Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Story of Faith United Parish

by Myrtle E. Felkner
  In 1972, Appanoose County was a region of small farms and tiny villages set amidst the coal fields of the early part of the century.  Many of the towns were experiencing loss of business and loss of population, as the former coal-mining families moved to the cities in search of employment. Many small churches were struggling to exist and to provide ministry for the farmers and small business families who live in the area.
  Pastor George Gibson of the First United Methodist Church in Centerville and Pastor Tom Woodin of Grace United Methodist Church of Moravia began to construct a dream: a rural parish consisting of all the United Methodist churches in Appanoose County, with a central office, a central staff of several pastors and a Christian Educator. After a series of meetings throughout the area, in which the members of the various congregations gleaned information and later voted whether or not to join the parish, seven churches voted to begin a parish ministry. Those members were the First United Methodist Church of Centerville (the largest church in the group with over 500 members) and six smaller congregations in Jerome, Cincinnati, Numa, Mystic, Unionville and Exline. A contest was held to name the parish, with the winner being David Wright of Cincinnati, and thus began Faith United Parish in June of 1972.
  Pastor George Gibson was named by the Bishop as Director of the Parish. Pastor Dale Wilfong was also appointed to the Parish, with a lay speaker, Burrel Browns, to assist with preaching duties on a rotating basis. Myrtle E. Felkner, a long-time educator and laboratory leader in the Conference, was hired as the Educational Assistant. Felkner directed Christian Education in all seven of the Parish churches, with one of the pastors taking over duties with the Centerville youth groups. Felkner led youth groups in Unionville and Numa. Betty Russell continued her work as secretary of the Centerville church, but now becoming office manager of Faith United Parish. Betty’s efficiency and energy were invaluable to the Parish.
  The structure of the Parish was simple. The combined seven churches worked under a centralized budget, a percentage of which was apportioned to each church according to the percentage of its membership to the total membership and in direct ratio to its Conference claims. Local autonomy was retained and the upkeep of each building was handled locally. In addition to local offerings, the Parish received support from a Bishop’s Call to Methodist Builders of Iowa. The Parish received support also from the Board of Missions and from Advance Specials.
  Each church in the Parish was represented by three members who were assigned to work as a Parish Council, the administrative body.
  Pastor Dale Wilfong left in l973, and that appointment was filled by Pastor Jim Schweizer, who became a long-time pastor and resident of the county. Mike Jackson, a student at Indian Hills Community College, served at this time as lay speaker assisting the pastors.
  Other pastors through the years at the Parish were Lynn Ryon, Mark Whipple, Bob Crum, Kathy Marker, Paul Smith, Jim Metheny, Richard Krambeck, David Dunsmore, John Van Weldon, Lewis Flanagan, Pam Flanagan, Jennifer Corley, Elsa Lawry, Kim Crummer, Ted Showers, and Larry Prosser. Directors of the Parish following George Gibson were Pastors William Ballard and David Higdon. Each pastor rotated preaching duties at the member churches, attended all Parish Council monthly meetings, and rotated duties at meetings in individual churches. Parishioners chose pastors for weddings, funerals and baptisms according to their desires.
  The Parish was soon known for its extensive ministries in Christian Education. A Parish van was purchased with Advance Specials money and was used for transporting groups to camps, after school programs, etc.  After-school programs for children were initiated in six of the churches; the seventh church had a monthly Super Saturday for its children. All churches held individual Vacation Bible Schools on consecutive weeks during the summer, with one huge Day Camp for all children of the Parish to conclude the summer ministries. Children’s choirs, youth camps and trips, and persons taking Bible-centered films to the nursing homes of the area were among special ministries. There were needs enough to go around! At one time almost a hundred volunteers were involved in the Christian Education ministries of the Parish.
  Christian Education goals were as follows:
  1)  We want each person to know God as Creator, Jesus as Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as God present with us.
  2)   We will provide one hundred hours of supervised Christian Education for each individual each year.
  3)   We want each child and youth to have an ongoing relationship with a caring Christian adult.
   Myrtle Felkner left the Parish in 1985 to assume a position as Director of Christian Education in Small Membership Churches on the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist denomination. The position on the Parish was then filled by Naomi Garcia.                         .
   The entire staff of Faith United Parish was often called upon to lead groups in conferences and seminaries on the structure and ministry of a rural parish. Among those were Garrett Theological Seminary of Chicago, St. Paul’s Theological Seminary of Kansas City, and the Dubuque School of Theology in Dubuque, Iowa.
   The ministry of the Parish lasted for over thirty years, ending as out-migration brought the population down and smaller churches were forced to close.  Still its ministry continues; the Exline United Methodist Church designated all its remaining assets to a scholarship program. When the Mystic church closed, it added to that fund. Each year a committee consisting of one member from each of the remaining churches meets to go over scholarship applications from college young people, awarding as many as possible each year. “Have a Heart Sunday” is the nearest Sunday to Valentine’s Day and is designated as a time when further contributions to the Faith United Parish Scholarship Fund are welcome. Many young people from former Parish member churches have benefited from the Exline church’s foresight and generosity.
   Rev. Joan Ervin, who worked extensively in several Parish ministries, in later years attended the Iowa School for Lay Ministry and is now pastor of the Cincinnati and Unionville United Methodist Churches. Her daughter, the Rev. Alberta Ervin, also entered the ministry, attending seminary at St. Paul’s School of Theology. Alberta was one of the first Parish youngsters to come to a Parish after-school ministry event.
   On the very last Sunday of Faith United Parish, Stephanie Phelps and her daughter Daveena Surber were baptized in the Mystic United Methodist Church.
  And so United Methodist ministry continues in Appanoose County. The church at Jerome is still active, known for its community warmth and service. The pastor is now the Rev. Shari Squires, also a graduate of the Iowa School for Lay Ministry and now a student in the Course of Study at St. Paul’s School of Theology in Kansas City. Her husband Richard Squires and Jerome church member Darin Manson now also attend the Iowa School for Lay Ministry.
  The editor sincerely appreciates the contribution by Myrtle E. Felkner of Centerville of this article to The Jerome Journal on this important phase in the history of the United Methodist Church in Appanoose County.

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