A Creative Outlet for Outreach

December 13, 2022 | | Deepen Faith, GNJ News, The Relay

Covid affected every aspect of life, including how people worshipped. Churches were closed, and as churchgoers still attempted to attend services online, Rev. Alison Van Buskirk Philip and her team at First United Methodist Church Westfield, wanted to find creative ways to reach as many people as possible.

Pastor Alison said they had considered doing a vlog for a while, but the need for an online presence became more of a necessity than a luxury. As Pastor Alison shared, “we wanted to expand our virtual outreach, and the pandemic cemented that it was valuable to do this kind of work.” So, this idea became a reality, and Pastorpiece Theatre made its debut.

This initiative was led by Pastor Alison, but she attributes much of the work and success to Carolyn Milhiser, who writes the scripts, creates the storyboards, recruits volunteers to participate, and then edits the videos to create the “pastorpiece” that it is. Pastor Alison praised Carolyn’s efforts, stating, “her energy kept it going.” But both the purpose and the ideas are a joint effort by Alison and Carolyn.  Even as churches reopened, this level of outreach remained relevant. As Carolyn shared, “Many people were so used to being online and others were apprehensive about stepping into the church again, so we decided to bring the church to them.”

The intention of the vlog is to not only highlight who they are at FUMC Westfield and what they do, but also to build a bridge between Christianity and everyday life. Carolyn explained, “We decided to create a vlog to help people understand the connection God has in our ordinary lives, trying to provide a service in a fun way. It has also brought our congregation together,” essentially allowing members to connect in a new, entertaining, and unique way.

Pastor Alison added, “We wanted to address spirituality and to bridge church with people who might not be used to church language.” Essentially, they wanted to show that church is meant for everyone, and I wholeheartedly believe they were successful in doing that.

They address topics that are relatable to anyone and connect it back to the church on a personal level. In the video on “Embracing Rest,” they remind us to take time for ourselves, not only to worship but to do things that make us come alive, fill us with joy, and give us peace. They set our minds at ease in “Saying Grace,” taking the awkwardness and pressure out of saying grace at meals, reminding us that it’s not meant to be a perfect work of art but merely a simple prayer from the heart.

In “What is Epiphany?” we are encouraged to allow our good intentions and positive words to guide our lives. And in “Love is Yours This Valentine’s Day,” we are reminded that there are all kinds of love we can have, including love for ourselves and love for God. As Pastor Alison reminds us, “We are made for community, made for caring for each other.”

They have created four videos to date and have every intention of continuing in January as the new year begins.  “It has been very rewarding to hear that it’s reaching people and getting the message out,” Carolyn said, “I would love for people to get out of it a better way to live their lives, to see that things don’t have to be that hard, to just sit back and take a moment to realize God is there with them.”

Their purpose is clear, their intention is good, and their success is evident.  As I personally watched the videos, I found myself nodding along at their relevant messages, laughing at the built-in humor, and feeling a sense of calm after each one.  And I am not alone—the feedback they have received from comments both online and in person, from people of all ages including young kids, shows what kind of impact FUMC Westfield is making.

To view the vlogs produced in 2022, visit this link.