Community

Merged United Methodist congregations bring growth, renewal

Trinity-St. James in C.R. seeing more people in the pews

Chris Swiser, the Rev. Jaymee Glenn-Burns and Larry Bock of Trinity-St. James United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids believe there has been growth in faith and participation as a result of the two congregations merging nearly a year ago. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)
Chris Swiser, the Rev. Jaymee Glenn-Burns and Larry Bock of Trinity-St. James United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids believe there has been growth in faith and participation as a result of the two congregations merging nearly a year ago. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

BACKGROUND

Time, changing neighborhoods and the 2008 flood took a toll on a pair of west-side Cedar Rapids United Methodist churches.

Trinity United Methodist’s church, built in 1908, was heavily damaged in the flood and razed on Good Friday 2009.

The average Sunday attendance had dropped to 30 to 35 worshippers at Trinity and to around 50 at St. James United Methodist, 1430 Ellis Blvd. NW.

The two churches decided to merge.

The last service at Trinity was held in August 2017 at the office-style building it was using at 400 Third Ave. SW. It then merged with St. James.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Sometimes, one plus one equals more than two.

Nearly a year into a merger, average attendance is more than 100. On Easter Sunday, 148 worshipped at Trinity-St. James UMC on Ellis Boulevard.

“Some people had to sit in the front row,” Chris Swiser joked.

But attendance has not been the only change.

Swiser, who attended Trinity before the churches formed a “cooperative parish,” believes there has been a growth in faith as well as active participation in church activities.

“When you walk into a church that’s half full, it can be disheartening,” he said. “But when you walk into a church that’s three-quarters full, you think there’s something going on.

“The biggest change,” he added, “there’s more people to love on and worship with.”

There’s a choir and a handbell choir now. Both were goals of worshippers before the merger.

The congregation has had fundraisers to buy books for the neighborhood Harrison and Taylor school libraries, and it will host a picnic for teachers at those schools next month. Twenty-seven members volunteered at the recent Flashback on Ellis.

On any given Sunday, Swiser said as many as a dozen children under the age of 10 show up for services, and there’s now a children’s Sunday school.

Larry Bock, a 40-year member of St. James, said that although the 80-20 rule still applies, “there’s a bigger pool to draw from. Now we have 100 people to get 20 rather than 30 to get five or six.”

Bock believes the merger has stimulated growth.

“There’s a tendency to become complacent, but I’ve witnessed fresh voices, more eyes and ears paying attention, a renewed sense of interest,” he said.

The merger has been an opportunity “to make our faith pathway more than coming to church on Sunday,” Swiser said. “It’s helped people understand we can help them grow their faith, fellowship and love.”

The Rev. Jaymee Glenn-Burns joined the congregation this month. Previously, she had been involved in a UMC initiative to bring new vitality to congregations. So when Trinity-St. James began its search for someone to succeed the Rev. Carol Sundberg, “I chose them.”

The decision by the congregations to merge was “a beautiful statement of mission,” Glenn-Burns said.

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Glenn-Burns recalled that at her first meeting with the church’s leadership, she couldn’t tell who had been part of Trinity and who had been part of St. James before the merger.

Bock and Swiser called the merger Sundberg’s legacy.

“She had a vision, and she worked her butt off to help us get there,” Bock said.

“I’m excited about the new life Pastor Jaymee will bring,” he said. “The seeds are in the ground. We’re sprouting. We need to take it to fruition.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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