By: Christa Meland
At first glance, it might seem that Christ United Methodist Church and new church start The Beloved have little in common.
Christ UMC in Maplewood has been around since 1885. The Beloved just launched as a United Methodist faith community. Christ is an older congregation whose members are mostly senior citizens. The Beloved is a younger congregation with an average age of 27. Christ’s worship services are more traditional. The Beloved’s are more contemporary.
But despite these differences, the two congregations have formed and nurtured a unique partnership that has facilitated growth and a newfound vitality for both of them.
It all started last summer. Not long after Rev. Rachael Warner was appointed to Christ UMC, the congregation learned about a new multicultural, intergenerational, and non-denominational church plant that needed a place to worship while it prepared for a launch.
Warner met with Shawn Moore, founding pastor of the church start, and realized their values aligned. Members of Christ UMC had been wanting to connect with the church’s increasingly diverse neighborhood and make a difference in the lives of nearby families; they also wanted to welcome more children so they could re-start their long-dormant Sunday School program.
The leadership teams of the two congregations decided to create a covenant for a partnership that would allow The Beloved to worship in the building and receive ongoing support from Christ UMC. The partnership has well exceeded the expectations of all involved.
The Beloved: Then and now
Moore—who grew up at Park Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, spent four years in the Navy, and started thinking about planting a church after coming back from a 2007 reconciliation trip to South Africa—launched a non-denominational faith community called St. Paul Mosaic in spring 2009. It first met in a community center gymnasium, then later in another church building. When Moore experienced a call to full-time vocational ministry, he felt that God was calling him back to United Methodism. He’s now a certified candidate for ministry, and Mosaic—which recently changed its name to The Beloved—is now a United Methodist church start.
Moore said The Beloved has a Wesleyan theology and is based on the “EPIC model”—education that teaches the Gospel of Jesus to people of all learning styles, participation from people of all ages and backgrounds, iconic in that people are connected to images that move them to think beyond themselves, and culturally competent in our increasingly diverse world. The Beloved also focuses on being missional and reaching out to people in the community through things like back-to-school barbecues and giveaways and by handing out cold water to passersby on warm summer days.
In early November, the two faith communities worshiped in the same building for the first time. Many members from each congregation participated in the other group’s service. Between the services, the two groups had a potluck breakfast while children from both churches met for Sunday School. Their involvement and support for each other has only grown stronger since then. The groups continue to have a joint Sunday School, and every fifth week of the month (during the months that have five weeks), they have a potluck breakfast and a joint worship service that incorporates both contemporary and traditional elements.
“The best part is that they genuinely like each other and are learning from each other,” said Warner, whose congregation is committed to helping The Beloved grow and thrive. Christ UMC had a clean-up day and filled two dumpsters to make space for a Sunday school room and create storage space for The Beloved. They renovated an old classroom to create an office for Moore. New ovens and stoves were bought to make the kitchen better equipped for The Beloved’s youth program on Wednesday nights. Christ and The Beloved together created a community garden.
Infusing new life and energy
Moore said those involved with The Beloved—who number in the 20s (and growing)—have enjoyed interacting with members of Christ UMC, and vice versa.
“Our people are beginning to learn the idea of what it means to be part of a church culture,” he said. “When you’re really young, you kind of live a transient lifestyle. Being able to see consistency and commitment to church life has been good.”
Meanwhile, members of Christ UMC have learned about what it means to be a church that’s multicultural and “emergent,” which Moore explains as “building relationships with people where they are.” Joint worship services combine Christ’s choir and hymns with The Beloved’s band and modern music—including hip hop.
Warner said the partnership has infused Christ UMC with a new energy—and put it on a growth trajectory. Young people in the community are visiting and finding the church relevant. Five new members joined in May, more than the number that had become members in any recent calendar year, and a new member class for September was comprised of mostly young adults. Worship attendance has increased 25 percent year-over-year and now sits at about 65.
“We are stronger and better equipped to share the Gospel as partners than either of us was or would be on our own,” she said.
Jill Vaughn, a 33-year-old who’s heavily involved with The Beloved, agrees.
“The thing I would say has been most beneficial for me is being able to engage with older adults, who have lived longer than I have and who have been in church longer than I have, and learn from their faith and their life stories,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if somebody is 80 or 25—you can connect with them no matter the age. The thing you have in common with them is Jesus.”
The Beloved had its first preview worship service on Sept. 21. Moore hopes to continue to grow the church start and eventually plant satellite churches. He would also like to open a community development center where the arts and spirituality come together.
“I think what The Beloved is doing is innovative,” Vaughn said. “Some people within my age range don’t want traditional. I love going to Christ’s service and listening to the organ and singing the hymns. I also like the praise band . . . We have a whole bunch of minds coming together.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church