'The Gathering' offers transformative
experiences for young adults

by the Rev. Rachel Gilmore

The Rev. Rachel Gilmore is pastor of The Gathering in Virginia Beach.

In the summer of 2009, I arrived in Virginia Beach to start my first appointment as a Provisional Elder. My appointment was slightly unorthodox: I was being called by God and the Virginia Conference to plant a new faith community for young adults with the help of Courthouse Community United Methodist Church, the Norfolk District, and the Church Development Team. The Rev. Fran Cooper had a vision for reaching young adults in the Tidewater area and her church served as fertile ground to begin this new ministry.

At the start, there were 10 young adults who were active in a small group at Courthouse Community UMC, but by September there were 40 young adults involved with four weekly small groups. God was moving in this new faith community, which was named “The Gathering” United Methodist Church, and we held our first monthly worship service in November 2009.

"The Gathering" offers coffee mugs and bags
of coffee beans as welcoming gifts.

As the community grew, we decided to move our Sunday morning worship services from Courthouse Community UMC to a local performing arts center in the heart of Virginia Beach. We launched our public worship service in that new venue on Sept.12, 2010, and had 132 in attendance.

While worship attendance has dipped to around 90 people a week, there are weeks when we have 50-70 people attend a small group. This demonstrates a principle deep at the heart of our ministry: the Wesleyan model of small group formation and accountability is crucial in the discipleship process.

We began by offering small groups that targeted young adults in various stages of life. For instance, the YUMs were Young Un-Married adults, while the YAMs were Young Adult Marrieds and the Pregs and Babes were couples who were expecting a child or had recently given birth.

This helped us draw in more interested young adults who were in a particular life-stage before we offered more curriculum-based small groups. Currently, there are seven small groups that meet weekly, one that meets bimonthly and two that meet monthly.

How are we drawing in young adults in their 20s and 30s? By offering a variety of service opportunities and fellowship opportunities. We volunteer at Heart Havens, we helped to sponsor and build a Habitat for Humanity house, we hosted a Bulgarian missionary, raised money for Nothing but Nets malaria prevention campaign and hosted a Christmas party with free books and pizza for elementary school kids in a lower income neighborhood.

What do our fellowship events look like? We had Halloween murder mystery parties, “Worship at the Beach,” “Chick Flick” movie nights and “Gathering Guys” events at local sports bars or baseball games.

Watching football at a local sports bar served as a
fellowship event for young adults attending "The Gathering."

I used to think a young adult was a single college student or young professional aged 18-25, but at The Gathering, we’ve realized that a young adult isn’t defined by age or whether or not they have kids, but by the way they see life. Young adults are curious about faith, but cautious about becoming overly committed to something too soon.

Young adults are serious about volunteerism and outreach work while spending a substantial amount of their income at Starbucks or on an active social life.

Young adults are longing for a place to belong and serve, but are not necessarily drawn to a traditional church setting. So, at The Gathering, I’ve preached a sermon on foot washing while washing the feet of others in a kiddie pool. We’ve broken tiles to make mosaic crosses in worship. We write letters to God after listening to the sermon. We sing modern songs and ancient hymns to modern tunes. We celebrate Communion every week and pray the “Lord’s Prayer,” but I wear jeans with my clerical collar.

In the last four months we have rejoiced in two adult baptisms and an infant baptism as we see the Holy Spirit continue to move in this faith community. We’ve rejoiced as some amazing individuals in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s have joined us for worship and found a place to connect and participate in this youthful church. The leadership team at The Gathering also formulated our vision statement: “Gathered together, empowered by Christ, transforming the world.”

So, what’s in store for The Gathering? More small groups, more leadership training for our committed core team, more outreach projects, more emergent worship and more excitement as we see how God is making All Things New.

— The Rev. Rachel Gilmore is pastor of The Gathering in Virginia Beach


The Cross and Flame is a registered trademark, and the use is supervised by the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) of The United Methodist Church. Permission to use the Cross and Flame must be obtained from the GCFA, Attn: Legal Department, PO Box 340029, Nashville, TN 37203-0029; phone 615-369-2334; fax 615-369-2330

Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

The Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church
10330 Staples Mill Road, Glen Allen, VA 23060
P.O. Box 5606, Glen Allen, VA 23058-5606
(804) 521-1100
Click here for directions to the Center