Three United Methodist churches met on April 28 and May 14 of this year to officially form the East Phillips County Parish. In essence the churches in Helena, West Helena and Elaine will merge, or realign, and begin sharing their resources while remaining at their respective places of worship.
As of June 30, the churches of the East Phillips County Parish will share a senior pastor, the Rev. Mike Wilkie and an associate pastor, the Rev. Michael C. Dodson. A special service will be held that Sunday to inaugurate the new East Phillips County Parish and its Task Force in a 3-year assessment of the practicality of the churches and the surrounding community.
The service will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the West Helena United Methodist Church. The service and the lunch following are open to the public. RSVP's to 870-572-2559 are requested for the lunch.
The Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church created a special Task Force to work with the new parish and the assessment.
“As senior pastor and chair of the task force, my associate pastor, Michael Dodson and I are looking forward to working with everyone as we seek, bold, and even old, ways to be in mission to our community,” said Wilkie.
While Helena-West Helena's municipalities and school districts merged several years ago, the two United Methodist churches in the “Twin Cities” have led independent lives though they are located just 2 and ½ miles apart. Now the three congregations in east Phillips County are chartering new waters.
The timing of pastors moving from the area created the opportunity for exploring a change.
Three sources of funding will keep the churches operational. Each of the three churches will pay into the parish bank account. They also will receive support from the Arkansas Conference's for equitable compensation to help pay the salaries of the two pastors. A 2-year grant from Catch the Vision will help jump-start the work.
Wilkie stressed that the assessment process will take two or three years or possibly longer.
“We're not putting any fixed ideas in place, or preconceptions, or setting deadlines,” he said. “We're trying to open it up for the Kingdom and see what God wants us to do. We need to listen and it may take us a while.”