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Congregants say amen to evening service

RANSOMVILLE -- The Rev. Bill Lowery Jr. is always looking for ways to connect people with Jesus.

For Lowery, pastor of Ransomville Free Methodist Church, that has meant breaking down the barriers that prevent people from connecting to God in a world filled with busy schedules, e-mail and the Internet.

So Lowery, who writes an online blog and posts some of his sermons on the church's Web site, has led the 130-year-old congregation in starting a casual Saturday evening service called iWorship 5:07.

The new service is designed to give the church room to grow and to give people who couldn't -- or wouldn't -- attend the traditional Sunday morning worship a different option.

"What we're trying to communicate, and I think what others are trying to communicate, is that worship is something you can do regardless of whether it's Sunday morning or not," Lowery said. "It's something that can make a transformation within your life."

Lowery and Associate Pastor Greg Harp have led the Saturday services -- which begin at 5:07 p.m. -- since September.

In the months since, the service has attracted about 40 regular attendees -- including young families and older teenagers. The Sunday morning services attract about 160.

Lowery said the Saturday evening services can be more convenient for young families or those who work on Sundays.

While Catholic churches throughout the region have had a long history of celebrating Mass on Saturdays, few Protestant churches in Niagara County offer that option.

Lowery said he was always interested in how many people celebrated Mass on Saturdays at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church just down the road from Ransomville Free Methodist.

"The place is packed with the very same type of young families, 22 to 35 years old," Lowery said. "Some of the Protestant churches that I talked to said, 'Well, it doesn't really work for us.' I said, 'How can it not work if it's the same type of people?' "

The weekly service at Ransomville Free Methodist is more casual than Sunday mornings -- Lowery said he will typically wear jeans Saturday evening but sticks to dress pants on Sundays -- but it offers the same sermons and the same music as Sunday mornings.

"We really felt welcome there," said Lynn Conrad, a Wheatfield resident who is raising 10 biological and foster children with her husband, Bill. "It's come as you are. You don't have to worry about getting your kids all dressed up or if they're making noise."

Lowery describes both services as a type of "blended worship," with a mix of traditional and contemporary elements. At the same service, he said, you might hear a traditional hymn or see a movie clip that illustrates scripture.

Jen Thompson, a medical billing specialist in Youngstown, grew up attending Ransomville Free Methodist and got married there. But she said she later grew apart from the church.

When Thompson and her husband, Walt, decided last year they wanted to become active again, they found the Saturday evening service the perfect fit. "I guess we just are not morning people," Thompson said. "We just like Saturday nights better. It fits into our schedule better. It's just easier for us to attend. We also like it better because we're more laid-back and we liked the casualness of it."

Lowery said the Saturday service has also allowed the church to grow without having to expand its facilities. But more importantly, Lowery said, it allows Ransomville Free Methodist to address its mission -- to connect people to God.

And the unusual name for iWorship 5:07? Well, Lowery said, it didn't come from scripture.

Part of it was about targeting a generation that can sometimes spend more time with their iPods than with their faith.

"We wanted to let people know and convey the idea that it was just a little bit different. That's why the 5:07 was there," Lowery said. "I've had people search the scriptures and say, 'Pastor, I can't find the spiritual significance to 5:07,' and there isn't any."

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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