‘We want to reach more people, more diverse people, and more younger people’—The Strategic Plan for the Oklahoma Conference
By Holly McCray
|Pastor Gary Holdeman baptizes a girl by immersion at Guymon-Victory Memorial UMC.
|Gary Holdeman speaks to children in Victory's third service.
Pour out your Holy Spirit, to bless this gift of water and those who receive it.*
The third worship service begins at 12:30 p.m. each Sunday at Guymon’s Victory Memorial United Methodist Church. On Jan. 22, the baptismal pool had been filled with warm water, and fresh water was in the bowl of the baptismal font.
Both were used as 18 people, mostly adults, were baptized during that service in the Oklahoma Panhandle church. Pastor Gary Holdeman said 35 new church members were received. Even attendance hit a high-water mark: 90 worshippers.
Victory’s third worship service is conducted in Spanish.
For more than 50 percent of Guymon’s residents, Spanish is their first language, said Rev. Holdeman, citing Census statistics.
January’s watershed affirms the church’s effective ministry in that community. Volunteer Jesse Gonzalez, a certified UM lay pastor, preaches and leads the ministry, assisted by Ivan Lorenzo, also a volunteer leader.
Lorenzo is a barber, and Gonzalez works in management. They pool ideas to communicate with a variety of people. Christian music plays on the radio in Lorenzo’s barbershop, and posters promote Victory church’s programming. Gonzalez helps new city residents find housing.
A few years ago, a separate UM Hispanic church closed in Guymon, and a remnant began meeting at the Gonzalez home.
Soon the few swelled to about 20 people, and Jesse Gonzalez reached out for help. "I’m a new Christian. I just came to know the Lord in 2005," he explained.
He contacted Victory’s associate pastor, Barry Bennett, who became his mentor, and the group began meeting in a large Sunday School room. "At the church, I could go find a pastor if I had questions," said Gonzalez. And the majority Caucasian congregation "nourished us."
Bible study evolved into worship in a full classroom. A time of healing became discipling, Gonzalez described.
"We need to move them if we want them to grow," Holdeman declared after he was appointed senior pastor in 2011.
So the group moved to a fellowship hall, with features including a stage, kitchen, video screen, and the baptistery. In this setting, more conducive to worship, "they started getting excited about things," Holdeman said. "There are lots of young families and kids."
High school students are stepping up to help with the worship music. Mariana Gonzalez, Jesse’s wife, leads a women’s faith study each Wednesday and visits incarcerated women on Mondays.
We are all one in Christ Jesus. With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you as members of the family of Christ.*
Victory UMC’s commitment to Hispanic ministry extends well beyond providing spaces.
When people become church members, they join Victory Memorial, not the Hispanic service, Holdeman pointed out. "We are trying to build an identity that we are all one church. We are building a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood that we should have."
Two Sunday morning worship services draw mainly Caucasian worshippers. The third service addresses the language barrier. In 2011, total worship attendance averaged 296 people. Fluent in both languages, Hispanic children attend the English-language Sunday School.
"The kids now are very equipped to go outside the walls and talk about Jesus in both languages," said Gonzalez.
"We are trying to begin more mixing of the three congregations—8:45, 10:50, and 12:30—to become more of a reality visually as well," Holdeman said. A recent Groundhog Day dinner reflected that goal.
Holdeman said the Hispanic outreach is fully supported by the church budget. Gonzalez and Lorenzo attended a recent evangelism conference in Nashville, Tenn., supported by funds from the church’s Continuing Education budget, paired with scholarships from the Foundation for Evangelism, which is affiliated with the UM General Board of Discipleship. The evangelism training included a Spanish-language component.
Revs. Holdeman and Bennett preach in the third service when invited. A translator assists Holdeman, and Bennett is mastering Spanish, requiring little help during his sermons. The two clergymen always preside at Communion.
"Barry can do the whole ritual in Spanish," Holdeman said.
Members of the household of God, I commend these persons to your love and care. Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love.*
Holdeman said he has been a pastor some 40 years, but "I had never baptized 18 people at once."
For the January celebration, many of them preferred immersion, so special robes with weighted hems were ordered. Holdeman conducted that ritual, and Bennett did the sprinkling. They also prayed over Gonzalez.
The lay pastor had taught the people about baptism and church membership, about privileges and responsibilities. "It’s important for you to take the vows and feel that you are part of the church. It is home," he told them.
"Seeing how many people were taking that step of faith" blessed him in turn at the special service.
Additional leadership that day was by Pastor Eric Estrada and a praise band from Vida en Abundancia UMC at Laverne. A potluck dinner followed the three-hour service.
"It takes a while to baptize 18 people, bring 35 into membership, have celebratory worship, and serve Holy Communion," Holdeman said, and then joked, "I was wrinkly from the knees down for two days."
Also Jan. 22, Victory church welcomed three new young families—12 people—at its 10:50 service.
"God is active, moving, stirring the waters. We respond to this activity and we are changed," Bennett said later. "When you see other lives changed by God, you find grace anew. Grace begets grace. These new Christians have not only empowered me, but they have empowered the church to move ever more boldly forward in the work of the Kingdom."
The Holy Spirit work within you, that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.*
(*from The Baptismal Covenant services, The United Methodist Hymnal)