VERO BEACH – When the Reverend Clifford Melvin, newly named senior pastor of Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church, said he wants to attract younger people to his congregation, he does mean young.
Never mind scripture: with these newest members, he is going to have to start with the ABC’s.
Melvin has set his sights on opening the island’s first preschool this fall.
“Our number-one priority is attracting younger families,” he said. “The congregation realizes that they’re aging. My hope for the church is that we can begin outreaching to young families in this community.”
Among those Melvin first ran the preschool by were the teachers and parents at Beachland Elementary.
He said there was definite interest. The church preschool would accept children from not just its congregation but from the public at large.
Melvin comes from churches whose preschools did indeed draw in parents.
One had a school as well, and it was the students there that gave Melvin a contemporary nickname that has stuck: “P.C.,” short for Pastor Cliff.
Already, the church office has Post-it notes referring to him by those initials.
“That’s what the kids called me at the last two places I’ve been,” he said.
In fact, he is concerned with social justice issues, “p.c.” or otherwise, particularly in helping the poor.
Not that his predecessor didn’t have a bit of political correctness surrounding her appointment. The Rev. Dawn Reichard was the church’s first woman to serve as full-time pastor. She has moved on to a congregation in Winter Haven.
Melvin said the Vero Beach congregation has recently partnered with Harvest Food Outreach, and intends to continue its work with the Homeless Family Shelter and the Source, both important charities on the Vero Beach mainland.
“People forget how much poverty there is here,” he said. “This is really a have-and-have-not community. I’m just glad this church has really stepped up over the last few years in terms of its willingness to be engaged in outreach charity.”
By contrast, his last two posts were in established churches where he led large staffs with multiple pastors, and as many as 3,000 members, as compared to Vero Beach’s church, with only 300.
Despite being in communities with large populations in retirement – St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor, north of Clearwater, both churches still managed to attract young families – key to the continued growth of the church.
Palm Harbor has a private school attached and both it and Pasadena have pre-schools.
At Beachland Elementary, he was on more than just a recruitment mission for the church.
When he asked about mentoring programs, and learned they were eager for volunteers, he signed up on the spot.
Today, he mentors a fourth grade boy. Last Saturday, they went bowling along with one of his other buddies in his class, then headed to the beach to play in the waves. Then they all got an ice cream cone at Cravings.
“They just loved it,” said Melvin.