‘Relationships are what matters’
By John W. Coleman
At Allentown United Methodist Church, people are invited to not just come as they are, but also to share who they are. When they do, they begin to discover a church that’s not just about religion. It’s much more about relationships.
Those seeds of discovery harvested much fruit on Sunday, October 8, when 20 new members gathered around the altar rail to join the church together.
“When I first came (in July 2022), our Sunday worship attendance was around eight people,” recalled the Rev. Andi Semler, pastor. “Now our numbers have quadrupled, and it hasn’t been from any planning or missionary work—just trusting that the Spirit’s going to move and loving the people that are already there. People are excited to be here; and I think their spirits get filled and they want to share that excitement with people around them.”
Allentown focuses a lot on building relationships, “which I think was one of the church’s biggest assets to begin with,” Semler said. “We cultivate a culture where people can come as they are, with no expectations to be perfect or to put on a show. We remind them that Jesus loves them exactly where they are in life.”
Despite initial nervousness, she felt that acceptance and familiarity when she and her family first arrived, after serving Bridgewater UMC. “They treated us like they’d known us forever; and that’s really great, especially for our newcomers and guests.” Those guests come from Allentown but also other towns.
During the summer the church’s Wednesday night small group did a deep-dive study of storytelling. “Together, we’re learning how our stories, our experiences and our faith can make a difference in the lives of others,” reads a post on the church’s Facebook page.
“Then throughout September, our lay people became guest preachers to share their testimonies; and that led up to our celebration of welcoming new members,” explained Semler, a Drew Theological Seminary graduate. “It was incredible to see them all around the altar that Sunday. We had to move things around so people could fit there.”
The young pastor, who welcomed two other new members in the spring, credited Allentown’s steady growth mostly to “word of mouth,” which perhaps was bolstered by her use of the conference’s Breakthrough sermon series titled “Everybody Tell Somebody!”
“We advertised that we would welcome new members on a certain date, and that there would be a class that people could attend to learn about The United Methodist Church and what it means to be part of our community of faith. Then people just started reaching out to become a part of it.
Semler has baptized two infants and an adult “into the family of God” this year. Meanwhile, the congregation, which had no children in church, nonetheless redesigned and decorated a classroom to create a place where children would come and feel welcome.
“Then one child came every other week, and we got someone to volunteer to teach,” recalled Semler. “And little by little, more kids started showing up.” Now there are children in church every Sunday.
“I think I learned that at the end of the day, relationships are what matters,” she concluded. “We’re in this space to learn and grow in our faith. But I think that happens through the way we love and share our experiences with each other.
“We can see God at work, bringing us together. And I’m just trusting and believing that if God brought me here, it’s for a reason. I need this congregation and the people in this community just as much as they need me as a pastor. So, we’re ministering to each other.”
Read Semler’s encouraging pastor’s message to her congregation, posted on the church’s Facebook page in September:
Join us this Sunday, September 3rd, as we kick off a new sermon series- Everybody tell Somebody!
For the entirety of the Summer, our Wednesday night small group has been deep diving into story telling. Together, we’ve been learning how our stories, our experiences, and our faith can make a difference in the lives of others. All throughout September, different church members will be sharing in worship. We look forward to an exciting month! YOUR story matters, too! All are welcome to join us!
Officially a full year pastoring Allentown United Methodist Church, and all I can say is thank you, God, for bringing us together! This place is so special and God continues to move in big ways.
Over the last 12 months, we have baptized 3 people into the family of God, infants and an adult. We have welcomed new members into our church family and praised God for the many friends that have returned to worship with us. Our church attendance has quadrupled!
Over the last 12 months, we have relaunched our Sunday School program, with a newly renovated space for our youngest disciples to learn, grow, and pray together. Since then, we have not gone a Sunday without a child in church.
People are gathering in new small groups, and the choir has come together again, allowing a space for people to grow in community and faith.
We have celebrated holidays together, gathered in laughter over countless shared meals, mourned the loss of beloved church members, and prayed for each other.
Most importantly, over the past 12 months, we have been the church – a safe place for people to come together in love and leave equipped to be the hands and feet of Christ to a world that desperately needs it. I am so proud, honored, and blessed to serve here.
– Pastor Andi