In March 2015, four churches across the Western North Carolina Conference received inaugural Good Neighbor Awards, provided by the Justice and Reconciliation Team in recognition of each congregation’s efforts to put their church at the center of their community.
Denver UMC and Bethesda Romanian Church of God
Denver United Methodist Church, located in the Lincoln County town of Denver, established a relationship with Bethesda Romanian Church of God many years ago, according to the Rev. Jeff Johnsen, lead pastor of Denver UMC. The church welcomed Bethesda Church in 1999, opening its old sanctuary to the Romanian congregation to use for worship.
The relationship continues, even after Bethesda Church built its own sanctuary a few miles away. In 2002, shortly after Bethesda Church completed its worship space, Denver UMC offered the pews from its old sanctuary to its neighbor church. And in 2007, when Denver UMC completed a Family Life Center, Bethesda Church’s pastor, Ben Bora, asked if Bethesda Church could use the space for a youth conference. By 2009, the churches were hosting “Winterfest,” a nationwide youth conference, each February at Denver UMC’s Family Life Center.
This year’s Winterfest drew seven bands from all over the United States, and Credo TV “streamed” the event live over the Internet. In all, more than 10,000 people in 16 different countries witnessed the event remotely, while more than 500 people attended the event at the church.
Occasional logistical challenges do occur. This year, Denver UMC needed to conduct two funerals on the same February weekend that Bethesda Church hosted Winterfest, which altered band rehearsals and delayed the start of one evening Winterfest broadcast.
Despite those challenges, two worship services occurred simultaneously at Denver UMC on Feb. 15, with Bora leading Winterfest worship in the Family Life Center and Johnsen preaching in the sanctuary of Denver UMC. “It was an amazing Sunday!” Johnsen wrote.
First Hmong and The Vine UMCs
The Vine, a United Methodist congregation, shares a close relationship with First Hmong United Methodist Church of Charlotte. The relationship began in 2005 when the former Kilgo United Methodist Church partnered with First Hmong UMC. “It was and is a beautiful relationship,” wrote the Rev. Mike Harris, pastor of The Vine.
Kilgo UMC shared its facility. Children from both congregations formed a joint Sunday school class. The need for classes and teachers increased. The congregations organized a vacation Bible school.
A few years later, Kilgo UMC merged with another church and re-launched as The Vine. First Hmong UMC also had a new pastor appointed. Despite changes over the years, the congregations “still find they are stronger together than apart,” Harris wrote.
The congregations worship together on several occasions. In particular, they worship together on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, gathering afterward to share a meal that offers a variety of favorites like turkey and home-cooked egg rolls.
They also support one another in missions. For instance, the youth from both congregations serve every first Sunday in the Urban Ministry soup kitchen feeding more than 150 people. Harris and First Hmong UMC pastor Houa Vang meet regularly for prayer and to share ministry and support.
“The Hmong congregation and The Vine congregation are growing, reaching young families, and showing the world what heaven is like, as diverse as we are!” Harris wrote.
Kerr Street UMC, Kingdom Living Ministries, and La Mision
The property at 405 Kerr St. NW in Concord is a busy place, serving as the home for three congregations: La Mision, Kingdom Living Ministries, and Kerr Street United Methodist Church.
The partnership is a result of a revitalization effort begun in 2008. After considering other options, Kerr Street UMC chose to re-mission. Led by the Rev. Jim Hood, the church began efforts to reach its neighbors, including offering a free community meal and opening church facilities for basketball, soccer, Girl Scouts, and more.
Although more people visited the church property, worship attendance didn’t increase as dramatically. The revitalization continued, however, growing out of the community meal.
In 2012, Joshua Gilliam, a Baptist pastor, got involved with the meal ministry. Gilliam, who speaks Spanish, eventually started a Spanish Bible study at the Kerr Street facilities. That study became the core of a Hispanic congregation that met as La Mision, a Baptist congregation in Kannapolis. La Mision began meeting at Kerr Street UMC in 2013.
Last year, Hood and Gilliam met Christopher Bolder, a pastor of Kingdom Living Ministries, a non-denominational African-American congregation seeking a worship space.
Now the original Kerr Street UMC facilities are home to La Mision, which recently aligned with the Anglican Church in North America, as well as Kingdom Living Ministries and the original Kerr Street UMC.
Each congregation remains distinct, but “members visit back and forth, and the partnership has resulted in several joint bi-lingual services, including services at Christmas and Ash Wednesday,” Hood wrote.
Hood also wrote that there is excitement about the future as the congregations continue to learn more about their partnership. “… there is a sense of excitement and anticipation among all three congregations right now as they explore new approaches of what it means to be the Body of Christ in a changing world,” he wrote.
St. John’s UMC and The Iglasia Evangelica Manantial De Vida
In a relationship that began three years ago, St. John’s United Methodist Church shares its Greensboro facility with The Iglasia Evangelica Manantial De Vida, a Latino congregation.
Iglasia Evangelica meets twice a week — Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Members of each congregation attend services led by their partner congregation. Interpreters are provided as needed.
“No matter what language, we know the power of the Holy Spirit,” wrote the Rev. Phyllis K. Coates, pastor of St. John’s UMC. “We are together on anniversaries and revivals. We share in the joyful occasions as well as the sad times, but we are together.”
Besides frequently worshiping together, the congregations also have vacation Bible school together and participate together in Sunday school. A member of Iglasia Evangelica is employed by St. John’s UMC. The pastor of Iglasia Evangelica, the Rev. Yoni Romero, serves as an at-large member of the St. John’s UMC Administrative Council, and an Iglasia Evangelica lay person serves on the Board of Trustees.
Both pastors meet weekly “just to share needs and concerns,” Coates wrote. And “every Sunday morning, the pastor (Romero) and his family come to my office and we share for a moment before service.”
Coates expressed her pride in the St. John’s congregation, writing that the congregation has been “good stewards of what God has blessed us with, our facility. Having two congregations enables us to use the whole facility as our needs require. I see this union as a gateway to more opportunities for both congregations to learn and grow.”