|Tailgaters promote 'First and Ten' for Jesus|
First United Methodist Church members and
Carolina Panther football fans attend the First and Ten worship service
held just blocks away from the stadium.
UMNS photos by Heidi Robinson.
By Heidi Robinson*
Nov. 20, 2008 | CHARLOTTE, N.C. (UMNS)
It's a chilly Sunday morning in autumn, and the Rev. Ann Self is in a
parking lot near the stadium awaiting kickoff at today's Carolina
The Rev. Ann Self and musician Michael Chorba lead the service Sunday
mornings before home games for the Carolina Panthers.
"I have an entire box of toe-warmers if we need them, especially for
the children," Self says as she carries another tub of supplies toward
her tailgating site.
Does First United Methodist Church of Charlotte know that Self is spending part of her Sabbath at an NFL game?
This year, the church launched its "First and Ten" ministry to
provide tailgate worship services on football Sundays at the corner of
Morehead and College streets, amidst a sea of sports fans.
"We have to be about following the movement of God’s grace, wherever
that might take us," says Self, who serves as minister of congregational
development for her church.
She recalls the inspiration for the service. "My family was on the
way to a college football game and, as we walked toward the game, we saw
all sorts of products promoted from cell phones to tobacco products to
men’s razors. And I thought, why can’t the church do that?"
The United Methodist Foundation of the Western North Carolina
Conference provided a grant to pay for a tent, portable pews, tables,
equipment and other tailgating paraphernalia. Church members help with
the service and also serve up tailgating food. Many walk to the stadium
from the church's campus, located about eight blocks away in the heart
of an urban renewal area.
"The service is called First and Ten because we are First United
Methodist of Charlotte, and our service here starts at 10," says Michael
Chorba, a bank employee during the week and musician at today's
Addressing changing needs
The tailgate provides both worship and outreach experiences for about
50 members attending from the Charlotte church, in addition to any
guests who might wander along.
"The church is about being in relationship with people," says Self.
"This gives us an opportunity to plant a little seed of faith … in a
simple fun way. We are responding to the changing needs of the area we
Among the tailgate fans are Pete and Phyllis Johnson, both wearing
Panther-turquoise shirts with the words "First and Ten" in bold letters.
Kaitlyn Roberts of First United Methodist Church gives Jack Branden, 5, a special game-day look.
"We go to the Panther games … which are on Sundays. This is the best
of both worlds," he says. "The idea is to bring the church to the
Church leader Phyllis Johnson likes the outdoor sanctuary and the
tailgate's ability to reach out to people in the community. "Some of the
folks we meet today might not be comfortable walking through the doors
of the church, but they can approach us here," she says.
On this particular Sunday, the sounds of worship music join a chorus
of tailgating noises in the parking lot as Pastor Self delivers a
message infused with football themes, especially appealing to this crowd
and children from Sunday school.
"Who are the people in your life who are on your front line?" she
asks, addressing a semi-circle of families near the tent. "Who protects
you from things coming your way … or those who go before you to make a
As the service draws to close, containers filled with barbecue
sandwiches, hamburgers and quesadillas arrive to complete the tailgate
"The chicken tenders always go first," says a volunteer as he helps set up a buffet-style feast.
A family passing by on the sidewalk stops to read the church's welcome banner.
"This is the first NFL game for our family," says Beth Koster, mother
of two boys. "There is a lot of negative outside the game … drinking
alcohol and things that you don’t want your kids to see. When we saw the
church over here, we thought there is someplace positive our family can
While many church members serve food, others mingle with football fans in the community and invite them to church.
"Would you all like some beads?" asks sixth-grader Katie Ingram,
holding more than a dozen strings of party beads. "We use the giveaway
gifts to make friends and let people know the church cares about them."
Insulated can coolers bearing the church's name are also handed out.
Members say they want people at the game to know that—win or lose and
whether it's football season or not—another team awaits them.
"These folks may find one day in the future that they need support or
they need some help," says Johnson. "We want them to have our name and
to know where they can come to find it."
*Robinson is a freelance producer based in Winston-Salem, N.C.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
Football Sunday School
United Methodist youth raise $830,000 for the hungry
Minnesota bishop makes Christmas Eve football game opportunity for evangelism
United Methodist Man Plays College Football at 44
Profile: Dan Reeves
First United Methodist Church
Western North Carolina Conference
Board of Discipleship