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Young pastor juggles many responsibilities


This is the seventh installment of a yearlong series that will follow newly appointed United Methodist clergy as they begin their ministry.

7:00 A.M. EST Feb. 16, 2011 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The Rev. William Brewer sings and directs the choir at Aldergate UMC in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. UMNS photos by Clay Kisker.
The Rev. William Brewer sings and directs the choir at Aldergate UMC in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. UMNS photos by Clay Kisker. View in Photo Gallery

At an age when many people are trying to “find themselves,” one young man has found himself leading two churches. At 25, the Rev. William Brewer is the youngest full-time clergy member in the East Ohio Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Brewer is associate pastor of Aldersgate and senior pastor of Maple Heights United Methodist churches, near Cleveland. It might require the energy of someone so young to juggle all of Brewer’s responsibilities. In addition to his pastoral duties, he also leads music, playing the organ and directing two choirs.

Being pastor at two congregations fresh out of seminary is a daunting task. An additional challenge is that one of Brewer’s churches, Maple Heights, is a cross-racial appointment to a mostly white congregation. Brewer is African American.

Maple Heights is a 60-year-old church with many long-time members. Though the congregation is predominantly white, the neighborhood around the church is now 60 percent African-American, mostly single-mother households.

“I think the biggest challenge I have at Maple Heights,” Brewer says, “is helping the congregation to realize we’re no longer living in the 1950s and that the community around them, in particular the age demographic and the racial demographic, has changed dramatically since then.”

However, Brewer believes the congregation is “ready and willing to do whatever possible to get themselves back up again and be a beacon of light for the community.”

Cross-racial appointments can be stressful for both the pastor and the congregation. But Brewer doesn’t think race plays a big role in his ministry.

“I hope that it doesn’t matter for them, that they’re just seeing a young clergy person coming in, wanting to enliven things, help make a difference,” he says.

Barbara Dark, a Maple Heights member since 1951, agrees. “We all are excited to have young, new blood in the church. Everybody just likes him; they look forward to coming and hearing him on Sundays.”

‘His words were my words’

Like many of the residents around his Maple Heights church, Brewer was raised by a single mother outside Washington, D.C. He played piano and sang at age 3 and preached his first sermon at 12.

“At the age of 8, I sensed my calling to the ministry,” he recalls. “Being that young, I wasn’t quite sure whether it was pastoral or music ministry.”

Friends called him “Rev” or “Brother Brewer” in high school and college.

Brewer attended Oberlin College in Ohio, with a major in music and a minor in religion. In 2005, at age 20, he decided to become a pastor.

He grew up Roman Catholic, but became United Methodist after studying the denomination’s founder, John Wesley.

“I felt as though his words were my words,” Brewer says.

Brewer quotes Wesley heavily throughout his sermons because he feels the message is still relevant.

He sometimes wishes “The United Methodist Church could see things through the eyes of John Wesley, the way he did, more than 200 years ago. It was all about revival, all about revitalizing the community, bringing energy.”

Brewer cites Wesley’s sermon “A Scripture Way to Salvation” as his favorite. He acknowledges that it might be unusual for such a young pastor to be struck by centuries-old sermons.

“Some people might think, ‘How can a 25-year-old relate to someone back way more than 200 years ago?’ I think that’s why there’s a lot of older mannerisms about me rather than younger.”

“He has a youthful presence, but he has an old soul,” asserts Brewer’s wife, Patrice.

Age gap

Brewer would like to see more than just his own youthful presence in his churches’ pews on Sunday. Of Maple Heights’ 130 members, he says, “The average age is 69. I’m probably the youngest person there.”

Brewer believes the way to reach young people is through social media. To him, the popularity of Twitter and Facebook is evidence that young people long for community. He’d love to send devotions via text messaging.

Raised Catholic, Brewer joined The United Methodist Church after studying the denomination’s founder, John Wesley. He cites Wesley’s sermon “A Scripture Way to Salvation” as his favorite.
Raised Catholic, Brewer joined The United Methodist
Church after studying the denomination’s founder, John
Wesley. He cites Wesley’s sermon “A Scripture Way to
Salvation” as his favorite. View in Photo Gallery

“Our style of worship needs to change dramatically,” he contends. “Traditional worship is fine, but if we have a good healthy blend of traditional and contemporary, that would definitely draw … a younger generation to keep the church going and have some sense of commitment to wanting to belong in the church.”

Evelyn Goodson of Aldersgate United Methodist says, “I’ve been a member here for 42 years. Most of the people here are senior citizens. They don’t have a whole lot of young people here. What they need is something to entice them to come.”

Of her young pastor, Goodson adds, “He’s just wonderful. He’s easy to talk to. He listens to what you say. People just love him.”

That sentiment extends to Maple Heights as well.

Stephanie Thompson, Maple Heights’ youth ministry coordinator, says, “I think Rev. Brewer rocks! There (are) generational, cultural, lots of different challenges that he faces, but I think he’s up to the task.”

While some appreciate the energy a young pastor can bring, Brewer has encountered a few who may hold his age against him.

“I have felt some opposition in both congregations,” he admits. “I guess they equate young pastor with, ‘OK, we’re going to bring in all these new ideas, more young people and what we’ve built up over the years … the way we do things will just fall by the wayside.’ Which is not really true. Helping the older parishioners see that, with new ideas in this day and time, our church can once again flourish.”

To others who may find themselves in a church with different ethnicity or age gap, Brewer advises, “Don’t let anyone discourage you. You can bring different ideas of how to do worship, about music, about the general flow of worship. We all have different and new things, I think, that the congregation should be willing to try.”

*Butler is editor of young adult content for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn. Gwen Kisker, a video producer in Pittsburgh, contributed to this report.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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