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A church of connection
Paintballs, horses used as outreach tools
Check out First United Methodist Church’s paintball-themed JOY Sunday service from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday. The church is at 3101 Colusa Highway, Yuba City.
Four or five Sundays a year, worshippers at First United Methodist Church in Yuba City are in for something a little bit different.
A pastor in armor on horseback, round table discussions with biblical characters and a hot air balloon in the sanctuary likely stick out as memories for parishioners.
But for the Rev. Lois Black and outreach staff, the events known as JOY Sundays fundamentally target connections with people who are searching out spiritual answers in their life, but might be to too timid to ask them or seek out God.
"This is not church as usual, this is a chance to connect," Black said, adding that an open invitation to a more accommodating setting can draw non-worshippers and first-time visitors to church.
"We're trying to get outside of the box, to show the community what we're willing to do to share the love of God," Black said.
JOY (standing for Jesus, Others, You) Sundays are about drawing parallels between modern everyday life and the Gospel, similar to the parables Jesus tells in the Bible, Black said.
The church held its first installment, then known as Fifth Sundays, in the fall of 2000, shortly before Tim Meeker started attending the church.
Meeker, lay leader for five years, said his first experience was unlike anything he had ever seen in a church before. While the events are no longer every fifth Sunday, to maximize efforts and avoid calendar conflicts, Meeker said the fact they are more of a production than a straight sermon intrigues some people.
"It became quite obvious that it was a very positive thing," he said, adding that he eagerly awaits the services and often comes away a bit surprised.
In addition to welcoming newcomers, Meeker said JOY Sundays offer a fellowship setting for parishioners who usually attend separate services, the traditional one at 8:30 a.m. and the more contemporary style at 11 a.m.
Setting aside preferences in worship style to come together can take some getting used to, but Black said most people come to understand and embrace the connection to the church's mission of "Reaching the seeking and growing the convinced."
Mindy Poukish, the church's director of Christian growth, has a big hand in this Sunday's event, leading a group of 12 people from the drama program who will be the stars of the service — and also the only ones getting paint, or anything else, on their clothes.
Working with the worship team, choir, volunteers and audio/video professionals, Black and Poukish said the group will dramatize how we all end up with a little paint on our shirts during life. The key is what people do in response.
"Some things leave a mark on us," Poukish said.
And as the Eeyore doll clinging to the cross on the sanctuary's altar illustrates, not everyone is able to readily deal with those marks on their own.
The shy and often-wandering donkey from "Winnie the Pooh" has a big role in a story that churches use to convey the message. In the story, Eeyore finds himself spinning in a whirlpool on his back. Winnie the Pooh notices Eeyore while crossing a bridge, and the two chat for a moment before Pooh is about to continue on.
Eeyore finally calls up to him, "If it isn't too much trouble ... could you rescue me?"
That message is the foundation of JOY Sundays and other First United Methodist Church outreach events, Black said: "We're supposed to be about — how do we pull each other out of the river?"
For Poukish, taking part in the productions takes on a special meaning, as they connected well with her when she was looking to join an area church after moving back to Yuba-Sutter from the Central Coast.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'Wow, they're willing to get out of their comfort zone and do something like this. This is some place I'd like to be.'"
Spreading around the world
The First United Methodist Church in Yuba City is gearing up for the 49th annual Global Impact Celebration, a three-day event focusing on how people can be the change they want to see in the world.
They keynote speaker is Dr. Hormoz Shariat, former Muslim and founder of Iran Alive Ministries, which broadcasts Christian messages into Iran via satellite.
Shariat, who has been described as the Billy Graham of Iran, and the ministry aim to help Iranians escape government oppression and escape depression and violence through their televisions.
“Iranians are throwing off their past in huge numbers and are ready to turn to the only truth that exists – Jesus Christ,” he said in the Iran Alive newsletter.
The Global Impact Celebration kicks off with a dinner at 6 p.m. Feb. 8, with Shariat joined by Peter Pereira and Travis Carr. Pereira helps the spread of the Gospel in India with Hope for Today, while Carr leads youth teams on projects through Reign Ministries.
Eight alumni from Yuba City’s Methodist church, including Mindy Poukish, have traveled to Europe through Reign Ministries.
New this year for attendees is a canned food project for the Christian Assistance Network at 3 p.m. Feb. 9, preceded by an impact session at 10 a.m.
Feb. 10’s activities include services at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. with Shariat preaching and a lunch to follow at 12:30 p.m.
All events are open to the public.