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More united than ever before

Posted: March 16 2023 at 02:23 PM
Author: Kimberley Larsen, Communications Assistant, United Methodist Church of Geneva

More united than ever before: Tri-City Methodist group is reconnecting the connection

The Tri-City area of Illinois, comprising the cities of St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia, has come to be seen as a community in and of itself over the years. The cities share a history of being three of the oldest in Illinois, they share borders featuring the Fox River, and have similar population sizes. Since 2020, for area United Methodists, this joint community has taken on new connection in the form of the Tri-City Methodists: a trio of churches – Baker Memorial United Methodist Church of St. Charles, the United Methodist Church of Geneva (UMCG), and Batavia United Methodist Church.

Tri City Methodist Service Sanctuary

Congregants from all three congregations participate in communion at a joint worship service

The pastors serving these churches have informally collaborated for the past three years. “Our group started as a clergy support group helping us through the pandemic. We met on Zoom weekly to talk about how our ministry and how we, as clergy, were doing. We shared ideas for health teams, and ideas for worship and activities,” explained Pastor Lisa Telomen, associate pastor at UMCG. This group quickly saw the benefits of this new connection and how the United Methodist value of “connectionalism” could be fostered among the three churches, benefitting them in numerous ways.  The group has now worked together to take turns hosting joint worship services and outreach events, children and youth educational and social events, as well as supporting some of their common missions.

This collaboration lines up perfectly with the United Methodist values; to be Methodist is to be connectional. United Methodist leaders often speak of the denomination as "the connection." This concept has been central to United Methodism from its beginning. Today, our denomination continues to be organized in a "connectional" system, which "enables us to carry out our mission in unity and strength" (Book of Discipline, ¶ 701).

Tricity Youth Quarry Beach Batavia

Youth gathered together at the Batavia Quarry for a fun day in the sun

The largest joint effort of the Tri-City Methodists has been the education and formation of the confirmands across their three congregations. Each church hosts the class for a third of the year. “I think our shared confirmation program has been a blessing to students, clergy, and churches alike. By joining together, we have the critical mass to make classes, field trips, and retreats possible. Together, we've been able to develop a curriculum that fits the specific needs of our Youth and is more robust and formative than I could do alone with a published curriculum,” explained Pastor Rob Hamilton of UMCG. Batavia UMC’s Pastor Cynthia Anderson added, “It's been wonderful to collaborate and teach with colleagues; we each have our strengths to share. In addition, it's been great for students to have a larger number of other kids to interact with, and they've gotten to know people they otherwise wouldn't have encountered.”

Tri City Methodist Service Pastors

All five pastors work side by side to lead congregants from the three churches

The joint collaboration has benefitted pastors and congregations alike; Pastor Kim Neace of Baker Memorial UMC commented, “I cherish and value each person on our team. I look forward to our Wednesday afternoon meetings. It has been a joy partnering, dreaming, and executing ministry together.”

The feedback from congregations has been incredibly positive. The pastors recounted that each time they gather for shared ministry, energy and enthusiasm for the collaboration grows. At their most recent joint service led by all 5 clergy, the joy on faces as the sanctuary echoed with voices singing “The Church's One Foundation” was contagious. Worshipers gushed over how powerfully the Spirit was felt. Fellowship time after worship lasted over an hour as people connected with new and old friends alike.

Pastor Hamilton described the connection well: “I recognize this kind of collaboration isn't new to United Methodism. Ethnically diverse, rural, and town-and-country churches have, over the years, more faithfully maintained the connection that defines the Methodist movement. In recent history, our three churches have been medium-large size program churches that had the affluence and luxury of working independently. I'm not sure that independence was ever all that healthy. Circumstances have helped us to return to our roots and strengthen our connectional DNA. I am humbled to be a part of this expanding collaboration within our three churches and hopefully beyond.”

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