By Fred Koenig
You may have heard of Calhoun UMC as being a different kind of church, in that it’s growing at a time when many are fading. One might think that Calhoun UMC is special in some way, and that wouldn’t be wrong, but only in the sense that every church is special. Visit the church, and you’ll find that the differences between it and others are subtle.
Most of the small towns in the area around Calhoun have more closed store fronts than open ones. Yet every few miles there is a United Methodist Church. Like many rural churches, much of the congregation at Calhoun is retirement age. But they aren’t just people who have gone there all their lives.
Iris Pinkston started coming to the church about six years ago.
“I’m a new Methodist,” the 78-year-old said. Her first year at the church the youth did a mission trip to Detroit and she went on her first mission trip as a sponsor. The last of October she took another to Grace Place in Memphis, TN to one of only two United Methodist Churches that are inside the walls of a prison.
On June 29, the church had two baptisms, and had 10 people come forward to reaffirm their faith. The night before the baptisms the church held a fundraiser, in which they sold pork tenderloin sandwiches cooked in a turkey fryer, and auctioned pies.
“We were working so close that if one of us got cut, another one would bleed,” said member Billie VanSlyke.
They raised a total of $4,300. The fundraiser something the church planned when Pastor Margie Briggs was away at Annual Conference. The money was for Briggs’ grandson. The two year old has a serious undiagnosed medical condition. His family has lost their home, and was in the process of moving close to a hospital in Texas where he could receive the necessary treatments. The year before the church had a fundraiser raising more than $2,300 for a Calhoun youth who was involved in a auto accident and received a traumatic brain injury.
“We just rocked the fundraiser, so give yourself a hand,” Billie VanSlyke said during the morning announcements.
“You’re so giving,” Briggs said. “This is a praying church. This church always shows me that you don’t have to be big to do big things for God.”
Gene Banahan joined the United Methodist Church in 1964, but he hadn’t been back since about 1965. His neighbor, Steve, kept telling him about what a friendly, generous church Calhoun is, so Gene and his wife Donna decided to give it a try. It lived up to what Steve had been saying.
“This church is a friendly community that helps one another, with a lot of strong supporters like Billie,” he said. “And Margie is very intent on helping and supporting her flock.”
Although the Banahans were invited by a neighbor, Calhoun isn’t a neighborhood church for them. They live near Lone Jack, about an hour away. The old church is filled with many people who are retirement age, but relatively new to the church. Asked why they drive past other churches to go to Calhoun UMC, and many reference the loving, accepting congregation that welcomes all into their church family. Others mention Briggs’ leadership, and her preaching that draws them into a closer walk with God in their daily lives. Briggs talks passionately about God love and acceptance, but she doesn’t forego accountability. Even during the prayer for the children’s message, the adults aren’t let off the hook.
“God help us that we may not take one step that we wouldn’t want these little ones to follow,” Briggs prayed.
Patty Clark was drawn to the church by the love shown to her and her family. “Everyone here has always been so loving and accepting,” she said.
Both Clark and the Banahans reaffirmed their baptisms on June 29. Rev. Sally Haynes from First UMC Blue Springs was present to do the baptisms. “I wanted to come here and see this church, because Margie brags on you all the time, and talks about your faith in a way that is compelling and true,” Haynes said.
Haynes preached from Paul’s letter to Corinthians, in which Paul stated it doesn’t matter who baptizes you.
Even though the church had been a whirlwind of activity the night before selling pork tenderloins, there was a carry-in dinner in the basement following the Sunday morning worship service to celebrate the baptisms.
Although a special day, having a big round of baptisms isn’t unusual for the church. Briggs started filling in at Calhoun UMC in 2006. Since then the church has had 13 letters of transfers, 19 reaffirmations, and 42 baptisms. On November 2 Missouri Conference Director of Pastoral Excellence Karen Hayden will be visiting the church to do 10 more baptisms and 2 reaffirmations. This one is young families with eight children from 1 month to 13 years in age. November 9 will be Confirmation Sunday in which seven youth will be confirmed.