Church: Chatfield UMC
District: River Valley
Submitted by: Debra Jene Collum
by Christa Meland
Hear the word “pilgrimage,” and most people think of journeying to a far-off place.
Chatfield United Methodist Church is a testament to the fact that a pilgrimage can occur much closer to home. As Pastor Debra Jene Collum points out, a pilgrimage is any sacred journey that blesses both the one taking the journey and the places the journey leads.
This summer, members of the Chatfield congregation embarked on a pilgrimage that involved placing blessing stones around their 2,800-person city and speaking words of blessing and affirmation for the good of the community.
Members made the blessing stones out of cement and items in the church’s craft cabinet—and over the last few months, they have been distributing the stones to all roughly 65 businesses in town, as well as at each of the green spaces and public gathering spaces, including the library and the funeral home. Before placing the stones, church members distributing them have recited a blessing.
Collum, a self-described community organizer, says she strongly believes in asset building and thinks that prevenient grace is an important part of the United Methodist Church. Each summer, she tries to do something that promotes the ministry of the church.
“We came up with the idea of placing stones around the community as a way of saying, ‘We believe that God is present in all the places that we call Chatfield, that Chatfield is a sacred place,’” she says. “This is our home, and we honor the God who is present with us. We also believe that our community is full of blessings that are often overlooked.”
Approximately 97 blessing stones will have been placed throughout Chatfield when the distribution is completed in September.
Collum says that the small city of Chatfield, which now has many empty storefronts, is full of stories about how full its downtown used to be in the 1960s and how many shops it once had. Through the blessing stones ministry, she wanted to remind the people of Chatfield that “no matter how many grocery stores we have or hardware stores or anything else, [the city] is still of sacred worth to God.”
Collum says that all members of the congregation have participated in the ministry in some way, and those who distributed the stones brought back meaningful stories about their experiences. She recounts one teary-eyed new business owner who received the stone after a difficult week and was so grateful to receive support from the church.
The church’s blessing stones ministry didn’t end with the distribution: Chatfield UMC integrated the ministry with its participation in the city’s Western Days festival in early August. Community members were encouraged to walk around the city to see the blessing stones, and the first 24 people who visited the church’s Western Days booth and displayed a photograph of a stone located in a public space received a copy of the newest translation of the New Testament of the Common English Bible.
To the people of Chatfield, the blessing stones pilgrimage is just as meaningful as a journey to a far-off place, because near or far, “God brings us to places beyond our imagination,” says Collum.
Christa Meland is communications director for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church