The Epworth League
February 25, 2020
Young adults, particularly single ones, rarely find their way to the pew and when they do, often the church is not quite sure what to do with them. It is a conundrum that weighs heavily on the minds of religious researchers and church leaders alike. How do we make space for young adults to feel welcomed and valued? How do we provide discipleship and leadership opportunities for millennials or the rising gen Z, not to mention offer space for community?
These questions were on Pastor Katie Eichler’s mind, too. As an Associate Pastor at St. Mark’s UMC in Houston, TX these questions impacted her church and how they approached the answers would influence their future.
For some time, Katie had been thinking about her Methodist History class at Perkins Seminary and a post-Civil War movement called the Epworth League, which provided discipleship experiences and leadership development opportunities for young adults. “I realized we had nothing similar in place,” Katie shared. “Then, one morning I woke up with a fully fleshed-out vision for how this could work in Houston.”
But Katie let the idea sit. She didn’t explore it for two years. Then, a former youth student met her for coffee and confessed she was so lonely, she was coming to church to be around other people. She had her dream job and a lovely apartment, but no social life, and suddenly Katie knew she was no longer at liberty to keep sitting on the idea. She had to act, and the Epworth League would be her blueprint.
In 1889, the Epworth League was founded as a young adult association for Methodists aged 18 to 35. Within ten years membership had grown to nearly 2 million people, with participants across the United States and Canada. Even though the Methodist Episcopal Church was still divided between the north and south, the Epworth League’s young members wanted to be together, so they were. They developed leaders, participated in mission activities, engaged in social justice efforts, had curriculum designed for their members, and even hosted conventions with tens of thousands of attendees.
From this blueprint, Katie developed a modern version of the Epworth League, complete with a League Night where all participants could come together to worship, small groups with specialized curriculum, social activities, and mission opportunities. She launched with a team representing nearly ten local congregations, because she believed in the power of connection and she wanted to use the entire city of Houston as a palette for ministry. To achieve a critical mass, she decided to form partnerships, which alleviated the stress of one church trying to tackle such a massive project alone and amplified the number of young adults who could be reached.
Now, the Epworth League is under the umbrella ministry of FAM Houston and successfully reaching young adults each week. It is a ministry that has gained considerable attention since its first meeting this summer and it continues to blossom. When TMF Area Representative Leah Taylor sat down with the clergy at St. Mark’s UMC it was the first thing that came up in conversation and when she met with the TSU Wesley Foundation leader it came up again. Even though it had just launched, she kept hearing about this ministry and how many young people were involved in it. “I simply must applaud Katie for taking something from the past and making it applicable today,” Leah shared. “I am so grateful for her creative thinking. I believe what is truly important about the Epworth League is that it acknowledges and addresses the gap we have in the church in terms of who we engage with curriculum, leadership, and planning.”
Through her work with TMF, Leah not only hears ministry stories that are as vibrant as the Epworth League’s, but she has the chance to connect the leaders who are responsible for bringing those ideas to life with others who are doing complementary work and could be conversation partners.
As leaders, like Katie, forge ahead with blueprints, both new and old, TMF is grateful to walk beside them, making connections, and listening to dreams that blossom into ministries.
If you would like to speak with a TMF Area Representative like Leah Taylor, visit our website here.
Photos taken by Lawrence Knox.