By: Christa Meland
Part of Centennial United Methodist Church’s vision is to connect with every child, youth, and adult within a five-mile radius of the church. A couple of years ago, prompted by the Missional Church Consultation Initiative, the Roseville congregation was discerning how God was calling members to reach new people. At the same time, it was taking a hard look at its Sunday evening contemporary service, The Well, which had great music and a strong core group but wasn’t growing.
So when conference leaders asked church leaders if they would be willing to consider an absorption merger with St. Anthony Park United Methodist Church—located 4.9 miles away—they knew it was something they needed to explore.
“The challenge of every protestant is to figure out how to do church differently,” said Rev. Whitney Sheridan. “We have to redefine what we offer the community and try new things to stay relevant.”
Two become one
Since 1889, St. Anthony Park has helped people of all ages grow in their faith, but the St. Paul church had been declining in recent years and was averaging just 40 in worship attendance. Financial struggles were also making it harder to keep the doors open.
Last year, the people of Centennial and St. Anthony Park began exploring the idea of combining, with St. Anthony Park becoming a second campus of Centennial. They had joint meetings, prayed about next steps, and dreamed together as they got to know each other.
On Jan. 24, both congregations separately voted on their intent to merge and are in the process of completing legal paperwork.
“This is a really big step,” said Sheridan, who will be the pastor at the St. Anthony Park campus. “We’re taking on a new identity. It’s scary but we’re learning a lot about trusting in God’s vision and God’s call in our lives. I’m so excited to see the fruits of that.”
On May 15, Pentecost Sunday, the two congregations had a single joint worship service at Centennial and, afterward, members did a prayer walk to the St. Anthony Park campus—symbolizing the new path they’re taking together.
The following week, St. Anthony Park had its last worship service as a separate congregation, and the Well also had its last service. After renovating the St. Anthony Park building this summer, Centennial will launch a contemporary service there in late fall or early winter.
“This was a way of saying, ‘we’re in this together and stepping into a new life,’” said Sheridan.
Between 40 and 50 people, some from Centennial and some from St. Anthony Park, are on a launch team that’s preparing for the second campus. In addition to worshiping at the new campus, they will participate in weekly training sessions on leadership, evangelism, and United Methodism—and they will meet in small groups that additional people from the community will be invited to join even before worship launches later this year.
The launch team will also plan and lead various community events throughout the summer to make connections with new people—including monthly movies and activities in a park located a block from the new campus.
After renovations at the new campus are completed, the initial focuses will be on three things that Centennial already holds close to its heart: excellent worship, strong children’s ministry, and community outreach.
Hopes and dreams
Randy Oelschlager, a 25-year member of Centennial who had a deep love for the Well service, is a member of the launch team. He believes the timing of the invitation to consider merging with St. Anthony Park was no coincidence.
“As we were praying over the future of the Well community and how we reach out and become more than what we are, the opportunity to combine with another congregation that was struggling with its own difficulties of moving forward just seemed like such a perfect fit,” he said. “It was meant to be. It was like God was right there listening and walking with us.”
Oelschlager’s greatest hope is that by bringing a contemporary service to an area that doesn’t currently have one, new community members will come to know Christ in new ways.
“I am so excited to bring new people in to share that passion and excitement for God, the community, and the world,” he said.
Wendy Rahn, who has been a member of St. Anthony Park UMC for more than a decade, is also part of the launch team. She looks forward to being part of a rebirth for a place she holds near and dear.
“I’m hopeful that the new style of worship can draw people back to the church or draw people for the first time,” she said. “I dream that we will have enough voices singing during worship that they can be heard throughout the neighborhood, a Sunday School program that’s going strong, and a church that’s part of the neighborhood conversation.”
Meanwhile, Sheridan is already pondering how the new site will change Centennial’s culture and inspire it to continue to try other new things.
“What else is God calling us to do?” she said. “God is moving and working and calling us to keep dreaming. I can’t wait to have this win under our belt and then use the momentum to do the next big thing.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church