October 01, 2015

The Missouri Conference has started making a tradition of having the entire staff step away from their desks once or twice a year and go out together to make personal connections to the local churches that they serve. Previous excursions have included St. Louis and Kansas City. On September 3 the staff made a quick tour of a sample of churches in north-central Missouri.

The first stop was Clarence UMC, which happened to be the home church of Missouri Conference Clergy Benefits Administrator Trudy McManus. Her parents helped lead the tour. The historic building is the same design as Asbury UMC in St. Louis.

The sanctuary in Clarence has a fresh feel. What started out as a move to replace the carpet in 2011 ended up being a full sanctuary remodel that was just completed this summer. Post-sanctuary remodel, Rev. Delbert Earlywine preached the first sermon back clean-shaven. It was the first time anyone in the congregation had ever seen him without a beard.

“There was some nervousness about the change, so my message was that although I looked different, it was still me, and although the sanctuary looked different, it is still where we worship, and we could accept it with grace,” Earlywine said.

The church has some experience with change. They built an adjoining gymnasium in 2003, and did a thorough basement remodel in 2011. When the organ broke down, it was replaced with a new one for $35,000. The former organist left an estate gift of $40,000 for maintenance and repairs on the stained glass windows.

The upgrades add up, but the congregation likes to stay debt-free. “Everything you see here is paid for,” said John Wood.

The upgrades haven’t just benefited people within the church. The gymnasium is used by scout groups, exercise classes and others outside the church.

“We keep the doors open to the community,” Earlywine said.

Earlywine is very focused on engaging the community, and meeting people where they are.

“I know what grace is, because I have been prodigal, I have been redeemed, and I have been brought back into the fold,” Earlywine said.

Clarence UMC hosts a Kid Zone after school program on Wednesday, when they take care of about 80 children for two hours after school, serving them a full meal. The church supports mission projects like Imagine No Malaria, Haiti Clean Water Project, PET and Heifer Project International.

“Anyone will help anybody here,” Ruth Wood said.

The next stop was Macon UMC. Macon shares a pianist an organist with Clarence. They play for the 8:30 service in Macon, and the 10:30 service in Clarence. Macon also has contemporary worship services at 11 a.m. When the contemporary worship service is going on in the family life center, the children’s church is taking place in the sanctuary.

“We have a constant rotation of helpers ready to step forward,” said Rev. Meghan Riegerix, Youth Director at Macon UMC “People are willing to try new things, and get their hands dirty.”

The church is putting a focus on children and youth. In the past year the youth group has increased in size from about seven to about 18.

Macon UMC is the home church of Scott Burdin, Missouri Conference director of core camping. He recalls when the contemporary service at the church was just being launched.

“When the contemporary service started 13 years ago, there were 12 of us in there, and that’s counting the preacher and everyone in the band,” he said.

Now the contemporary service averages 100 people per week, and is larger than the traditional service.

Macon, with a population of 5,500, is a metropolis compared to Clarence at about 800. But it is still tied closely to rural Missouri. The start date of the local school was pushed back to accommodate people attending the Missouri State Fair.

The next stop was Trinity UMC in Moberly. Moberly was the biggest town of the tour, with a population of about 14,000. It is also home to two other United Methodist Churches, West Park and Jefferson Avenue.

Trinity UMC is about to begin a major sanctuary renovation.

“It’s just like when you go to sell a house, if you want it to appeal to younger people, you have to make some upgrades,” said Rev. Katie Nix.

Pink carpet that is showing some wear will be replacing with dark carpet tiles. The choir loft is being removed and the choir will move down to be more on the same level as the congregation. The theater-style fold-down seats are being replaced with chairs that can be interlocked in rows, or moved around for different configurations.

The sanctuary won’t be filled with chairs initially. Plenty will be set up for the current congregation size, and more will be added as the congregation grows. Radiators will be removed as the HVAC is upgraded, and the enormous commercial air conditioner on the roof will be replaced with five residential-sized air conditioners.

The church has recently purchased two houses, and now owns the entire city block where it is located.

Nix sees potential in developing some special needs ministries in the church, something both her and her husband have experience doing.

She sees it as significant that her baby will be the last to be baptized in the sanctuary in its current state.

“Our goal to have this church be here for future generations,” she said.

The final stop was Pleasant Grove UMC in Hatton. The original building was erected in 1854 and built largely of native materials.

The present church building was dedicated in 1869 and remained largely unchanged until 1954 when the church was remodeled by digging a basement under it in order to add Sunday School rooms and a kitchen. In May, 1980, the congregation built an educational addition attached to the south side of the church. In the spring of 1983, Pleasant Grove congregation built a parsonage across the road from the church for its minister.

Hatton is an unincorporated community, and does not have an official population. The nearest town is Auxvasse, which is 8 miles away and has a population of about 1,000. Some people come to the church from Centralia or Fulton, or even Jefferson City. Many young people who grew up in the church either remain in the community, or commute back to the church from where they live.

The church has a contemporary worship service at 8:30 a.m. and a traditional at 11 a.m. Sunday school happens in the time in between, and there are five active adult Sunday school classes.

“Our Sunday school attendance is sometimes larger than the worship attendance at our biggest worship service,” said Rev. Rebecca Mulford.

Recently a yoga class for a new Women’s Health Group had 15 women participating the first day it started – three of whom had never been to the church before.

A Kids For Jesus after school program on Wednesdays hosts 85-95 children a week, and gives them a hot meal while running a program that is similar to Vacation Bible School. A school bus drops the children off at the church.

When other nearby churches of different denominations have closed, Pleasant Grove UMC took in people from different denominations. This has resulted in a church that is more of a community church, than touting its specific denomination.

“We don’t use Methodist hymnals in worship, which was a big adjustment for me when I was first appointed here,” Mulford said.

The Missouri Methodists will continue to bring reports from future staff tours through this Connecting Where You Are feature.