By Donald Wittkowski
Making no attempt to sugarcoat her opinion, Melissa Doyle-Waid bluntly declared that church can be boring at times.
This is the same Melissa Doyle-Waid who serves as pastor of the United Methodist Church in Sea Isle City.
Standing before her parishioners during Easter services, she told them that church sermons rooted in the rigid traditions of centuries ago are “boring people to death.”
Hoping to make church more appealing and relevant to young people, United Methodist will experiment with outdoor services this summer that combine contemporary music with dance and theater.
“Instead of long, drawn-out services, we’ll be using music and dance to tell the story,” Doyle-Waid said in an interview.
United Methodist will collaborate with Seaville United Methodist Church for the outdoor services. They will be held every Saturday at 6 p.m., starting June 23, in the parking lot or on the front lawn of United Methodist at 4102 Central Ave.
Doyle-Waid noted that the outdoor services are the church’s way of thinking “out of the box.” She emphasized that they are intended to be entertaining, breaking from the “boring” approach that too often discourages young people from going to church in the first place.
“I think one of the issues people have with church is it is boring,” she explained. “One of the things, I think, is a problem with church in general, we have things that are a million years old and we don’t want to throw them out.”
Young people, in particular, may view traditional church services and hymns as being too stodgy or stern for them, she said. But at the same time, churches must find ways to attract younger parishioners in order to survive, she added.
“The bottom line is, if we don’t engage younger people the Methodist church will not continue to exist,” the 47-year-old pastor said.
Last summer, United Methodist Church opened a teen-oriented coffeehouse to expand its reach among young people. The Matt’s 18:20 coffeehouse was the idea of Doyle-Waid’s daughter, Abby Waid, a 20-year-old student at Stockton University.
The church isn’t using the coffeehouse to recruit teenagers as congregants or to give them sermons. It is simply a place where mostly young people can socialize and enjoy entertainment in an atmosphere free of alcohol or drugs, Doyle-Waid said.
“We’re not trying to proselytize. We’re not trying to convert anybody,” she said. “We’re just trying to give them a place that’s safe.”
The coffeehouse is returning for its second summer season starting Memorial Day weekend and will be open on weekends until Labor Day. It will feature karaoke music and open mic nights.
Its name is inspired by the biblical verse Matthew 18:20, when Jesus says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Doyle-Waid said the coffeehouse gives teenagers an alternative to hanging out on Sea Isle’s beaches or Promenade at night and possibly getting into trouble. In the past two years, the city has been clamping down on underage drinking and rowdy teen behavior on the beaches and Promenade.
United Methodist has worked with the local business community and city officials to make the coffeehouse a success. Doyle-Waid pointed out that Mayor Leonard Desiderio showed up on opening day last year and bought everyone a round of coffee. Tom McQuillen, who was named Sea Isle’s new police chief in March, was a regular at the coffeehouse last year.
“The community has been really supportive,” Doyle-Waid said.
The next challenge for United Methodist is make the church itself – and the services – more inviting for young people. The outdoor services this summer will be a key part of that effort.
Doyle-Waid will call on her husband, Travis Waid, who sings and plays guitar, and the rest of her family to provide entertainment during the outdoor services.
Her daughter Abby will choreograph the skits. Her 17-year-old daughter, Gabrielle, a junior at Ocean City High School, is a singer and theater performer. Her 16-year-old son, Micah, a sophomore at Ocean City High School, plays saxophone and is also an audio expert who will serve as soundman for the outdoor services.
Youth With A Mission, an interdenominational missionary organization, will make an appearance at United Methodist over the summer to take part in an outdoor service, Doyle-Waid said. YWAM uses sports camps, drama, musical events and performance art to spread the Christian faith across the world.
United Methodist Church will also work with America’s Keswick, a Christian ministry based in Whiting, Ocean County, that helps people recover from addiction.
Doyle-Waid said today’s young people are committing suicide at a higher rate than ever before. She believes the church can become an outlet to restore their faith in God and help them overcome depression and other emotional problems that lead to suicide.
“They are committing suicide at a higher rate. It’s likely because they don’t have any faith,” she said.