Two Wesleyan congregations partnered across state lines to create opportunities for shared worship, formation and service in their communities.
Each year, College Wesleyan Church (CWC) takes high-school students on an “Adventure Trip,” which includes one leg of service opportunities and church partnership, and another leg of tent camping in a national park.
“The purpose of the trip is to experience the four “S’s” Christ lived out in his life: shared experience, simplicity, solitude and service,” said Elizabeth Scull, youth pastor at CWC. The service component of the trip is almost always carried out alongside other Wesleyan congregations on the way to the national park.
As the students made their way from Marion, Indiana, toward the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they stopped in Frankfort, Kentucky, at Frankfort Wesleyan Church (FWC) for the service leg of their trip. Students helped repair ramps to make the church more accessible, did lawn and yard maintenance, and left the church property more ready for ministry to their community.
“These students did a month’s worth of ministry work in about a day,” said Michael Schwind, assistant/youth pastor at FWC, and a Ph.D. student at nearby Asbury Theological Seminary. “Our church is a congregation of about 12 or 13, so to have over 50 youth come and serve was a lot of added manpower to do things that would take much longer for us.”
In addition to serving together, youth from both churches joined together for youth group, and led the service at FWC on Sunday morning. “Some of my youth group kids have struggled to find places where they fit in … especially middle schoolers,” reflected Michael. “So, for them to have high schoolers laughing with them, playing with them, and taking an interest in them really made them feel ‘seen.’”
“They got a sense that the church is beyond what they participate in in our community; and that these youth that they look up to are the kinds of people we’re hoping to generate when we talk in Sunday School about integrity,” Michael noted.
FWC hosted the CWC youth group overnight twice at their church — accommodating over 50 students and leaders on their way to and from the Smokies. And when the CWC youth had to make a return trip to Indiana one day early due to COVID among the students, FWC opened their space up again (one day earlier than planned) and made it possible for the Adventure Trip to make it safely home.
The FWC congregants returned to the church building on Sunday, excited about all the work accomplished by the CWC students; but the most lasting contribution made by this trip is more durable than a service project: it’s a sense of how the body works together.
“When CWC’s youth group came in and we saw the vibrancy and young life and willingness to pitch in, it gave everyone in our community a breath of hope and excitement, because we know God’s kingdom isn’t just this little neighborhood where we’re working to get just one more person connected — it’s helpful to see the kingdom of God is bigger,” Michael reflected.
CWC youth, too, left impacted by FWC’s way of carrying out ministry in their community. “Pastor Stephen talked with the students about ‘loving your parish,’” recalled Elizabeth, “Which (for him) is a focus on the small, concentrated area around the church, and the love for our neighbor. Our students saw that as putting flesh on what the Bible talks about when it speaks of ‘loving your neighbor.’”
FWC’s intentionality about knowing them — from playing games, to having conversations, to sharing about their church’s approach to needs — inspired students to pay attention to the needs of their own community. One student even sent his entire summer tithe to FWC, hoping to support the ministry they are doing in their parish.
This kind of inter-church support (and intentionality in partnership) represents the best of what denominational ties can provide: collaboration, mutual learning and an ongoing relationship between churches for the purpose of transforming our communities.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.