Drew Theological School alums rebuild and rethink the UMC in an era of disaffiliation
August 2023 – Drew Theological School alum Jenn Pick T’10,’24 and spouse Todd Pick T’10 have shown extraordinary resilience and leadership during a time of institutional and connectional changes within The United Methodist Church (UMC).
When three United Methodist churches voted to disaffiliate on the same day in their hometown of Azle/Weatherford, Texas, Revs. Jenn and Todd began an unexpected journey to gather the mourning communities to rebuild and create Revive UMC.
“Todd and I knew there were a lot of United Methodists that wanted to stay United Methodist and be part of an open, affirming, and inclusive church in United Methodism,” said Jenn, who noted that that was not the norm in the Central Texas Annual Conference, which lost nearly half of their churches to disaffiliation.
The pair, who met at a cross cultural trip to Taize, France, while earning their Master of Divinity degrees at Drew, were pastors at First UMC in Azle, Texas. One week after the vote, they were told to leave their appointed pulpit. “It was shocking in its abruptness,” said Jenn. “But that gave us this beautiful gift of being able to spend all of our time and energy planting Revive.”
Jenn and Todd were recently awarded the 2023 Harry Denman Evangelism Award in the Central Texas Annual Conference of the UMC for their work building and co-pastoring Revive.
We sat down with Jenn, who has returned to Drew (virtually) to earn her Doctor of Ministry in the Pilgrimage & Spirituality cohort, to learn more about this inspiring story on the power of resilience in the face of adversity.
Describe your journey launching Revive.
One week after the disaffiliation vote, we gathered a group of 65 people and 20 additional family units online from the three disaffiliating churches in the area with the intention to pray through the upcoming decisions, grieve the loss, and help find other UM churches in the area, even though the closest UMC was over a 25-minute drive away.
We thought the meeting would be heavy on grief work and allowing the gathered people to voice their pain. The spirit in the room was something totally different—it was the spirit of resilient hope moving powerfully within them. This faithful remnant wanted to stay true to their United Methodist roots and show the best of what United Methodism can be. They had lost their buildings, but they wanted to build a church of flesh and bone that focuses on unlimited grace, radical inclusion, and service to and with the community.
Todd and I knew we were being called to a vision that was larger than even we could imagine. The following day, we had a meeting with our district superintendent, who was excited and open to proceeding in creating a new church.
Suddenly, we had three different churches, one with three different styles of worship, coming together—and that’s a lot.
Our next step was forming a community to let people get to know each other around tables —that’s what Jesus did when he wanted us to get together—to learn about each other. We launched Revive UMC one week after that table fellowship. It moved at lightning speed. It was clear God had work for us to do. Though we didn’t have a venue three days before we launched, we didn’t want to lose the momentum of these “strangely warmed” people.
We had faith that the Spirit was going to open a door. At the last minute, our son’s school opened their cafeteria to us. With Todd’s gift as a visual artist, he made the space feel like a place open to human/holy encounter. We had around 100 people for that first jubilant Sunday.
We chartered only two months after we launched, which is absolutely unheard of. Bishop Ruben Saenz led the congregation in their membership vows and announced Todd and I would be appointed to Revive for the next appointment year. I know the Spirit was dancing as She breathed through this gathered congregation taking a leap of faith.
There is still an underlying note of grief, but with that, there is so much joy. So many people have said “I didn’t know church could be like this.” They didn’t realize how much joy they could find when they were allowed to be exactly who God called them to be.
Not having a building has been such a blessing. We have to live being church, not depend on a building to do that work for us. So many people walk around carrying the wounds of church hurt and will not walk into a church building. Creating a place to tabernacle that has no steeple or high bar for entrance has served to show the community all are truly welcome. We exist to be in service to God’s love and neighbor. To date, we have collected about two and a half tons of food for the local food pantry. We volunteer to read to local kindergarteners and help pay school lunch debt. We’re just getting started.
What does the future look like?
We plan semester by semester now. Todd and I are listening to the community and intuiting what comes next. We want to be driven by what the Spirit is leading to work. To do that, we need to be free to adapt and pivot as much as possible.
Did your experiences at Drew inspire your work to plant Revive?
Part of the care of souls that I lived into at Drew helped the decision to start Revive. There is such a deep well of connection at Drew that has and is still forming who I am as a leader of a faith community.
One of the things that really called to me about Drew was the diversity of the faculty and students. I loved how everyone’s story was different from my own. The wealth of experience gathered in one classroom alone at Drew could open my eyes to the extraordinary ways all of our stories weaved into God’s story. I loved being in that environment.
Todd and I are not typical church planters, that was not a calling of ours. What our theological school training has taught us is that we need to be open to the Spirit’s movement. If the Spirit is tugging on you to do something, then follow it because it just might work out. That’s why Todd and I both ended up at Drew.
The Spirit was tugging on us and we followed it—which started this whole beautiful journey.