Five Methodist churches join together
At a time when young adults are losing interest in churches because they seem too old-fashioned and competitive with the church down the road, a new approach has happened locally with the creation of the Haywood Parish – five United Methodist congregations joined together under the leadership of two full-time and one part-time pastor.
“I’m excited about this new model of ministry,” says Rev. David Childers, lead pastor for the parish.
“The key to our success (and I believe for any church’s success) is to turn our focus outward beyond the church walls. Being a Christian isn’t just thinking certain things about Jesus. It is living out God’s love in the way that Jesus taught and modeled.”
Rev. Melissa Lowe, the full-time assistant pastor is enthusiastic as well. “I am excited to see and experience all that the Lord has in store through this new cooperative parish. In the unity of five churches forming the Haywood Parish, I believe that the love of God is displayed in action as we join together to serve our community. The strengths within each congregation can come together to create a powerful witness.”
According to Childers, Beaverdam in Canton, Elizabeth Chapel, Faith, Francis Cove, and Maple Grove United Methodist churches in Waynesville, “will help our smaller congregations combine gifts and resources so we can have a big-church impact while keeping the intimacy and sense of connection that people in small churches value.
“Jesus broke through the barriers that traditionally separated God’s people from everyone else. He expressed love, respect, healing, and forgiveness toward all with a special preference toward people who are poor, broken, rejected, or ignored. Too many Christians have forgotten that.
“We want parish members to see the other churches as partners and colleagues. Each church retains its unique identity and tradition, and at the same time increases our capacity in staffing, financial support, and volunteers.
“As we follow the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit, this spirit of cooperation will enable us to more effectively embody the testimony of Jesus Christ within Haywood County and surrounding areas,” Childers said.
The third member of the pastoral team, Rev. Hugh Russell Jr., served 12 years in pastoral ministry in Iowa, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Georgia prior to accepting a position at the Oconaluftee Job Corps Center in Cherokee where he spent the last 25 years working with disadvantaged and at-risk youth.
Childers points out that the parish is a sign that it is a time for churches to go beyond the patterns of the past and be guided by the Holy Spirit into new creations.
“Our clergy team has something for everyone. Older and younger. Male and female. We have the wisdom of experience as well as the creativity and openness of those who are new in ministry.
We’re all second career pastors who have lived as Christian people in the ‘real world.’ We don’t think alike, preach alike, or have the same ideas about exactly how to follow Jesus – and that’s the beauty of it!
“All of us share the preaching, pastoral care, and administrative responsibilities. We’ll rotate our preaching location each month, so each church gets to experience our different styles and perspectives.
Chuck Francis, a leader at Francis Cove, knows that there are challenges ahead but challenges also bring great opportunities. “We need to look at everything we do and ask if it is God’s will for us. At our first parish-wide meeting it was clear that as a church we must prioritize what we want our preachers and parish to support.
Every church in the new Haywood Parish has activities that ‘we have always done’ and our challenge now is to recognize God’s priorities for the parish, not just ‘our church!’
“Of course I strongly believe that God would want us to feed his lambs as Pastor Hugh Russell preached this past Sunday. We must be willing to change! If we listen to God’s calling, we can flourish as a church and parish. As I looked at the faces of those at the first parish meeting, I saw compassion, and hesitation – fear of the unknown, yet compassion for each church and its ministry.”
Rev. Amy Coles, the Methodist Smoky Mountain District Superintendent, brought the clergy team together.
“I can already see the Holy Spirit at work as the members of these five churches begin to dream about ways that they can work together to make a difference in Haywood County and beyond. There were over 135 persons present for one of our initial parish gatherings. The room was filled with joy and excitement in the gifts that God was bringing together for the ministry of sharing Christ’s love with others,” Coles said.
If a spirit of cooperation appeals to everyone, including younger adults, the future will be filled with exciting ministry.