Westphalia pastor redefines church growth
BY MELISSA LAUBER
The sermon was over. The music had stopped. The invitation to the altar echoed as the benediction was pronounced and people began filing out of the sanctuary.
“The worship had ended. But God wasn’t done,” said the Rev. Tim West. A woman and her friend had approached his wife. One of them wanted to devote her life to Christ, the other was interested in joining the church.
It was officially a time in between services, but West called the people remaining together and they prayed. At Westphalia UMC in Upper Marlboro, this is the way the Spirit works, and this is the way the church grows – one relationship, one everyday miracle, at a time.
Westphalia UMC is a church on the rise. The new $5.8 million red and white concrete building literally rises up out of the Southern Maryland landscape, announcing that God is in the community.
In May, the congregation consecrated the new building, which seats 600 in the sanctuary and 350 in the fellowship hall. Classrooms and office space are still works in progress, which the congregation intends to pay for as cash become available.
During the building of its new space, the church met at a nearby elementary school, where they drew 350 each Sunday in worship. In their new building, 450 now gather.
West is sure part of it is curiosity. People want to see the interior. But it also doesn’t surprise him that the community is flocking to the church. The area around the church is growing and significantly more growth is projected.
But the church has designed itself into an organization that recognizes and meets the needs of the community. “If someone hears about a need in the community, they bring it to the church and it the church is in a position to address it that need, they do so, or they pass it along to another nearby church that can.
“Relevance and effectiveness,” are the keystones by which everything is measured, West said. “We don’t like empty spaces or wastes of time.”
He recruits lay people who are gifted and feel a passion for a certain ministry and sets them loose. Expectations are nearly always surpassed and preconceived boundaries fall away.
“If a person is gifted in outreach, they will do those kinds of ministries with excellence, precision, decency and in order, which will in turn invite people in. It inspires others. We stay within the gifts of who we are, knowing that God brings the increase,” West said.
In living and programming to be consistent with the church vision to “engage disciples though ministry to serve and grow God’s kingdom,” lives are being transformed as never before. Marriages are growing stronger, addictions are being overcome, parents are become more responsible, people are increasing their daily devotion to God, West reported.
These transformations have not gone unnoticed. At the annual session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference in May, West was awarded the denomination’s Harry Denman Award for Evangelism.
Commenting on the award, the Rev. Ianther Mills, superintendent of the Washington East District, noted that West has consistently grown Westphalia UMC in his 14 years as pastor, bringing in more than 300 people on profession of faith and making it the second largest attended African American church in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.
Mills noted that West has a vision to reach the least, lost and learned. “He encourages all he meet and disciples to be on the reach for God – reaching up to praise, out to serve, down to lift and within to change,” she said.
West cried when he shared news of the award with his congregation.
“I’m not an award person,” he said. “I’m still a little floored. I don’t label myself an evangelist. I love God, I love God’s people and ministry is my passion,” he said.
Every Sunday, when he rises to preach, West said, he is reminded of how the Lord has blessed him.
“I don’t know how to articulate it,” he said. “I was the little boy who was teased. I was the little boy who would never amount to anything. When I was in high school getting ready to become a man, I just wanted to live an average life and do enough to get by. Then the Lord called me, I answered and my life changed.”
While recognized as a strong and spirited preacher in whom the Scripture comes to life, he is also recognized as a dedicated husband to his wife, Stephanie, of 20 years and parent to their daughters, Ashley and Alexander. In addition, West is most noted among his peers and parishioners for his commitment to the community.
That commitment, he noted, stems back to when his two daughters were younger and he met with one of their preschool teachers. The teacher, who had lived near Westphalia all her life, was surprised to learn that West was a preacher and even more surprised to learn that there was a church nearby, a church that had been there for 40 years.
“She just didn’t believe it,” he said.
There was a fence around the church, a kind of gate in front of it, West remembered. “They thought they put the gate there to stop people from coming in. In reality, they stopped themselves from coming out,” he said.
Since then, it has been his ministry, and that of Westphalia, to tear down the fences that might separate people from God.
“When all is said and done,” West concluded, “I just love God and love God’s people. I don’t see how we can go wrong with that.”