Church Finds New Life in Ecumenical Unity
Bellefontaine United Methodist Church held its first class meetings in 1808, built its original worship space—Chapel Hall— in 1855, and by 1950 had over 1,000 members attending services in the North St. Louis County suburb of Bellefontaine Neighbors. In fact, the church added the larger sanctuary in 1964. Like many churches, with cultural and spiritual shifts in their area, by 2015 BUMC had about 60 members in its Sunday worship. Having once housed such a large congregation, Bellefontaine is blessed with a much larger campus than needed for 60 attendees; and yet the bright red brick walls, both inside and out, the fine floors, and large, airy rooms are a testimony to the faithfulness of a congregation whose members have cared for the buildings and grounds most of their lives.
About three years ago that faithfulness brought blessings that Bellefontaine’s members might never have envisioned. Coupled with a new vision for mission and community from Charlotte Abel and Rev. Glen Connoley, Bellefontaine’s pastor of five years, the leadership team worked out a contract with Greater Deliverance Church, a non-denominational church, to rent space in Chapel Hall. Near the end of 2015, Rev. Connoley felt led by the Holy Spirit to move the congregation to use the chapel, though at a different time, to create more of a “community feel” for the worship of the 60 members. Then in October of 2016, God brought blessings again, when Christ Temple Family Church, another non-denominational church, worked out a contract for the use of the vacated Sanctuary.
For this arrangement to work, Rev. Connoley took time preparing the parties involved in two key ways. First, they needed to place the priority of mission and community above individual congregations. Second, an awareness of “misplaced sacredness” as multiple churches share the same space; or as Rev. Connoley put it, “the unity of Body of Christ has to remain more important than our favorite seat and cherished decorations.”
The hard work of the faithful has paid off, and now once again, Bellefontaine United Methodist Church has busy worship spaces on Sunday mornings, and a utilization of its rooms throughout the week as over 250 people use the facilities to worship God and serve the North County community. “But the even greater blessing,” Rev. Connoley said, “is the combined resources of three churches in ministry. Pastor Jones of Greater Deliverance and Pastor Shannon of Christ Temple Family both speak of sharing the building as God using all three churches for Kingdom work.”
Already their cooperative efforts fed over 80 families at Thanksgiving time in 2016, and plans are underway to hold a combined worship service in November of this year to praise, bless and offer to God an even greater ministry this year. Together these congregations have also hosted various music programs by area groups, and health, clothing, and blood drives for the benefit of the surrounding community. Pastor Jones says, “This is clear evidence that together the Body of Christ really can stand. I am looking forward to the continued growth of the Kingdom through our unity.”
In the summer of 2017, BUMC found another unlikely ecumenical partner in The Moses Center Inc, a non-profit youth program that held a 10-hour a day, 5 day a week summer camp where over 60 kids played, created, laughed and ate together, while staying off the streets. This was a true blessing to hard working parents who had no outlet for day-care over the summer months.
“There’s no doubt God has always done great things with BUMC, but with this new life in our building and a renewed focus on Kingdom work between these partners, God has reassured us of what His scripture affirmed all along, that we are, indeed, better together.” Pastor Evelyn Fields of Christ Temple Family agrees, “God has already done good things with this new community, but there is surely even greater to come.”