By William J. Ford
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer
They attended a service in the morning, then, instead of heading home on a recent Sunday afternoon, several dozen members of Turner Memorial AME Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, headed to the basement for a little secular fun.
A jazz duo served up tunes and church cooks portioned out shrimp and grits and jambalaya main dishes and bread pudding for dessert. Members and guests from 18 to 88 shared fellowship and fun at the church’s “Jazzy Sunday” event on Sunday, Nov. 2. Jazzy Sunday was designed to give members an opportunity to fellowship outside the sanctuary, but also to offer a way to draw in new members.
Jazz keyboardist Janelle Gill and drummer Mark Prince provided the entertainment at Turner Memorial AME’s Jazzy Sunday event last November in Hyattsville, Maryland.
“The church is where people should go to find out how to solve life’s challenging issues, such as suicide [and] marriage. The key is you have to package the message in a way [that] is relevant to a person’s life today,” said Bishop Phillip O. Thomas, 56, pastor of Highview Christian Fellowship in Fairfax, Virginia. “You must be creative enough to attract people. Most importantly, however, you must know the Lord.”
Churches around the Washington region are using nontraditional activities to give members — and guests they hope to attract — new ways to spend time in church. The Sunday afternoon church dinners of yesteryear have given way to jazz concerts, game nights, Valentine’s Day dances, yoga sessions and book club events.
Church leaders said after the sermons have been delivered, the hymns sung, the offerings collected and the benedictions said, the recreational events offer wholesome activities and positive interactions in a place where godliness is still the order of the day.
“One of the more celebratory events [in the Bible] is when Jesus went to a wedding. We kind of do those events to help people to live and enjoy life,” said the Rev. James L. Graham, 62, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Herndon, Virginia. His church, which has about 2,500 members, hosted a “Jazz & Jeans Night Out” on Saturday, Nov. 15 at the Blue Mountain Café in Leesburg, Virginia.
“These [events] are just done to increase the fellowship among the believers and encourage people to enjoy themselves,” he said. “It is not an aggressive attempt to get new members.”
At Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland, a “Biggest Loser” boot camp, mirrored after the popular NBC television show where contestants exercise, eat nutritious meals and receive coaching to compete for the title and a grand prize, has been popular with members.
But the 10-12 week sessions at Mount Calvary aren’t competitive, according to Natasha Hammond, 43, of Clarksburg, Maryland, who has lost 20 pounds since she started in the program.
“I haven’t [participated] as much as I want because of my job, but I will definitely become more involved,” said Hammond, a certified nurse who tracks the blood pressure and weight of participants.
Besides being a fun way for members to interact, the program encourages healthier living, which is encouraged in the Bible.
Mount Calvary member Alice Barnett, of Silver Spring, Maryland, said members don’t need expensive equipment to exercise. They work out with personal trainer Marsi Fulmer. Recently, Barnett, 66, did push-ups on the church steps.