Nine: A Special Joy

Display Board for Lay Ministry program 1999

As the twentieth century drew to a close, members of First Methodist were invited to attend a Lay Ministry Appreciation evening in the fall of 1999. Each year at least one campaign took place to recognize the large variety of church ministries and recruit church members into service. Among the displays was one created by members of the Community of Joy mission. Spread across three folding cardboard panels, the exhibit celebrated the history of this novel outreach in discipleship.

 In 1990, First Methodist program staff and members of the Council of Ministries began considering the idea of an alternative church service, unlike the standard ones occurring every Sunday. This new effort would not replace traditional worship. Rather, it would provide an option, a “mission outreach,” to attract the “unchurched, ” those folks less likely to venture into a conventional church service.

Community of Joy Worship Bulletin with COJ logo

The vision finally became reality on September 18, 1994. The mission design team chose the name Community of Joy for this new venture with the desire of making that phrase “an identifying reality for the service.” Services would be held at Midland Community Theater on Wadley Avenue and take advantage of that venue to provide drama and contemporary music.

That first Sunday morning began with a pre-service concert. Associate Pastor Mark Alexander welcomed those in attendance, then a music team took the stage to lead the group in songs of praise. Following the offertory, Chris Olsen and Alathea Blischke were the cast for “An Hour on Wednesday,” a short dramatic presentation with a spiritual message. Tanya Eustace played for a time of music meditation and Reverend Alexander then delivered the message. Though the attendance was small, everyone involved felt the venture had begun successfully. 

COJ, as it was often affectionately labeled, became a regular part of First Methodist Sunday morning worship. The praise band Joyful Noise, directed by David Thomas, usually with eight to twelve musicians, provided contemporary music that was “very 90s.” The Rio Wadley Players, directed by Delanna Thomas, performed the dramatic scripts, either produced locally or purchased from national script services.

Snapshots of COJ worship

The message was non-denominational. The entire worship experience was designed to “speak to current problems in contemporary forms.”

As intended, the mission program attracted a non-traditional audience and flourished in its own small way. COJ services appealed to community members who regularly performed in Midland Community Theater productions. Eventually more than 80 actors and actresses became part of the Rio Wadley company.

 There were some tensions and challenges in delivering three services from two locations, but the program continued. It survived changes in First Methodist leadership, as Associate Pastor Alexander was followed by John Rech. Seventy members of the outreach celebrated their fifth anniversary with a “birthday party” at the Polo Park Clubhouse. Those present all agreed that “Contemporary worship is here to stay.”

 In January 2000, a contemporary service was launched at First Methodist, held at 8:30 in the Glass Chapel. COJ continued at the Cole Theater at 10:45 am. An Associate Pastor led both services. The two Sanctuary Services, at 8:30 and 10:35 am, would eventually became the “traditional” ones. By 2001, the Contemporary Service time had moved to 9:30 am.

In 2003, the growing contemporary service moved to the Fellowship Hall and met at the same time as the 10:45 Sanctuary service. The COJ service continued but the stress of managing two contemporary services at two different locations eventually became too much. After nine years, the decision was made to end this unique ministry. The final Community of Joy service took place on September 14, 2003.

 Yet, despite its closing, COJ was a success. It was the first contemporary and first satellite service in Midland. It led the way for First Methodist’s move into a more diverse offering of worship options, a tradition that remains strong. Its bold different approach still provides an example each time new options (such as the Recharge initiative) are considered. In recognizing the contributions made by those who worked so diligently in this outreach, First Methodist Senior Pastor Lane Boyd wrote in the Tower Times, “Tremendous energy and faithfulness has gone into the COJ ministry. We are grateful for their contributions to Christ’s mission.”


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