Free Methodism is back in Bakersfield — California’s ninth largest city — after decades of absence.
While many new churches hide their denominational affiliation, Wellspring Free Methodist Church has highlighted its denominational ties and beliefs since officially launching on Palm Sunday at the Bakersfield Racquet Club.
“We have found that there is a renewed appreciation for churches who are authentic and upfront about who they are. Following the seeker-sensitive movement, many young adults are sensitive to the bait-and-switch methods of church outreach that look ‘cool’ on the outside but offer something completely different on the inside,” said Lead Pastor Josh Fitzpatrick, who has a doctorate of ministry in missional church leadership. “From the get-go, we’ve committed to publicly owning who we are as Free Methodists, and we’ve found that people are really connecting to that authenticity.”
Some churches hide their theological beliefs, but according to the “About” section of Wellspring’s website (wellspringbakersfield.church), “we identify ourselves within the Wesleyan-Holiness theological tradition.” The church describes itself as egalitarian: “Free Methodists believe that women and men are equally called by God to lead God’s church. We also believe in the equal balance of church leadership between pastors and church members. As a result, we strive to find a balance of representation at all levels of our church structure.”
The church’s beliefs are highlighted in a series of videos shared on social media.
“Videos help us tell the story of Wellspring. Pictures are worth 1,000 words, but a video provides a more personal connection to the individuals who make up our church family,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve been intentional about producing videos that highlight different people in our church, in an effort to connect with the widest audience in our community. It means so much more when someone sees a Wellspring video and says, ‘Hey, I know that person.’”
In one video, Wellspring Equipping Director Kate Wallace Nunneley explains, “One of the things I really was attracted to about the Free Methodist Church actually was how unashamedly they were in support of women in leadership.”
Wellspring puts faith into action by partnering with local nonprofits and creating the betterbako.com online hub for Bakersfield organizations and volunteers to work together. In another video, Fitzpatrick shares the church’s “expectation that each one of our members becomes involved and chooses one nonprofit that’s already in existence here in Bakersfield to pour their time and energy into.” Bakersfield resident Robert Austin Smith shares in the same video that he is impressed by Wellspring’s efforts “to build the capacity of all the churches that are right here and all the nonprofits that are right here” in the community.
Fitzpatrick said the church originally planned to meet in a growing suburban residential area, but “after meeting with many young professionals in Bakersfield, we learned that a new momentum was building in the downtown area. We changed our direction based on the people who were connecting with our overall vision for Wellspring, and we are so glad we were flexible enough to accept that change.”