Building a stronger relationship with God

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Zion United Methodist Church completes a $1.2 million addition

What's important about the new Disciple Center at Zion United Methodist Church in Gordonville isn't so much all the committee meetings that preceded its construction. It isn't so much the hiring of an architect or sifting through bids, although those are important too.

Talk to the Rev. Ann Mowery, pastor of the church, and she'll tell you what's important about the new building -- the people who use it.

"We named it the Disciple Center because this is where we grow in our discipleship," Mowery said.

The church was also growing in its membership. Its worship attendance has gone up 32 percent in four years, and in May 2003 it added a second Sunday service.

Established families worship with new young families whose children fill the Sunday School classes and nurseries. And when the entire congregation wanted to greet each other after church or sit down together and share a meal, there wasn't enough room.

They needed a new building. The church hadn't built anything since 1969, when the parsonage was constructed. In 1964, the education building was constructed.

"It was past time to do something," Mowery said.

Gerry Shinn, who claims to be an outsider who married into the church, said what sets Zion apart from other congregations is that "it is a spiritually rich church. It's in a rural setting, which I like, but it has a very broad vision."

The church is in a rural area on Route Z in Gordonville, but with the growth of both Cape Girardeau and Jackson in that direction, more people have found their way there and have returned because they say they feel like they're part of a big family. Just recently, 12 new members were accepted into the church. With all the growth came a need for a bigger building.

In the summer of 2000, the congregation assembled a visionary team at the recommendation of the district superintendent.

"We evaluated the church where it was at, looked at the programs, looked at where we wanted to go, and looked at our needs" said Shinn, who was chairman of the visionary team. "We really pulled a lot of different ideas together."

Then came a building committee that took the visionary team's ideas and mission statement, met with an architect and planned a new building that included a fellowship hall, more classrooms, handicapped accessible restrooms and a gathering space for members to greet each other after Sunday service.

Most of debt paid

By 2003, the congregation had approved the plans and then began talking about how to pay for the building. That meant meeting with individuals and families to discuss the plans and ask for their pledges.

"I did this more prayerfully than anything else I've ever done in my ministry," Mowery said of taking that first financial step. "It's what God wanted us to do, so I was confident the money was going to come."

It came in the form of pledges, bequests and some money already in the bank for a building fund. The congregation was adamant it did not want any debt at all, Mowery said. For a project that cost $1.2 million, the church has paid for all but $200,000. Mowery said she has faith that by the time the five-year capital improvement campaign is over, there will be little if any lingering debt.

The congregation wanted the Disciple Center to be ready for the annual Memorial Day chicken and dumpling dinner. It lacked a few finishing touches, Mowery said, but a record 1,000 chicken and dumpling dinners were served in the new fellowship hall and church members proudly showed off their new Disciple Center to those who visited.

The name of the center came about during the planning stages of construction.

"Our job is to make disciples," Mowery said.

"These are people connected to their church, and not all of them are old members," Mowery said. "They care about their church and are proud of it. We welcome people because we have what they need -- Jesus Christ -- not because they have something we need, something in their pockets."

When it came time to lay the cornerstone, a committee chose which Bible verse best reflected Zion United Methodist Church.

Shinn said the committee chose Matthew 28:19-20: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Since the building was finished, Sunday school classrooms are filled, fellowship groups meet, and children gather for vacation Bible school. All of the members helped pay for it, and they feel an ownership to it and a connection with it. And there's more, Mowery said.

"People are here because of a relationship or they're seeking a relationship with Christ, and with others who will help them on that journey," she said. "Everyone is sharing and that is pretty wonderful."

Shinn says the Disciple Center has made the church "more user friendly." It took some effort to make it happen, he said, but the results are already visible.

"It's been hard, but it was kind of fun," he said. "It's made the church stronger and made it grow. There was lots of committee work and lots of different ages of people with different needs. By keeping a lot of different people in the know and on the committees, it worked out really well."

Mowery appreciates the dedication of the congregation in making it happen, and acknowledges that someone else had a hand in it as well.

"Something wonderful is happening here," Mowery said "God is doing something here."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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