The First United Methodist Church of Winter Park has grown leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings in 1885. Now, the church may celebrate its 125th year by growing even more. There's a bit of uncertainty with taking on the expansion, but that's what religion is all about, said Senior Pastor Bob Bushong.
"At the core of it is a willingness to risk," he said.
So, as they say, the congregation is thinking of taking a leap of faith. First United Methodist Church of Winter Park (FUMCWP) may take on another campus, on South Street in Orlando. The site, now known as Trinity United Methodist Church, would close and then reopen as a part of FUMCWP. All members of the congregation will vote in December whether or not they want to go forward with the development. Bushong said he feels a lot of enthusiasm from his congregation about the project.
"The contemplated mission in Orlando is an opportunity we're called to," said Donna Sue Armstrong, a member of the church for 46 years. "It's continuing the mission."
And while the congregation seems to like the idea behind the project, the reality of the economy is one hurdle the church might not be able to overcome. An e-mail to members from Bushong in October expressed a major worry about the current deficit in budget — a $144,000 worry. Bushong said he's spoken to the congregation about the budget and addressed the question of how they might accomplish this mission despite the budget shortfall.
"I've pulled out all the stops to be completely honest," he said.
Options to save money are cutting office hours and staff salaries, but Bushong said he doesn't believe he'll have to do that. He said he has faith that they'll be able to come through this with the South Street project still a big possibility. And even with his straightforward approach, he said there's still a great amount of enthusiasm about it.
Member and web designer for the church, Chris Sell, spoke passionately about the subject. As one of the first to hear the idea at a church meeting with Bushong for young adult members, he was immediately excited about it.
"It's expanding our ability to love people," he said. "It's expanding our opportunity to provide some basic needs."
And the ability to reach out to others is one reason Sell said he loves FUMCWP.
"People my age don't want religion for religion's sake — we want an outlet to serve and build relationships," Sell said.
That is why — 125 years later — FUMCWP is still around, said Bushong. It hasn't grown from a tiny congregation gathering in rooms above stores, homes and halls to a robust membership meeting in the impressive campus it is today by living in its humble past.
"We've learned to respect history and tradition, but accept change," said Judy Arnett, director of communications for the church.
Though history is important, Sell said the commitment to change is what has helped FUMCWP thrive.
"We have to not get comfortable … and always be learning how to expand our faith, and not sit still with it," he said.
The church has done that over the years by expanding their campus to meet the growing congregation's needs for space, to expanding the programming for the changing demographics of its members. More children's programs became available as more families joined, along with the option of contemporary style worship and a website with loads of information that visitors can even RSVP for church events on.
And so, the next notch in their timeline of change and growth might be a new campus on South Street. It seems, from the strong words from Sell, and the resulting strong reaction from Bushong — he was moved near to tears listening — their heart might just be in it.
"It's come to us because of our strong heart for community outreach," Bushong said.