D.C. churches merge, launch new ministries

By Carrie Madren, Special Contributor…

WASHINGTON—Kris Oberdick was in Florida, taking care of her mother in hospice, when she received a package in the mail. The prayer shawl group at Metropolitan Memorial United Methodist Church had sent her a warm, pink shawl to wrap around herself, almost like a long-distance hug.

“I felt comforted knowing that I had that community back home,” Ms. Oberdick recalled. “It made the miles between D.C. and Florida seem like a lot less distance.”

A community garden was established in the spring of 2011 at the St. Luke’s Mission Center campus of Metropolitan UMC in Washington, D.C. Since 2009, Metropolitan has merged with two other churches, starting widespread and diverse forms of outreach in the D.C. area. PHOTO COURTESY METROPOLITAN MEMORIAL UMC

One of the best ways a vital church can reach more people is to create ways for the congregation to support each other. “If you can provide a ministry that the people of the church can take out [into the world], then you’re providing members a way to care for others,” said Ms. Oberdick.

At Metropolitan Memorial, the Rev. Charles Parker, the senior pastor, has noticed an explosion in ministries, and he credits people within the church’s three campuses for starting these new projects. “It feels more like the growth has been more about permission-giving rather than top-down planning,” he said.

Nestled in the heart of Washington, D.C., and a stone’s throw from American University, Metropolitan Memorial UMC includes the campuses of Metropolitan Memorial, St. Luke’s, and Wesley United Methodist churches.

While every local church makes efforts to care for the needs of its own members, one thing that sets this partnership of churches apart is its outreach to the community and the world.

With creativity, passion and enormous vision, members are involved in a wide range of ministries—including St. Luke’s Shelter, Metropolitan House, and the new Campus Kitchen Project at the St. Luke’s Mission Center. Metropolitan Memorial has also partnered with Brighter Day Parish, a cooperative parish in Southeast Washington, D.C. The two churches have been coordinating donations for Brighter Day’s pantry and clothing distribution, resources for Brighter Day’s summer camp, and more.

The sense of untamed possibilities also filters into the worship experiences. The tri-campus church has services in four different styles that attract a diverse group of worshippers each week. In turn, all aspects of the parish have become more diverse and rich. “When we engage in service work and learning opportunities together, we become a richer community overall,” Dr. Parker said.

Metropolitan merged with St. Luke’s UMC in 2009, just as they were forming a cooperative parish with Wesley, which recently became an official merger that had unanimous support from both churches.

The merged congregations are proving that the whole indeed is greater than the sum of its parts.

“There are things we can do as a single church that would have been more challenging as separate churches,” Dr. Parker said. For instance, members of all three campuses went on a mission trip to Nicaragua this year; such a trip would have been less feasible for St. Luke’s or Wesley before.

“It also allows for a more effective administrative and budget structure,” Dr. Parker said. “Rather than three different church councils, boards of trustees and SPRCs, we can do that with single committees, so we use up less of our volunteer resources doing administration and can focus more on actual ministry, which I think is very empowering for everybody,” he said.

One of the ways Ms. Oberdick, who has led the Metropolitan’s Caring Pillar for six years, has helped empower this vital congregation is through a variety of caring ministries, including: care cards, available for anyone to send to individuals who need a lift; a prayer shawl group; Stephen Ministers; Tables of Eight, the visitor ministry; and Care Cats, stuffed-animal cats that become gifts to let people know that someone cares.

Ms. Oberdick even wove a caring element into the annual Easter brunch, which typically serves some 450 parishioners. Last year, they focused on the senior ministry and honored the church’s older members by providing transportation, helping them with the buffet and making them feel special.

Since connections, both new and old, are so important, you might say that having a well-designed website is vital for a vital church. “People—and not just young people—are very quick to ‘Google’ and search,” said Lara Kline, a member of the sharing/evangelism team, for elements they want to include in their life, including church and ways to grow their spiritual life.

As the population shifts, so do the ways in which we find and absorb information, Ms. Kline said, so an engaging Web presence is one important way for a church to live its mission and vision in modern times. “It never will replace face-to-face, but I think an electronic witness is a very real thing in the 21st century,” said Ms. Kline, who has helped shape the church’s new visual identity that includes a new logo, branding, and a new website that features a digital calendar synced to all three campuses.

The D.C. location means a highly international group of worshippers. That diversity calls for a diverse worship experience using music from global cultures, said Pam Rogers, the music director at Wesley. “My goal is to have music that’s representative of people in the congregation, so that we can connect culturally as well as spiritually,” she said. That could include traditional hymns or music in Spanish, German or African traditions. In the past she’s even included reggae, hip-hop, gospel and Caribbean beats.

“No matter what your age or no matter what your background, when you go to church there should be something that inspires you,” Ms. Rogers said.

Ms. Madren is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area. This story first appeared in UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

Special Contributor to UMR

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