By: Christa Meland
Osakis United Methodist Church had been serving its central Minnesota community for 144 years and was the first church recorded in Douglas County. But as the church aged, so did its members—and in recent years, fewer than 20 people attended Sunday worship. It also became increasingly difficult to meet the church’s needs, like painting the building—and some traditions, like providing a hot lunch at the church’s annual bazaar, had to be discontinued due to lack of people to prepare it.
Last fall, the congregation made the difficult decision to close the church’s doors, but in doing so, has opened others, ensuring that its legacy will live on.
Osakis UMC’s last worship service took place June 2, but its resources will help spawn new United Methodist congregations and fill needs within its community.
Alan Bolte, the church’s pastor for the past four years, says the church sold its parsonage several years ago, and $61,000 remains from that sale. Ten percent of that sum will go toward helping the surrounding community in some way. Although members hadn’t determined as of mid-July exactly where to donate those funds, options under consideration were a small, nearby United Methodist church, a local food shelf, and a faith-based organization in Alexandria, according to member Judy Jensen.
The remaining $55,000 will go toward congregational development initiatives within the Minnesota Conference. About two-thirds of the roughly $900,000 annual congregational development budget is designated for new church starts, according to Dan Johnson, director of congregational development. There are currently 24 Minnesota churches in their infancy, and first-year conference startup grants average $25,000.
In other words, the gift from Osakis UMC will help launch two new faith communities within the state.
“New faith communities are one of our most promising strategies for reaching new people, cultivating spiritual vitality, and healing a broken world,” says Johnson. “All United Methodist churches participate in this ministry of multiplication through conference apportionments, but these funds provide only half the necessary support. Special gifts from partner churches and legacy gifts from merging and closing churches are critical for creating opportunities of resurrection and new birth.”
Bolte, who recently moved to a new assignment as pastor of Grand Rapids United Methodist Church and ended an eight-year term as the conference’s North Star District superintendent, echoed Johnson.
“I think this is one of our connectional pieces at its best,” says Bolte. “The idea is that one ministry has lived out its life and come to the end of that life cycle. But we can leave a legacy and help another ministry that is starting or is in another place of their growth.”
In addition to fueling new church starts, Osakis UMC also helped three other established Minnesota churches as it was winding down. It donated various furnishings to both Sauk Centre United Methodist Church and Villard United Methodist Church—and Clotho United Methodist Church received Osakis UMC’s pews, baptismal font, electronic piano, chancel chairs, deep freeze, kitchen range, and folding tables and chairs.
Osakis UMC has a strong history of partnering with other churches. For the past four years, the part-time salary allotted for the church’s pastor has gone to Spirit River Community United Methodist Church in Isanti, which itself is just a few years old. (Bolte was already being compensated for his district superintendent position.)
“We’ve definitely had an impact for the kingdom,” says Bolte.
Christa Meland is communications director for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church