Statistical realities — declining membership and increasing expenses — have led to a change for congregants of Iola’s United Methodist churches, Calvary, Wesley and Trinity.
Beginning July 1 the churches will be together in a three-point charge under United Methodist organizational protocol, rather than each being a single charge. Then the Rev. Jocelyn Tupper, now in Superior, Neb., will arrive, as will Ed Flener, a lay minister at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.
Exactly how all will occur still is being decided. Mechanics will be considered and tweaked in the weeks ahead.
The change had it genesis when Calvary and Wesley leaders began to consider collaboration about a year ago, said the Rev. Trudy Kenyon Anderson, Wesley’s pastor since 2006. Talks that involved Wesley and Calvary were somewhat happenstance, although Kenyon Anderson and the Rev. Gene McIntosh, at Calvary since 2007, prefer to call it “a God thing.”
Leaders at both churches were discussing stewardship, how to further God’s reach within their churches and the community. In a conversation with Kenyon Anderson, McIntosh said she proposed the two bodies come together for discussions.
Talks quickened in March 2014 when the Wesley Council invited Calvary’s for a conversation. Council members agreed some cooperative effort should be explored. Trinity faithful were not yet involved, but joined before many months.
“Iola’s population is declining,” along with many churches’ memberships, “and fixed costs are increasing,” Kenyon Anderson observed. But, economics weren’t the compelling reason to look for ways for the three churches to gather under one spiritual umbrella.
The core mission of United Methodists, to do God’s bidding and share His word, was fleshed out with an all-encompassing statement: “We are united through Christ Who gives us strength and courage to better serve all persons.”
KENYON ANDERSON and McIntosh said the process was long and complicated, but absent intrigue and infighting. However, Kenyon Anderson allowed while councils at each church bought in, “not everyone (within congregations) is on board.” She and McIntosh think that will change as they become accustomed to what the collaboration means to accomplish.
Joan Gray’s book “Sailboat Church: Helping Your Church Rethink its Mission and Practice” had a role, Kenyon Anderson said. “We needed to seek God’s direction,” McIntosh added. The book was instrumental.
Among metaphors it explores is that a church can be like a rowboat, with goals accomplished by manpower, or, Kenyon Anderson recalled from her reading, “You can drop the oars, hoist sails and let the wind of God’s spirit blow you where you want to go.”
“We talked a lot about what we can to together,” said McIntosh, although “we weren’t talking about being under one roof.” All three churches will remain in he mix.
The three churches have been in Iola continuously between 115 and 155 years, with Wesley having the longest history. Within the new approach they likely will continue to evolve in how to serve members and the area over the next 150 years, Kenyon Anderson said.
While “Sailboat Church” gave challenges and thoughts of how the three churches might move ahead, “we had no plan or model” within the United Methodist organization, McIntosh said. It was left to local leadership, often without the pastors’ input, “to discover what God had for us.”
An outside resource was Ed Kail, whom McIntosh knew from St. Paul Seminary, Kansas City. Kail is an outreach minister and often deals with rural churches.
“I called Ed and he got excited, offered his expertise,” McIntosh said. With much input during a retreat for members of all three churches at Ottawa in January, Kail thought “we were on the right track,” McIntosh said.
The first piece of the new United Methodist presence will be when members from the three churches work together to support a USD 257 summer meals program at Trinity, 228 S. Kentucky. Teams of six people will be required on a rotation from June 1 to Aug. 7.
“They will be mixed groups each day, not six members from one church or another,” Kenyon Anderson said. “We want to get to know each other better,” and what better way than to work side-by-side. The same approach will occur in other community and church efforts.
Specifics for how to utilize the three church buildings for programming and Sunday worship services is yet to be decided.
Matt Stuckey and Lori Cooper, youth leaders at Wesley, will remain.