'Friendly' church has open door policy in Shelton

Debbie Welch says a feeling of peace and calmness comes over her whenever she enters the sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church of Shelton, off Long Hill Avenue.

“This is my church,” she said. “I love it.”

Welch puts a lot of her energy into her church, from running the women’s group and cooking for church events to cleaning window blinds and wood floors.

The Rev. Dai Hoon Lee, church pastor, is appreciative of Welch’s work and that of other members.

“He’s very gracious,” Welch said of Lee. “When people do little things, he compliments them and thanks them. That’s a good feeling. We’re all volunteers.”

Lee, who’s been church pastor for a little over a year, said he feels a spiritual presence “of our Lord” when he kneels to pray in the sanctuary before the Sunday worship service begins.

He sees his church as “an instrument to propagate the good news of Christ,” and that leads to a sense of hospitality.

“We’re friendly,” Welch said. “We have a lot of fun here.”

A group of “die-hard” church members “will do anything for the church,” she said. “You can ask anyone anything, and they’ll say yes.”

Two weekly services

Services are at 10 a.m. Sundays at the church at 188 Rocky Rest Road, followed by fellowship in the church hall, adult Bible study and Sunday school.

A contemporary worship service that began in July takes place on Sundays at 4:30 p.m. in the church hall.

The service, started by Nicole Misencik, leader of the contemporary worship team, includes guitar music, singing, a short talk, and “praising the Lord.”

The First United Methodist Church has 300 members, and from 70 to 100 people — hailing from Shelton, the Valley and Bridgeport — regularly attend church services.

“We have an older congregation,” Welch said, and some of the retired Methodist pastors who live in nearby Wesley Village preach at the church from time to time.

The new motto of the United Methodist Church is “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” Lee said, and his mission is “to spread the good news of Jesus Christ as much as I can.”

Minister is a native of South Korea

Lee previously served as pastor at churches in Hartford, Staten Island, N.Y., and Verbank, N.Y. He grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and spent his senior year of high school as an exchange student in Arizona from 1969 to 1970.

As an adult, he worked in the business sector as an import/export manager, but later decided to attend the Methodist Theological University in Seoul and then the Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J. He is married with two children.

The Korean Methodist Church is the second largest Protestant congregation in Korea, he said, second only to the Presbyterian Church.

Church was founded in 1890

The church moved to its present location more than three decades ago from a site on Coram Avenue, where it had been since 1890. That building is now used as a Masonic lodge.

First United Methodist Church members worshipped in the church hall on the Rocky Rest Road site until the sanctuary was completed in 1980.

Welch recalls that the church used to host a tomato festival, and the festival conducted a few days after the 9/11 attacks turned out to be the best one ever.

“The community wanted to come together,” she said, and the event included a moment of silence and patriotic readings and songs.

This year, the church resumed its annual carnival in June, and hosts dinners throughout the year, including a fish fry during Lent, a roast beef dinner, and a macaroni-and-cheese dinner.

‘Big ideas’

“It’s a small church, but we have big ideas,” Welch said, and it’s always a challenge to draw younger members.

The church offers Walk to Emmaus, a spiritual weekend for teenagers from Shelton and surrounding towns. “It’s quite a transformation,” she said. “They draw closer to God.”

The women’s group participates in retreats, makes prayer shawls, and conducts fund-raisers such as a summer evening event that featured a flower arranging demonstration, silent auction, guitar music, and food.

Once a month, a group of church members serves and shares a meal at the Spooner House homeless shelter. “Everybody’s got a story,” Welch said.

“Our church is an active participant in the CROP Hunger Walk,” said Lee, and younger members attend the United Methodist ARMY (Action Reach-out Missions by Youth) retreat, where they repair houses and clean up property.

Youth group, Scouts and holidays

The church’s youth group regularly visits with residents at Bishop Wicke Health and Rehabilitation Center.

The church conducts a special Christmas Eve service and participates in ecumenical Thanksgiving and Lenten services. Kathleen Vazquez is the recently hired choir director and organist.

And there’s more activity at the church during the week. Boy Scout Troop 25, Cub Scout Pack 25 and a few Girl Scout troops meet there. Kids Zone, a new day care center not affiliated with the church, will open Nov. 1 in the church building.

Welch encourages people who want more information about the First Methodist Church to attend church events or go to the website at www.umcshelton.org. “Our doors are open,” she said.