Genesis Center offers first Christian worship center
Jennifer Lee Preyss
May 20, 2011 at 12:20 a.m.
It's been a long, tough road for devoted members and staff of St. Mark's Methodist Church in Victoria. Experiencing through the past decade what many churches continue to experience nationwide - an increasing decline in church attendance and financial support - put the church in a delicate position this past fall to discuss the possibility of closing permanently.
But through the loyal commitment of its followers, including Angela Arnold and Geoffrey Schrimsher, St. Mark's pastor, the Rev. Chuck Smith and Victoria District Superintendent Terrence Hayes, the church decided in April with a 75 percent approval to remain open, with a twist.
"We met in Terrence's office and discussed the possibilities of what would eventually become The Genesis Center," Smith said.
Beginning June 1, St. Mark's will transition to The Genesis Center, Victoria's first-ever community and worship center for Christians. Though it will remain Methodist affiliated, the grounds of the Genesis Center will be devoted to serving area Christian groups of all affiliations, including fledging and start-up churches in need of a space for services, prayer and fellowship.
"We find it exciting because we're breaking out of the mold. It's a new paradigm. We decided if we're not going to close, we need to do something different," said Schrimsher, a member of St. Mark's since 1980.
St. Mark's isn't alone when it comes to making decisions about closing shop, especially since the onset of the economic downturn in 2008. A Faith Communities Today 2010 survey found that 68 percent of American congregations suffered financially from the recession, with nearly 20 percent taking a "big hit." In the past decade, the survey said church financial troubles have doubled.
And even though they're the second largest Protestant denomination, The United Methodist Churches nationwide have seen its congregations decline about 1.01 percent to 7,774,931 members, according to a survey released last February by National Council of Churches. Other substantial membership declines occurred in Lutheran (LCMS and ELCA), Baptist (American Baptist Church and Southern Baptist Convention), Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches.
But Hayes and the remaining members of St. Mark's see the transition to The Genesis Center as a new and innovative beginning for the Methodist church.
"We used to be the singing Methodists, the preaching Methodists. Now, we're the second largest Protestant denomination, and that's all we're known for," Hayes, said. "We hope to plant a new vision."
Schrimsher said he will stay on with the Genesis Center's Administration team and Arnold, a licensed minister, will replace Smith in ministerial duties on Sunday mornings. Once the transition is complete, Smith hopes to relocate to another area Methodist Church community and continue in the ministry.
Hayes said the congregation of about 30 people was initially confused about what would happen to St. Mark's. But as The Genesis Center vision became clearer, excited murmurs began to circle.
A blessing was even handed down from the San Antonio Episcopal Area Bishop Jim Dorff, Hayes said.
"It's going to be an active, vital part of the community," Schrimsher said. "We're hoping to make Christianity a part of your daily life, not just on Sunday mornings."
Included in The Genesis Center redesign is a center for administration, a ministry team consisting of a pastoral team, community programs, ministry, and special training for lay speakers and worship leaders, as well as missions and community outreach.
"My biggest hope is that we do become one of the more missional churches in the community. We've been maintaining (St. Mark's) for so long that we hope (the Genesis Center) will change that," said Arnold, Genesis Center ministry team leader and St. Mark's member for about seven years.
Three smaller congregations, Rushing Wind, City Harvest and a Spanish-language church group, are already using St. Mark's because they do not have a meeting location of their own. After the transition to The Genesis Center, however, these churches may also be joined by other church groups in the area in need of a meeting location.
In addition to providing church groups a space, Schrimsher said The Genesis Center will be seeking partnerships with Victoria College and seeking assistance from college students studying music, business and multimedia technology to assist the Center with continued growth.
Wishing the Center prosperity as he steps down from his post, Smith said, "This is something that's unique for the community. I hope they're so busy, they don't have any more space."