Building Christ’s Church with the Power of the Holy Spirit
“We’re going to do it. We’re going to build a Leesburg style church in Venice FL.” John said with Jess as they walked to their cars. “If it’s evangelical, I’ll help,” offered Bill. The men were at a retreat at the United Methodist Retreat Center in Leesburg FL in 1975. There, they experienced the power of the Holy Spirit through worship, excellent teachers from all over the country, praise music, and many men committing their lives to Christ. They envisioned “A church where Christ’s love would be so evident that hurting people would feel safe and there would be evidence of changed lives freely shared.”
From the beginning, the people of Christ United Methodist Church (CUMC) wanted a Christ-centered church that is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit; that preaches the word of God; that is mission –oriented; and that is friendly. Building this character into our church was, and still is, done by the prayers and loving ministries of our members and the sound teaching of our pastors, lay teachers, and guest speakers. Forty years later, new people still find and appreciate these qualities in CUMC.
‘Praying-in’ the Holy Spirit
There were many members who “prayed-in-the-church”; for its creation and spiritual foundation, for its leadership, and for the people to come. Most importantly, they prayed for God’s Holy Spirit to be part of the fabric of the church. They wanted the Holy Spirit present in all the activities and in people’s lives.
Prayers by members have continued throughout the life of our church. Today, new people attending CUMC can still feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. One of our newest couples said they were able to make their decision to join in a relatively short period of time because they felt the Holy Spirit was present here.
Preaching the Word of God
“The sermons led you to the Lord,” said a member who grew up in another denomination. Through our pastors, she came to understand the close, personal relationship she could have with God. Another member said his life was changed after listening to sermons on God’s grace, prayer, and the 23rd Psalm. CUMC has been blessed with pastors who have stayed true to preaching the Word of God. Today, members pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our pastors in teaching the Word and in their lives.
Our Wednesday night Bible studies add to our understanding of how to live our lives God’s way. Also, CUMC has a long history of bringing in speakers from Asbury Seminary and other places to deepen our understanding on special topics. Our library was improved to provide another good Christian learning resource.
A Mission-Oriented Church
Many of our first members were young families. One member was concerned about a youth group for her teenagers. Our first pastor, Rev. Mike Shirley (1976-1986), organized a youth group that started meeting even before the first service on Easter, 1976. Since Mike also wanted to emphasize missions, he quickly had the new youth group planning their first mission trip to a Salvation Army facility in NC the following summer.
To help the youth finance their first trip and contribute to other mission projects, CUMC held its first mission fair in 1977 and continued the practice for many years. They sold baked goods and hand-made items, offered services, etc., to fund projects beyond the annual apportionment. This emphasis on missions led to building a rice mill, school, and church in Haiti near Cap Haitien (Victor Fanfan’s church); and trips to India where we also built schools.
Early in Rev. Ken Miller’s years with us (1987-1999), retired missionaries who had served with One Mission Society (OMS) came to CUMC. They taught us how to work with missionaries from the United States who served in other countries, adding a new dimension in our mission service. CUMC’s commitment to missions continues today as we support 59 missionaries and programs in Venice and around the world.
Several members of CUMC have gone into full time ministry or missions, including Rachel Shirley Carlson, the daughter of our first pastor, who serves in Haiti, and Lisel Kranich who serves with her IT-specialist husband for CRU world-wide. More recently, Kristin Pinkerton has served on a two-year assignment to Brazil and the Wachles are serving in Libya. Our youth still look forward to their annual mission trip. Adults and youth were able to serve on a short-term trip to Brazil recently. More adult trips are likely to come soon.
A Friendly Church
Our founders wanted us to be a friendly church. What makes friends? What bonds people? Putting people at ease is a good start. From the first service, Arlene Callihan-Wilson lovingly baked goodies each week so new people would be able to have a cup of coffee and a snack to feel more comfortable as they chatted with others before the service. Eventually, women of the church took turns hosting on Sundays. Today, this tradition continues with donuts and coffee at our Sunday Café.
Early members reached out to neighbors. Many canvassed the new homes being built in the area to find 100 people interested in starting a new church required for a UM church charter. They found 150.
Early church members worked together. To be ready for our first service on Easter Sunday, 1976 at 1:00 AM they cleaned up and aired out the Shamrock Gardens Community Center after a homeowner’s party. After the YMCA offered use of their facilities that June, each Sunday members picked up exercise mats, then set up and took down chairs every week for the 15 months they met there. They also gained space for Sunday School classes that they held in the locker rooms. In appreciation for using the Y facilities, the church built a storage shed for the Y. Later, church members worked together taking turns cleaning our first building on Saturdays based on the letter of their last name. They had Church Beautification Day on Friday to take care of the grounds, just as we still do.
Early members shared their homes. With no building, choir rehearsal, board meetings, youth group meetings, social events, etc., all took place at peoples’ homes, helping people know each other more intimately. As one member put it, “It was like family. We were committed to each other and we couldn’t let each other down.”
The youth worked together on fundraising projects such as car washes to pay for their mission trips. On their trips, youth and adults grew closer as they served others repairing homes, building outhouses, chopping wood, and teaching Vacation Bible School.
Young mothers met each Wednesday for Bible studies in someone’s home after they left their young children at the church where ‘grandmas’ cared for them. As they shared, the young mothers developed a greater understanding of God’s word and forged deep, loving friendships with each other.
CUMC is creating Wesleyan Covenant groups as one of many vehicles to provide a smaller, prayerful group experience. Small group studies at homes and at the church are on-going today.
Sharing coffee and donuts is still a good icebreaker. Working together, learning together, serving together, and praying together are some of the best ways to make friends at CUMC. Making the effort to speak to the person next to you each Sunday helps keep CUMC a friendly church. Committing to each other makes us family.
You could not talk about CUMC without talking about the music: joyous music, uplifting music, praise music, comforting music, children’s music, etc. The choir started practicing in the first weeks. Early on, the church sang traditional hymns like “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee”, but added the worship music they had learned at Leesburg like “Spirit of the Living God” and “They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love”. The church theme song became “There’s a Quiet Understanding” (words printed on the back cover). Some years later, our music director added singing choruses at the beginning of each service.
CUMC has enjoyed many special concerts such as a Korean choir and a children’s Christmas pageant musical. Our enjoyment continues with music from visiting artists, special choir music, and our own praise band. Music expresses our joy, thanks, doubts, trust, and other emotions.
Our Continuing Pentecost
Pentecost marks the disciples receiving power when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they would be (Jesus’) witnesses … to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). At our first Pentecost Service on May 30, 1976, the Call to Worship included:
Leader: One day, long ago, the Church was born. Friends of Jesus, and their friends, assembled to remember Him. And the Holy Spirit was upon them.
People: Come, Holy Spirit.
Leader: Their enthusiasm and excitement surprised the onlookers.
People: Come, Holy Spirit.
Leader: Full of faith and hope, those first Christians spread out from that Pentecost, witnessing to the love of God everywhere.
People: Come, Holy Spirit, as we worship this day, excite in us again that founding faith, and send us, too, to witness in our own world, and in the whole world.
Today God continues to be on the move. Pray that our community will be excited; that we will continue to be His witnesses, “a Christ-centered church that is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit; that preaches the Word of God; mission –oriented; and friendly.”
 John Outerbridge, Jess Roach, and Bill Gaylor
 From the notes of John Outerbridge
 With the help of Bob Bolinder who had contacts at Zondervan.