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UM Bishops Receive Warm Welcome on a Chilly Afternoon

Posted: May 3 2023 at 04:14 PM
Author: Victoria Rebeck, NIC Director of Communications

You may not see a large crowd when you walk into First United Methodist Church in Des Plaines, Ill., on a Sunday morning. But you can expect people to step forward with a smile, welcome, and help finding the sanctuary or room you seek.  


Church members help guide guest at the memorial service for the Council of Bishops find their way around the church.

These exemplary practices were put to the test on April 30 when the United Methodist Council of Bishops met at that church for their memorial service. During that time, the bishops honor those colleagues and spouses who died in the past year. 

When First United Methodist members agreed to host this service, they immediately got organized for an opportunity they considered an honor. It seemed daunting at first, but their pastor, Audrea Nanabray, helped them plan. 

“Everyone stepped up,” says Cindy Yelich, who welcomed people at the door.  

Jan Weber, who had just been named chair of the church council—for which she expected primarily to be presiding at meetings—was given the task of enlisting volunteers. She considered this a chance to show off the church and its people. 

“When we got the call, I knew it was God telling us that he wants us to do this,” she says. 

“We wanted it to be spirit filled. We wanted people to meet us; to see that we are regular people and we care about our church. It’s been a group effort, and we are proud of how our church comes together.” 

Once volunteers were lined up, an extra-deep cleaning was one of the first tasks. Even the members were surprised to see what a difference that made. 

“The church has never been so spic-and-span,” says Anne Hardy, who led the kitchen volunteers. 

Other groups readily did their part. The trustees made sure that the bathrooms were functioning and that helpful, visible signage was posted. 

The media team made sure they had the audio set-up ready. And a group of men who met guests in the parking lot carried umbrellas on that rainy afternoon as they walked people from their cars to the door. 

Members of another United Methodist church that meets in their building, Nuevo Amanecer, served as ushers and sang in the service. 


Julia Boesche, Libby Edmondson, and Anne Hardy served refreshments.

As at any church gathering, preparing and serving refreshments was a high priority. 

Anne Hardy went to work right away on that. She’s also a leader of Bessie’s Table, the church’s Monday meal for the community. Preparing and serving food is her calling. 

“This gathering was a natural fit: it’s food, it’s me,” she says. “I enjoy it. It’s my way of working for God.” 

After the service, she was packing up the leftovers to serve at Bessie’s Table the next day. Nothing would be wasted. 

The number of worshipers at First United Methodist is cozy, but not closed off. Their welcoming attitude was not only a special effort for this day. It’s the church’s culture. 

A good example is Matthew Edmondson. He was on elevator duty, helping people get to the floors they needed. 

“I love volunteering,” he said, and it showed. Even the community has noticed: last year, he was recognized for devoting 300 hours in service to the community. And their “awesome” pastor, Dr. Audrea Nanabray, is a good model for showing care for others, he says. 

Cindy Yelich invoked the denomination’s advertising motto from a few years ago: Open hearts, open minds, open doors. 

“Keeping an open mind is necessary to how you greet people. Today, we had people here from all over the world. We are grateful that we got to be part of that.” 

They always step toward visitors to greet them, rather than waiting for visitors to come to them. And they make sure to smile, to put people at ease. “We like to welcome them to our little slice of heaven here,” Cindy says. 

Jan wants visitors to meet God there as well. 

As a lector in worship that morning, she read a portion of Colossians 2. 

“Paul said to the people there, ‘I want you to be woven into the tapestry of love.’ I just love that,” she says. “That, to me, is our church. I just get so much here spiritually. Every time I come here. I feel like I am walking into the presence of God and these are my people.” 

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