Grace, Wesley United Methodist churches to combine congregations

NILES — Two Methodist congregations will officially merge on Jan. 1, 2020, bringing what their pastor hopes to be an expansion of service to the community and an expansion of new members.

Congregations of Wesley United Methodist Church and Grace United Methodist Church voted Sept. 30 to merge themselves together into one church, later decided to be called New Journey United Methodist Church. They will have their first Sunday service together Dec. 28 at what is currently Wesley UMC, 302 Cedar St.

Grace UMC, 501 Grant St., will be sold, hopefully to a ministry, said Robert Snodgrass II, the pastor for both Niles Methodist churches. 

The two congregations have long been worshipping and volunteering together before talks of merging began, Snodgrass said. When the vote to combine came, the decision was nearly unanimous.

“When they were added to my circuit, what happened was we started doing things together,” he said. “We started doing Bible studies together and special events together and Christmas Eve services together. Through no real planning, everybody grew close.”

Snodgrass said the topic of combining congregations came up naturally, and members saw it as a chance to strengthen both churches’ ministry services.

“How much more ministry can we do inside our community, throughout Michigan and the world together by pooling our resources than can we do apart?” he asked. “The answer was much more.”

By combining congregations, Snodgrass expects Wesley UMC’s and Grace UMC’s largely health-based services to make a larger impact in the communities they serve through pooled resources and more volunteers.

Wesley UMC houses three service ministries. Evy’s Closet provides free women’s clothing. Center[ed] on Wellness is a faith-based counseling service in southwest Michigan with an office in Wesley UMC. HERBIE Health Clinic offers free health services once a month to adults without health insurance, from exams to medications to diabetic counseling to basic health tests.

Grace UMC hosts ministries that help individuals in African nations and those needing motorized mobility vehicles.

“There’s a lot of ministry that happens within the congregations. We just want to be more vital in here, right here, right now,” Snodgrass said.

He hopes the combination of congregations will also attract new members from outside Grace and Wesley UMC. An outreach plan is being developed.

Snodgrass said New Journey’s mission may help entice others.

“We’re all on a journey, and our job, whether you know God or don’t know God, is to walk with you on this journey as you come to know God, and then to continue to walk with you on the journey as you draw close,” he said.

To help Wesley and Grace make the journey toward becoming New Journey, a transition team made up of leadership from both congregations was formed. It had its second meeting Thursday afternoon, fresh off of finalizing New Journey’s name the meeting before.

The team is made up six members: Dee Rough, Greg Rough and Cathryn Scott representing Grace UMC, and Jane Beck, Sue Phillips and Bill Carter representing Wesley UMC.

The volunteers have other leadership roles at their respective churches. They take all congregation members’ comments and suggestions into consideration as part of their work, they said.

At Thursday’s meeting, the group sat around a table at Wesley UMC, preparing to finalize combining both churches’ missions and six respective committees, from staff-parish relations to hospitality.

Dee said that while the transition has been smooth, the process has been both happy and emotional.

“Many of us have been there for a very long time — my husband his whole life,” she said of Grace UMC. “So, along with all the excitement and the looking forward to our new journey together, there still is a lot of deep emotions we’ll overcome.”

Beck is looking forward to having expanded youth services and Sunday school teachers with the merge.

“To me, it’s really exciting that we’re coming together and have the possibilities of not only our church family, but the community and then missions beyond,” she said.

In the weeks following, the team will continue to work on combining resources, budgets and attend to any issues.

“We’ll have some stumbles, but we’ll get up and learn,” Carter said.

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