Last updated: August 23. 2013 5:33PM - 98 Views

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LIMA — Old mines often yield new treasures if the miners are willing to modernize their technique.That’s the idea behind an expansion underway at the former Shawnee United Methodist Church.Now renamed Community United Methodist, the congregation has targeted two other local UMC churches in its expansion plan.The church has annexed the former Bluelick UMC in Bath Township, renamed it Community UMC East Campus, and placed the Rev. Charlotte Hefner in charge. Hefner was associate pastor at Shawnee.It also formalized a growing friendship with The Future Church, a nonaffiliated congregation renting the former Grace UMC building in Lima. The Future Church’s pastor, the Rev. Daniel Hughes, has been hired as pastor of adult discipleship. He will also remain at the head of the predominantly African-American church his family founded.  “Worship attendance in the city has changed over the course of the past 25 or 30 years,” said the Rev. Bryan Bucher, Community UMC senior pastor. “As the population of the city center has gone down, the large congregations have moved out to the perimeter. Shawnee has grown quite a bit over the past 20 years, as has Elida Emmanuel. But the one area of the city where we had never really encountered much growth or movement was in Bath Township.”Bluelick annexationThe annexation began two years ago when Bucher talked to his district superintendent, Steve Bennett, about the growth opportunity he saw in the dormant Bluelick congregation. Bennett asked Bucher to write a proposal.The proposal was sent to the bishop, who returned it with the comment, “I think God is in this. Go with it,” Bucher said.Selling the plan to the small but fiercely loyal Bluelick congregation was hard enough, Bucher and Hefner said. Selling it to their own congregation might have been even harder. Neither congregation had been let in on the merger plan before the bishop authorized it.An introductory meeting with Bluelick’s lay leadership was predictably icy. But with the bishop’s consent, Bucher said, he was determined to carry out the plan he saw as vital to the church’s future.“Elements of this merger are not very compassionate. It was not a merger of equals,” he said. “The leadership at Shawnee is now the leadership for both sites.”There’s a lot of grieving they had to go through, but on the flip side, Hefner said, the annexation provided a way for the former Bluelick congregation to stay together and stay in their building and continue worship in the United Methodist tradition.  There were lengthy discussions and planning sessions with the lay leadership of both churches. Members of both congregations were encouraged to visit and worship with each other. A consulting team was hired to study church operations and recommend changes. Both congregations eventually embraced the merger, Bucher said, adding a few members of both congregations decided to leave. The church launched a $250,000 campaign in the fall to finance the annexation and make structural improvements at both churches. The campaign was largely successful, Bucher said.  Among other changes, the consultants recommended a greater emphasis on building relationships between church members and in the community. That need, coupled with staff demands of a larger congregation, led to the hiring of Hughes as pastor of adult discipleship.“We needed somebody who could help us in terms of pastoral duties while at the same time take seriously what the consultant was saying and what people were saying about our discipleship ministry, which needed improvement,” Bucher said. Hughes hired“In the midst of this, Daniel Hughes and I had a friendship,” Bucher said. “I was aware of changes taking place in his life, in his professional life. Our two churches are sister churches. We have a formal agreement ever since Future Church moved into the old Grace building two and a half years ago.”Hughes, one of 14 applicants, resigned in July as assistant director of Allen Metropolitan Housing Authority. Immediately after his departure, the Met Housing board of directors suspended director Cindi Ring, then fired her and maintenance director Traci Rogers. Rogers and Ring have sued the authority and its board claiming, in part, that their differences with Hughes and board President Lamont Monford led to their dismissal.“The staff-parish relations committee vetted all the candidates thoroughly,” Bucher said. “We were aware of what was going on at Met Housing. “We checked out Daniel’s work history there, and it seemed to us there was a gap between some of the misinformation that we saw and the reality that this guy had done a great job and felt compelled to move on.”After four years with Met Housing, Hughes said, he knew it was time for him to leave there and devote himself full-time to ministry.“But it was safe. It was a good job, and I was going to figure out how to continue doing this ‘slash’ thing,” he said. A church-related training seminar in June changed his mind.“It didn’t make sense for me to make the move,” Hughes said, “But I knew, coming out of that experience what God was calling me into, that whole discipleship, the one on one, the intimate relationships, building community. When I came to Met Housing, I thought I could do it there.”But there were political restraints, “and politics isn’t my thing.” Hughes and Bucher have a friendship born in the aftermath of the Tarika Wilson shooting three years ago. “I knew that for a long time, God had been working on him about the possibility of doing something new,” Bucher said. Hughes’ job move was about “wanting to be engaged in the community through church work and community development that wasn’t government funded and wasn’t a government mandate.”  Hughes’ role with Community UMC will be “a strange relationship in some ways,” Bucher said, because he’s the pastor of the church his parents founded, and will continue in that role. Sunday mornings won’t present a conflict, however, since he Future Church worships on Saturday evenings, a change Hughes initiated last summer to reach a younger generation of urban worshipers.

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