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Published: Sunday, 10/25/2009

A new church for a new era: The Village is for people who gave up on religion, not God

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The Rev. Cheri Holdridge has spent years preparing for Sunday's opening of the Village Church, a joint project of the United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ. The Rev. Cheri Holdridge has spent years preparing for Sunday's opening of the Village Church, a joint project of the United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ.
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The Rev. Cheri Holdridge spent the past year visiting local churches and, all too often, discovering what not to do.

“It's amazing to me how out of touch we are with non-churched people,” she said. “Sadly, a lot of churches have lost their ability to see beyond themselves and translate the message to reach people.”

On many of her church visits, Ms. Holdridge felt ignored or unwelcome. Some pastors put her and her family on the spot by asking visitors to stand up during the service. Too many ministers spoke in religious jargon. Sermons were often too long. Music tended to be boring.

These are lessons that helped refine Ms. Holdridge's vision for the Village, a new start-up church that will hold its first official Sunday service at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.

In an unusual arrangement, the Village is a joint project of two Protestant denominations: the United Methodist Church, in which Ms. Holdridge has been ordained for 17 years, and the United Church of Christ.

Its home is a former restaurant in the Colony shopping center on Monroe Street, not far from Toledo Hospital. The once-bustling strip mall has been virtually empty in recent years. The 3,000 square feet of space that is being transformed into the Village has sat vacant for five years and previously housed the Colony Restaurant, Pancho's Mexican Restaurant, and the Doctor's Inn.

Ms. Holdridge's office is in a former barber shop and the children's ministry is next door in a bright yellow storefront adorned with colorful artwork and signs that say “Dream” and “Create.”

The Village is located in a renovated section of the Colony shopping center on Monroe Street. The Village is located in a renovated section of the Colony shopping center on Monroe Street.
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The Village's main meeting room looks very un-churchlike.

It has a large U-shaped bar, a beer cooler, and booths left over from its restaurant days (the bar and cooler will be used for coffee and creamers). There are a few short rows of chairs and a low stage laden with drums, amplifiers, and a microphone with which Ms. Holdridge will preach.

Two large flat-screen TVs are mounted on the walls to show videos and song lyrics.

“We are going for the coffee house feel,” Ms. Holdridge said.

Although you won't find an altar, a cross, or a pew, the religious nature of the gathering space is evident in the brightly painted signs proclaiming the Village's vision statement: “Follow Jesus, Change the World.”

“After we accomplish that, we'll get back to you,” Ms. Holdridge said with a laugh. “Hey, a vision statement is supposed to be bold.”

The room accommodates about 100 people for a service.

Some of the booths are across the bar from where the pastor will preach, which will appeal to people who like some extra space, Ms. Holdridge said.

She said she began “dreaming” of this new church about three years ago.

Trained as a church planter by the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church 15 years ago, Ms. Holdridge gained valuable experience when she was assigned to “restart” the struggling Central United Methodist in 1999, which is now renting space in Collingwood Presbyterian Church.

When she asked the United Methodist conference for permission to start a new church, the initial response was “no.”

That prompted her to approach the United Church of Christ, which agreed to support her efforts.

Ms. Holdridge said headquarters changed its mind after realizing her dedication to the Village and seeing that she already had arranged some funding.

She is glad to be affiliated with two different Christian groups.

“Having two denominations meets the values of the Village. It shows openness and cooperation,” Ms. Holdridge said. “And people who are disenfranchised with organized religion are intrigued. They see that we're different, we're diverse, we think outside the box.”

Despite a limited budget, Ms. Holdridge has managed to get the church off the ground by utilizing her extensive connections, calling on friends with special skills to help.

She has enlisted volunteers from churches throughout Ohio to help plan, paint, and renovate the new space.

Ms. Holdridge said one of her main talents is connecting people to meet needs.

“I network like other people breathe oxygen,” she said.

Nationally known church designer Kim Miller of Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, has been a consultant for the Village and brought a team of volunteers to Toledo earlier this month to paint and spruce up the site.

Another example of the pastor's networking success is the help provided by Earnest Hatfield, a 77-year-old retired maintenance man from Toledo who attended Central United Methodist when Ms. Holdridge was the pastor.

He has been doing odd jobs around the building, including shortening the electrical cords on a row of hanging lamps earlier this week.

“I got tired of watching squirrels run up and down the trees,” Mr. Hatfield said with a laugh.

The Village held three preview services this month to get ready for tomorrow's grand opening, with about 30 to 40 people attending each service.

Ms. Holdridge also has been using her networking skills to spread the word through Facebook, the online social Web site. Her posts keep people updated on the Village's progress and upcoming events.

If enough people are drawn to the Village's progressive outlook and spirituality and its non-traditional, 21st century approach to worship, Ms. Holdridge plans to hold extra services.

She does not want to expand the leased facility or buy real estate.

“We want to focus on connecting people and serving the community. It's about ministry, not mortar. Too many churches get buried by mortgages. We want to be flexible,” she said.

The Village Church, 3992 Monroe St., will meet at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow. More information is available by calling 419.297.5205 or online at villageohio.org.

Contact David Yonke at:dyonke@theblade.comor 419-724-6154.



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