Featured in the Daily News-Record 6/19/10

RISE Aims To Bridge Gap Between Church, Young Adults

By Tom Mitchell

HARRISONBURG — This summer, a ministry will open in what its leaders feel is a fitting spot: a bar.

On Sept. 12, RISE United Methodist Faith Community, a converted campus ministry, will hold its first service downtown at 10 a.m. in the basement of the Blue Nile Ethiopian Cuisine restaurant. The service christens a mission local RISE leaders hope will reach a public that includes some of the café’s customers.

“We looked around the [Shenandoah] Valley for somewhere to meet and one night we were eating upstairs at the Blue Nile, and we could hear a band playing downstairs, in a room full of young adults,” said Amanda Miller Garber, the ministry’s pastor. “It became apparent this was the perfect place.”

RISE is leasing the Blue Nile’s lower floor from the eatery’s owners for a year at what Garber calls “very affordable” rates. Besides being a cultural and budgetary fit, the downtown diner will serve as a launching pad for an outreach that Garber and 16 others involved in RISE hope will grow.

RISE’s goal is to launch a new faith community with “passion, a call to action and mission,” according to its website. RISE is also part of a broader plan by the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church to plant 250 such faith communities across the state. 

Like A Phoenix

RISE arose from the ashes of the Wesley Foundation, a campus-based ministry of the United Methodist Church that served James Madison University for 60 years. While Garber and her group will continue some of the foundation’s community work, like its mentoring program for area Latino youth and various projects for the hungry and homeless, RISE wants to target what Garber calls the “18 to 30-ish” crowd: young adults she describes as people estranged from churches.

According to Garber, 36, an ebbing tide of 18- to 30-year-olds at church is statistically too stark. Surveys show 80 percent of people older than 20 leave the church and never return, while 50 percent of adults younger than 30 have yet to set foot in any kind of church or other faith-based setting.

“Clearly, there is a gaping hole of young adults under age 40 in our churches and our faith communities and places of worship,” said Garber, a Vinton native and a graduate of the University of Virginia and Duke Divinity School. “A vast majority of our young adults are searching for meaning in their lives, but in so many ways many of our churches have not connected with them.”

The conference opted for the term “faith community” as opposed to “church” in order to avoid alienating young adults soured by past church stints, Garber said.
“A lot of them have had negative experiences in church,” she said. “They admit that they like Jesus, but not ‘church.’ ”

What Garber terms RISE’s “core launch team” consists of herself, ministry assistant Christy Blagg and 15 volunteers, mostly college students. Of the team, only Garber is a full-time employee, with Blagg and worship leader Brent Levy on the payroll as part-time workers. 

Hands Of Jesus

Sunday worship is just part of what RISE hopes to make a hands-on ministry, say supporters.

“Worship is central to faith, but our young people want to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community,” Blagg said.

Levy, 24, a JMU grad, said RISE relates to many of today’s young adults.

“Many 18 to 30s have a deep desire to do good work,” Levy said, pointing out that many JMU students sign up for Alternative Spring Break, an annual springtime program that sends students there to community service during the school’s spring break.

While RISE may eventually move its services, a permanent site is not its primary goal, Garber said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever build a building. We’re not about buildings — we’re about being out in the community.”

RISE Night

For more information about RISE, organizers will host a meeting at 6:30 p.m. on July 27 at the Blue Nile.  

Contact Tom Mitchell at 574-6275 or mitchell@dnronline.com