion for his parish. When Peter was first hired at Asbury FMC, in July 2011, the church was already participating in some outreach programs to the community. Peter took some time to observe how they were carried out and their impact and was pleasantly surprised.
For one, Asbury FMC has a thriving Keenager (seniors) group. When Peter describes it, he uses the word “rockin’,” and he doesn’t mean chairs. This is a vital ministry. The Keenagers meet weekly and in recent years have outgrown the church building with a peak attendance of 139. They now meet at the local Lions Club building for the space. Peter believes the reason this group continues to grow is because they have a real heart for others. Most week days some members of Keenagers can be found at the local Tim Horton’s, befriending people there and issuing invitations to the weekly meeting.
Peter is also “jazzed” about the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group, led by a woman who just had her sixth child and couldn’t wait to jump back into ministry. This is largely a program built by word-of-mouth. MOPS meetings are about support and friendship for moms of young children, and even just to have a moment of rest while volunteers take care of their children.
Peter says that he is a cheerleader for these groups. He attends Keenagers as often as he can and you will probably find him on the floor playing with the kids during the MOPS meetings. Keenagers and MOPS are the programs that break down the barriers and give a new and real impression of the church and how it exists to serve the community.
Peter says, “The theory is that there is a connection and we’d like to transition them to something more ministry-oriented, and join us at church. It seems to be working with MOPS and Keenagers, drawing them towards full participation.”
Other ministries at Asbury FMC include the Family Night program on Wednesdays. People are invited to be part of a community dinner and then choose one of the Bible study electives. There are four adult studies, plus youth programs. This is a central night of learning and fellowship for the church.
Peter says, “Once they get to know the church family and see that they are warm, inviting and friendly and not after a bunch of money, people say, ‘I didn’t know church people were like this.’”
Peter is thankful for his highly functional church board, which eliminates any “burden of being a CEO pastor-type”. One of the things Peter liked about what Asbury was doing, but needed a jump start, was knowing how to reach the community. He is continually looking for opportunities to build relationships. In that way, he believes it is important that community programs are offered that do that initial work, to build inroads.
“What we want to do,” Peter says, “is let them know that we care about them, that we are open to outsiders, and want people around. We appreciate the opportunity to invest in their lives. We let them know if they don’t have a church home, question about faith, that’s what we’re here for. Got questions? We’re not here to give pat answers. This is a safe place to do that.”
Peter’s ongoing hope for Asbury is that it will build on its diversity. “You miss out when you focus on one age group. You might miss out on people with older, more established, more mature faith. We have people 90 years old who are excited about what we’re doing for youth. That’s rockin’! We have people who are passionate about serving God, it exudes from them.”
“When people come through our doors wearing jeans, someone else will be wearing jeans. If they walk in dressed up, they would see someone dressed up. There is always somebody else there to reflect them. When it comes to musical expression, you can expect not everything is for you, but something is for you.”
Recently, the entire congregation was challenged to participate in prayer walks, to cover each street in Perth in prayer. A large map of the town is posted in the Fellowship Hall of the church for people to highlight the streets they commit to praying for. Some people have covered a number of different streets, and some have felt led to cover the same street over and over again. Peter and his wife, Roxanne, have been working on covering the entire town.
They have already seen answers to their prayers. Besides developing a Godly perspective and heart for the people in their backyard, “Two kids and an adult from the streets we have been praying over recently gave their hearts to Jesus.” There is an eager anticipation of how God will use them to break down the barriers.
“Got any more flash mobs planned?” I ask Peter, presuming he has some ideas brewing.
“I see a whole whack of people dressed up as Waldo, walking through the streets of Perth. One person with a sign, ‘Is Waldo really who you’re looking for?
From the Asbury Free Methodist Church website:
A church for people who don’t have it all figured out yet. At Asbury FMC, we are committed to providing a safe and friendly atmosphere to explore the claims of historic Christianity. Whether you want to grow deeper in your faith or are just deciding what you believe, you’ll find a place at Asbury where you can fit in and find help for the journey.
If you have a story to share about how God is working in and through your church, please contact Loreli. We want to celebrate the good things that God is doing.