Jun 17, 2022 | By John W. Coleman

“Welcome Home.” One sees that greeting written down at First UMC in Media and on its website. But now members are also saying it more, as they welcome new and diverse attendees to join them in worship and ministry. The church’s mission statement invites “all people to join us in our faith journey toward greater love, understanding and mutual respect.”

More than two dozen new people have recently accepted that invitation and about 12 have decided to make First UMC their “spiritual home” in just the last six months. And while most are over 60 and White, many others are younger and of other races—African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and Biracial.

The reasons some give for joining the congregation, according to the Rev. Laurie Ann Rookard, pastor, are its multiracial membership and its community outreach—including hosting the Media Food Bank, which serves up to 200 people a week as Delaware County’s largest food distribution center, and the Clothing Closet and Free Store for household needs, all more popular now during these economic hard times.   

Neighbors line up at First UMC for outdoor food distribution. The intricate, colorful arrangement of cones and chains ensures a safe and smooth operation.

The church also hosts weekly meetings of four addiction recovery groups. And then there are the free yoga classes Rookard teaches; plus “The Trolley Stops Here,” a podcast offering topical discussions—such as race relations, mental health, faith and sexuality, and self-care. There’s also the chance for “virtual members” to participate in worship and other programs online. One virtual member is her nephew in Ohio who cohosts the podcast with her.

‘We are seeing new people’

“We are seeing new people, but we’re missing some of the people who were coming here before the Covid pandemic,” reported Rookard, who counted about 70 in worship last Sunday. She attributes the absence of some members to Covid fears or illness and the convenience of worshiping online. But also, some have gotten out of the habit of attending church weekly, she said.

The pastor, who has been at First UMC for nine years, is not sure why the recent increase of over two dozen new members is happening, despite the reasons some have given. “There’s not a lot of clear footprints I see between our programs and our worship in the sanctuary,” she said. But what she does see are newcomers who are eager to serve.

“They want to be active and to lead. So, I’ve had to up my game to address their needs and interests.” Rookard now has a church coach with degrees in business and theology who was recommended by her South District superintendent, the Rev. Evelyn Kent Clark. She looks forward to the church being able to do more to become a “spiritual home” for its growing congregation and for a growing community in need of what it has to offer.