From the Worldwide Faith News archives

'Pastor G' builds fast-growing church from a dream

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 20 Apr 2000 14:55:11

April 20, 2000 News media contact: Thomas S. McAnally (615)
742-5470*Nashville, Tenn. 10-21-31-71BP{212}

NOTE:  Two of the fastest-growing United Methodist churches are in Kansas.
One is a predominantly white congregation in suburban Kansas City, the other
is a predominantly black congregation in Wichita. UMNS writer John Lovelace
and photographer Mike DuBose visited both for this report and UMNS story
#213. Photographs are available with this story.

A UMNS Feature
By John A. Lovelace*

The man known to his congregation as "Pastor G" says he may break down and
add a third worship service next year to the bulging, seven-day schedule of
Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kan.

But the Rev. Tyrone D. Gordon hastily tells his flock, "On Saturday nights,
honey. I'm too old to do three services on Sundays."

Pastor G, Saint Mark's spiritual leader since 1988, remembers when three
services could barely accommodate Sunday crowds in the old sanctuary. Now
the new 1,000-capacity fan-shaped sanctuary, completed in 1995, gets crowded
sometimes, and the hallway and parking lots between the 9 and 11 a.m.
services are a fright.

The pastor is a soft-spoken Arkansas native who hit a career advancement
glass ceiling there but "lit up the place" when he preached one year
recently for the Little Rock Annual Conference. He gave an interviewer four
reasons why Saint Mark is growing.

"My personality and Saint Mark's are a match," he says. "And that doesn't
always happen under our appointive system.

"Next came a dream. We already had the land. I said, 'God's gonna help us
build a place of possibilities and transformation.' The older members knew
we were dying. They said, 'Whatever we have to do, that's what we'll do.'
They were always open to new people, and no doors were closed to young

"The church became known in the community. We weren't just here on Sundays
doing the spiritual stuff. We got active politically and socially and
financially. We created a foundation to handle our financial ministries. Now
we're buying up some crack houses and building a shopping center. Proceeds
will go back into the foundation to help the community.

"We are racially diverse. We didn't work at it. It just happened. But
because it happened, we figured that was God nudging us. So we started
working at it. That's why our mission statement says we want to reach all
persons who know or need to know Jesus Christ through praise, fellowship and
empowerment as we grow and build for the kingdom.

"We are repairers of the breach, and our worship style tries to take the
best of a lot of traditions like black, Baptist, Methodist and so forth."

And it is in Saint Mark's worship services that all of the above - the
matching personalities, the openness, the community leadership role, the
racial diversity and the blended styles - come most sharply into focus.

The Affirmation of Faith and the Gloria Patri would warm any Methodist's
heart, though the organ/drum accompaniment to the latter would take some
getting used to for some worshipers. Constant calls of  "Yes" and "Go ahead"
would seem familiar to many African-American Christians, and the gospel
message and extended altar call would impress if not convict some Baptists.

An abbreviated timetable from a recent 9 a.m. service is illustrative.

9:00 -- A staff member shouts from the platform, "Good morning, Saint Mark,"
followed by vigorous congregational singing of "This is the day that the
Lord hath made," accompanied by clapping, piano, organ, electronic keyboard
and electric guitar. Some pews are getting crowded.

9:05-9:49 - Announcements include a reminder of the United Methodist Men
neighborhood cleanup next Saturday and a reminder to fill out U.S. census
forms expected in next week's mail. "This is very important to our

Visitors are asked to stand to receive a song, "We're so glad you're here,"
from the choir and congregation and hugs and handshakes from maybe a dozen
people; children's choir sings "Jesus Loves Me," then leaves quietly.

Pastor G recognizes visitors, including a confirmation class from out of
town, one of many throughout the year; announces that the chapel will be
open all day on Wednesdays through Lent for fasting and prayer; calls
attention to today's end of the Week of Black Church Prayer for AIDS
Healing; reminds people to vote April 4 on a $250 million bond issue to
repair local schools. "Ours are the second oldest in the nation, behind New
York City. If we love our children, we'll support this." 

The pastor's support for this issue surprises no one. He is a former
president of the Wichita school board and co-chairs the bond issue effort.

Pastor G begins prayer time with an invitation for worshipers to move to the
altar or as close as possible. Altar and aisles are clogged as he leads
silent prayer for the AIDS ministry. ("Now don't get too judgmental. It
could happen to your family.") Following prayer, the pastor leads singing of
"It's all right, just have a little talk with Jesus."

9:50 - Pastor G begins his sermon titled "Surviving a snake's bite" (Numbers
21:4-9 and Luke 10-19). He instructs worshipers to look at a neighbor and
say, "Neighbor, you can survive a snake bite." Reading rapidly from his text
but looking out frequently, he says he's not talking about snakes in a zoo
or snakes that slither but about "two-legged snakes in your life, in your
house, where you work." But he says a snake can't bite you if you don't get
too close to it. "You gotta stay out of some places you been goin'."

10:15 -- "I gotta get you out of here," Pastor G says in apparent reference
to the time. His people know what's coming next. He steps down, mike in
hand, to the carpeted sanctuary floor and stoutly affirms "HE PROMISED THAT
NOTHING WILL HARM US" to subtle organ and piano accompaniment. Sermon

10:25- "I'm about to break out into a dance here."  He does, to the
accompaniment of drums and rhythmic clapping. Climbing up on one front pew,
he says, "Get me some chairs up here."

10:30 -- Pastor G, comparatively immobile, opens the doors of the church for
membership. "If snakes been messin' with you," he says, "come on. Someone
will come with you. I got a feeling everything's gonna be all right." Neatly
dressed ushers greet a row full of respondents, taking names for Pastor G to
read aloud. He recites a brief version of vows to first-time members,
welcomes members by transfer and informs candidates for baptism that they
will be baptized the following Sunday. On signal, the congregation throws a
kiss to new members of the church family.

10:40 - Pastor G cautions worshipers not to dally in the parking lot. "I see
folk driving around for the 11 o'clock service." He says he may add a third
service next year and tells the visiting confirmands, "You've seen Saint
Mark in its heyday today." He assures congregants, "You can get everything
you need at God's superstore" and reminds them of gifts needed for the new
family life center. "It's going up!" 

10:45 - Following the benediction, ushers stand at the front of each aisle
and hold large metal cans as members and visitors leave their gifts and
circle on by and out of the room. Choir members sing, "We will walk in the
light, the beautiful light, that shines all around us."

At 11 o'clock, it all begins again, with a few variations like presenting a
plaque to the 12 members of the Family of the Month and passing collection
plates up and down the pews.

12:05 p.m. - "Let the words of my mouth. ..."

12:40 p.m. - "I'm just about through; you all just stay with me." Musicians
take their places, piano ripples and organ swells underscoring Pastor G's
every word to conclusion. Responses to membership invitation include one
young woman by confession ("Satan just lost a soul he thought he had."). She
and others received by transfer affirm that they will "be loyal to Christ
through the church." Congregation gives them a big corporate hug. "Leave
this place knowing you have authority and power to trample on snakes."

1:05 p.m. - Members begin drifting out of the sanctuary. Choir and musicians
continue with "What a mighty God we serve." Pastor G walks up the center
aisle, stopping often for brief exchanges with members and friends. Ten
minutes later, reinforced by a sip of Gatorade, he grants a requested
interview to the visiting reporter and photographer.

Between services, five longtime Saint Mark members have met with the
visiting journalists to give their views of why the 90-year-old church is
"Growing and building for the kingdom," as signs on the church van and words
in the worship bulletin proclaim.

Saint Mark's membership has grown from 1,294 in 1995 to 2,097 in 1999.
During that period, worship attendance has risen from 734 to 1,174. The
church's numerical strength has translated into 100 percent payment of its
apportionments for three of the past five years, according to annual
conference records.

Doris E. Smith says it's a spirit-filled church, meeting needs and being
accepted. She also sees Saint Mark as a flower garden. "We're not a selfish
racial or ethnic group. God planted us here on a hilltop so we can be a
light to the whole community."

Sharon Smart says their spirit-filled leader empowers laypeople to be in
ministry. Racial diversity, she adds, "helps us grow and build."

Ceasus Tyree, church historian and member since 1954, cites community
service, beginning in 1917 when the Ladies Aid Society made pillow tops for
soldiers in World War I. Now there's the weekly E.C. Tyree Health Clinic,
the Family Life Center under construction where the church can offer
banquets and entertainment, the men's upcoming neighborhood cleanup and home
repair projects.

A cursory look at Saint Mark's weekly schedule shows Disciple I, II and III
Bible studies, Wednesday Nite Live Bible study, exercising class, couples
ministry, midweek praise and worship, a session on Effective Black
Parenting, various choir and praise ensemble rehearsals, and a basketball

Then there's a table in the foyer to receive care packets for a missionary
trip to Haiti April 15-22; an ongoing collection of canned goods and other
non-perishable foods for Wichita's United Methodist Urban Ministry; a trip
to New Orleans Oct. 20-22 by Pastor G and the Mass Choir to celebrate and
fellowship with Bethany United Methodist Church.

Saint Mark isn't unknown across the larger church, either. This fall, it
will sponsor its fourth annual evangelism conference, where visiting
experts, particularly from the black church experience, and the host
church's own prominent laypeople lead sessions on education, music, church
administration, economic development and finance. This year's theme is "A
New Church for a New Millennium," with 800 participants expected to focus on
church renewal.

At 90 years young and counting, Saint Mark United Methodist Church, Wichita,
is nothing if not a model for church renewal. And they know how to affirm
it. Their worship services end on a high note:

Leader: God is good!
People: All the time!!!

#  #  #

*Lovelace is editor emeritus of the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter
and a 1998 inductee in the United Methodist Association of Communicators
Hall of Fame.  

United Methodist News Service
Photos and stories also available at:

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