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Changes coming for local churches

There will be changes soon at Farmington’s Faith United Methodist Church. It’s just a question of how much, and how fast.

Pastor Kevin Fox, who has been at the church since 2009, will move on later this year to take an assignment as pastor at Freshwaters United Methodist Church in the Princeton/Zimmerman area.

But officials at the state level of the Methodist Church have bigger changes in mind. Changes that could include the construction of a new church in the Farmington area and possibly a merger with the existing church.

That could mean moving out of the Seventh Street building the church has occupied since the 1950s, a possibility that has many church members upset.

The proposed change is a response to growth in the area over the past 15 years and to changes in what the young families moving into the area are looking for in a church.

Young families want opportunities for community outreach, said Clay Oglesbee, River Valley District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church. They’re less formal. They use social media and other electronic communication to put together activities on the fly.

“The families that we’re trying to reach these days are asking things of many of our longstanding congregations that it’s difficult for them to do,” Oglesbee said. “Sometimes it’s because of a lack of resources. Sometimes it’s because they don’t fully understand the requirements of the younger families.”

In a letter to the Faith Methodist congregation sent Feb. 16, Oglesbee pointed out that worship attendance at the church has dropped by 60 percent in the last 20 years. Sunday School attendance has dropped by 80 percent. Income from the congregation is “barely sufficient to pay for a full-time pastor,” Oglesbee wrote.

There has been a five-year effort to reduce that decline but little progress.

It’s a problem that stretches well beyond Faith United Methodist. Oglesbee said roughly 80 percent of young families no longer attend Sunday worship services at any church. The things people want in a church are changing, and that change is coming faster than ever.

“Most of our churches are used to kind of changing their style of ministry every few decades,” Oglesbee said. “The pace of change in society right now is, ‘How soon can we change it yet again.’”

The church has made some steps toward change in recent years. Earlier this month the congregation received a Star of the North award from Congressman John Kline for work it has done packing school lunches for students in need. Church members also collected hats, mittens, coats, gloves and scarves for students at Farmington Elementary School.

“They’re doing some outreach and some adjustments in the way they do things, which is positive,” Oglesbee said. “We’re looking for ways to add more energy and more outreach in the community.”

But Oglesbee said construction of a new church along with changes to the ministry could help make the church more appealing to families moving into the area. Another church in Oglesbee’s district moved from its existing building to another in an area with a growing population.

“It’s just apparent that things need to change in the practice of all of our churches,” Oglesbee said. “It’s a challenge that all of our churches are facing these days. It’s not unique to Faith Church.”

Exactly what might change in Farmington is not entirely clear. In his Feb. 16 letter Oglesbee wrote about a assigning a new-start pastor and launching a new outreach and worship site this summer.

In a separate question-and-answer letter to the congregation, Oglesbee wrote that Faith UMC would “no longer exist as a legal entity or congregation, but the legacy of 160 years of ministry.”

Oglesbee raised the proposed changes with the Faith United Methodist congregation on Feb. 16. There was resistance from church members, but Oglesbee said he’s continuing to work with church leaders on what will happen next.

Church leaders met with Bishop Bruce Ough on March 2 and those talks will continue.

There won’t be any changes until there has been a more complete conversation, Oglesbee said.

Changes in Rosemount, too

Faith United Methodist is not the only Methodist church in the area facing some changes. But the tone surrounding those changes is decidedly different at Rosemount United Methodist.

Rosemount UMC pastor Karen Bruins said she is excited about a challenge posed last weekend to expand the church’s outreach to new residents in the developing parts of Rosemount and Empire.

That outreach could include adding a satellite site in one of those growing neighborhoods.

“We’ve been really challenged to think about what we can do to reach out to those families and welcome them to the family,” Bruins said.

Rosemount UMC is in a much different position than the Farmington church. Its average Sunday worship attendance is around 500 and the church is involved with the Rosemount Family Resource Center and Rosemount Elementary School. It can be a challenge sometimes for people to find the church, Bruins said, because it is tucked back into a neighborhood.

“When the Bishop says, ‘I’ve got an opportunity,’ we’re happy to pay attention,” Bruins said.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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