“Surrender to what is, let go of what was and have faith in what will be.” (Sonia Ricotti)
Such is the mission of three United Methodist churches in Phillips County as they have agreed to be part of a pilot program through which their congregations have merged to form the East Phillips County Parish.
In what's being described as “an exciting journey” and “a prototype for the future,” the Elaine, Helena and West Helena United Methodist Churches are breaking new ground. In an area where the twin cities and some school districts have already merged, the timing of new pastor appointments and other issues facing the three churches presented an opportunity for change and growth. After a majority vote from members of each congregation to move forward, a task force of members from each church and clergy was formed to make decisions for this uncharted process, and the East Phillips County Parish was created over the summer.
The parish now shares a senior pastor, the Rev. Mike Wilkie, and an associate pastor, the Rev. Michael Dodson. Wilkie brings his experience in heading a merged congregation at Good Faith Carr UMC Pine Bluff, while Dodson, a college student, adds youth to the mix.
Commenting on the decision to combine, Bettye Hendrix, a leader in the First UMC Helena congregation, said, “I want our church to keep going and growing. We have so many unchurched people in this town.”
“I believe the synergy of having both pastors lead our churches forward will give strength to each congregation,” said Elaine UMC Board Chairman Steve Toney.
Harry Stephens, chair of the staff-parish relations committee at First UMC Helena, pointed out the joint groups that already existed between First UMC Helena and West Helena UMC, like their men's organization.
Wilkie noted that the full transition might take several years. “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.”
Wilkie invites members of the community to join the new East Phillips County Parish for worship and take part in this exciting new journey. Each Sunday, the Elaine UMC meets for worship service at 8a.m.; the Helena UMC meets at 9:30 a.m. followed by the West Helena service at 11:00 a.m. In addition, all three churches will worship together during each month that has a fifth Sunday, alternating the locations between Helena and West Helena each time. Rev. Dodson is also leading a non-denominational youth group each Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m., which includes faith-based activities and opportunities for young people. Newcomers are welcomed.
The congregations of the East Phillips County Parish invite everyone to their special Fifth Sunday Worship Service at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Sept 29, at the Helena Methodist Church at 502 Porter Street in Helena and for potluck in Hendrix Hall immediately following the service.