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Back on the ministry trail

Posted: January 23 2022 at 09:43 PM
Author: Rev. Harriette Cross


Eight members of the CodeRed team (Congregational Development and Redevelopment) hit the road last November to pray with pastors and over potential ministry sites.

After nearly six years on hiatus, representatives from each district of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist church returned to the CodeRed (Congregational Development and Redevelopment Committee) Church Trail, visiting potential new church sites and redevelopment areas across the conference over two days last November.

The itinerary included churches that housed several ministries and empty farm fields that held potential. The group listened to the church's story at each site, prayed with the pastor, and witnessed ministries in action.

"It has been a rewarding experience to restart the annual CodeRed Church Trail," Director of Congregational Development and Redevelopment Rev. Martin Lee said.

The group visited St. Mark UMC and Trinity UMC in the Lake South District. Rev. P. Devon Brown pastors St. Mark, a historic African American congregation in Chatham. The church has played an important part in the history of African Americans in the Northern Illinois Conference. Many prominent pastors and bishops have served the church. Today it faces cultural changes in the community as many members are moving to the south suburbs. The church hopes to continue its history of social action and meet the present community's needs.


The CodeRed Team circles around Rev. Dennis Langdon praying for his church Trinity UMC in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood.

Trinity UMC is located in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood and is led by The Rev. Dennis Langdon. The shrinking congregation takes pride in maintaining its historic building and providing space to local artists.

The tour continued to St. Matthew UMC and Franklin Park UMC in the Lake North District. St. Matthew UMC is located in the area where the former Cabrini Green Homes stood. In a once impoverished community, St. Matthew was a prominent meeting place for the community. Today the church plans to keep serving amid massive gentrification. Pastor Rodney Walker is working on a plan for a new church inside a multi-story building that would include much-needed multi-income housing.

Pastor Jesus Molina serves Franklin Park UMC. He visions an organic multiplication movement. As a licensed local pastor, he mentors several other Lay Missioners to lead new faith communities. Several churches worship in this one building.

In Prairie Central District, the group visited Crossroads UMC in Bolingbrook. This unique church started in 2000, worshipping in a tent. Today Pastor Mike Hickok is working to create a permanent building.

The group prayed over a farm field in Shorewood that organizers are developing into a worship and community space.

The Rev. Fabiola Grandon-Mayer, the district superintendent in the Prairie North District, joined the tour in this western part of the conference. First, they prayed and visited Pastor Heewon Kim at the former Hilltop Ministry Center. Pastor Kim is in a discernment process with Harlem UMC, Evans UMC and New Life UMC.

Next, the group visited Brook Road UMC in Rockford. Rev. Violet Johnicker is leading the congregation to raise awareness of the social justice issues in the community. The church hosts both a Hispanic congregation and an African Swahili community.

Martin Lee said," The Swahili congregation is already gathering between 40-50 people. There is a population of more than 5,000 Swahilionly speaking people in the Rockford area." All three congregations work together in ministry.

The team prayed with Certified Lay Minister Jim Miller who leads East Jordan UMC in Sterling (Prairie South District). Jim Miller has used his skills in Natural Church Development (NCD) to help the church meet the needs of the farm community of the church and provide a community dinner to residents of both Sterling and Polo.

Dekalb Site

The team prayed over 15 acres of farmland in the Prairie South District, future site of a new building for DeKalb First UMC.

The trip ended in the Prairie South District at 15 acres of farmland purchased by DeKalb First United Methodist Church to build a new building. The congregation will be moving out of a downtown building to a space closer to Northern Illinois University and the growing community of DeKalb.

The Rev. Jonathon Crail said, "We are excited to build a facility that is adaptable, flexible and connected to the community. Martin Lee said there are great possibilities and the church is dreaming for the future.

Rev. Crail is also the chairperson of the CodeRed team. "What a blessing to tour churches and locations around the conference that hold so much possibility and potential for impactful ministry as we adapt to the new realities that surround us," said Crail. He went on to say, "I look forward to the new things God is doing among us."

As Martin Lee reflected on the tour, he said, "When I asked the group about what they heard from the visit in one word, it was 'Hope'! Yes, we experienced a sign of hope in the midst of the pandemic, seeing pastors being creative doing ministries in their unique context."

As members of the committee reflected on the ministries that they saw and prayed for, they all had a feeling of hope for the conference’s future. Despite the many challenges of ministry, the pastors and congregations in all areas of the conference are following God's plan and stepping out on faith to develop new and exciting ministries.

Robert Butler, church planter and Lead Pastor of the Center in Itasca, reflected on the trip and said, "As a part of the tour, I was overwhelmed at the possibilities of bringing a little heaven to the neighborhoods we serve. I was reminded of all those saints who came before us and wondered why their dreams faded," Butler said. "I wonder about the churches moving from being the 'sent people of God' to becoming the people of a place. Did that move stifle the mission?"

He went on to say, "I am keenly aware of our responsibility to apprentice, disciple and share God's vision." The theme of the trip was prayer. The group prayed E.M. Bound's Power through Prayer – a prayer to ask the Holy Spirit to work through the people in ministry at each site.

Martin Lee summed up the importance of the trip. "As we all know, without planting new churches, the life span of our denomination will be drastically shorter," he said. "In my opinion, we must keep this in mind even as we face outcries about empty pews in existing congregations. We have to reimagine and refocus on evangelism to reach out to new people, more people, and more diverse people for the kingdom of God."

Eight people participated in the church trail: David Lagos Fonseca, Robert Butler, Harriette Cross, Jonathon Crail, Jarrod Severing, Keri Rainsberger, Victor Melad, and Martin Lee.

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