MRC NEWS — And two shall become one.
These are words that are most often associated with the marriage ceremony, but it also describes what happens when churches merge.
At the beginning of 2023, Community UMC of Columbia Heights found itself in the position of numerous other mainline Protestant churches. The congregation was still involved in numerous community missions, but the membership was aging, there were few young families and giving hadn’t rebounded post-COVID. What do you do? Do you hope and pray that the congregation can turn things around or do you consider something new?
Community decided to consider something new. They looked around the area for other UM churches. Faith UMC of St. Anthony Village was in a neighboring community, the congregations had similar values and Faith was a Reconciling Congregation. Faith leadership was approached; they were open to exploring the possibility and talks began. Community decided to put its building on the market to see what might happen. There was interest and at least one prospective buyer wanted it for a worshipping community that didn’t currently have a church home. With a purchase agreement in hand, plus their interim pastor being reassigned and the music director and organist wishing to retire, things began to move quickly!
Te first joint worship service was the end of May and by August, the congregations were ready to vote on the merger. Each congregation voted unanimously to merge. And the two became one!
As with a marriage, next comes the challenge of making the relationship work long-term. Some of the new things that have happened include participating in the Columbia Heights PRIDE festival – Community did this in the past, new volunteers with the Every Meal Weekend Backpack program at Valley View Elementary, a new women’s “social group”, a full choir loft, enough bell ringers to once again use all three octaves of handbells and a much fuller sanctuary on Sunday mornings! Community had a United Women in Faith group that sponsored three annual fundraisers to support their work. Faith didn’t have a UWF group – there are discussions about the future of the Community group.
This is an exciting time for the people of the merged congregations! Similar to a marriage, there will most likely be some “rough patches” to come, but hopefully love and commitment to the mission of the church will allow the relationship to continue to grow. However, the new congregation is still faced with the challenge of other mainline congregations. How do we attract younger members and families? Without figuring this out, in another decade, the congregation may once again be facing a problem where they must ask the question, “What do we do?”