SE Iowa Church offers glimpse of Jesus’ last days

SE Iowa Church offers glimpse of Jesus’ last days

published 4/13/2017

To be able to walk where Jesus walked during these final days of Holy Week would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One church in the Southeast District is offering the next best thing: an interactive walk through the scenes of Jesus’ last days before the Crucifixion.
On Good Friday, April 14, from 8 am to 8 pm, the Donnellson United Methodist Church will host its Walking the Last Days of Jesus event in its sanctuary.
“I wanted to give the churches that I serve the experience of walking where Jesus would have walked,” said Peggy Ellingson, pastor of Donnellson UMC Embury UMC.  “Since I couldn’t take them to the Holy Land, I think this was a way they could experience Holy Week versus a (worship) service.”
The walk is made up of interactive visuals that symbolize different components of Holy Week. At the first station, participants write their hopes and dreams on a palm leaf, symbolizing Jesus entering Jerusalem on what is now Palm Sunday. The second station symbolizes the washing of the disciples’ feet where participants wash their hands. Next is a Communion table. Instead of an open cup and loaf of bread, Ellingson found self-enclosed cups and blessed them for participants beforehand. The next station is set up to look like the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and wept. The altar is surrounded by a variety of green plants, giving the visitor a chance to sit in quiet and in prayer as Jesus did.
“People can go and sit within the plants and reflect in a quiet space,” said Ellingson.
The last two stations are especially powerful because they symbolize the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. At the Crucifixion, a participant can write their sins or worries on a piece of paper and nail it to the cross. The final station is made to look like the tomb. Ellingson found a piece of material that looks like stone, and she set up the stone table and cloth. A basket is filled with rocks for people take to remind them of the tomb and the rock that was rolled away.
At each station, participants read a Scripture passage describing what is happening. The participants also receive a booklet at the start of the walk with a small prayer for each station. It can take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours for people to walk the whole journey.
“This is a very self-guided tour so they can take their time going to each station and stay as long as they’d like,” said Ellingson.

Bringing the experience home 

Ellingson had been to the Holy Land herself in the past and walked where each of the stations represents. She knew she had to bring the same experience to her congregation so they could feel the Easter spirit.
“I was brain-storming with my ministry assistant Carolyn Pundt, and I shared with her what I hoped to give the churches I serve,” she said. “I had a vision of what I wanted it to look like and what station was supposed to do.”
Ellingson knew she wanted to use the sanctuary and narthex, but was unable to move the pews. She also wanted to give space for people to sit and reflect if they chose. So, with the help of a trustee board member, they build 3x4 foot platforms that would lay over the back of the pews in the sanctuary.
“We didn’t want the aisle blocked, so it was safer,” she said. “We also wanted a place if people needed or wanted to sit down or spend more time at a station, they could sit in the pew right behind it.”
After creating the space for the stations, Ellingson had to bring her vision to life. With the help of Pundt and her church member Nancy Fett, she got to work on pulling together the resources to create the Holy Land.
“We found that most of the creative people wanted to help flush this all out and put it together, so it flowed,” said Ellingson. “Nancy (Fett), Carolyn (Pundt) and the creative folks really helped make this a reality.”
Once the stations were set, Ellingson recruited volunteers to host the event. Hosts and hostesses rotate in every hour for the 12-hour day. They greet the visitors, give them booklets and share how to interact with each station.

“Something I never imagined.”
In 2016, Ellingson tried the first Walking the Last Days of Jesus, which turned out to be a huge success.
“In two years, it’s become something I never even imagined,” said Ellingson. “It started as this small little vision for the two little churches that I serve and who knew what could happen.”
Ellingson and her congregation decided to open the doors of the church for the event for 12 hours to accommodate retirees, working families, students and everyone in between.
“The idea was to give people the chance to come during the day or after supper, whenever is most convenient for them,” she said.
That timeframe ended up benefitting the event and those who attended. Many of the church members who attended earlier the day asked if they could bring friends and family later on in the day. This year, the excitement seems to have only grown.
“This year people were asking if we were going to do this again,” she said. “Now we’re talking vanloads of people that are telling me they’re going to come because they want their friends and kids to experience this.”
The event isn’t about large numbers of people, though, Ellingson hopes the walk will ultimately help feel more connected during Holy Week.
“It’s really to give folks an opportunity to come and experience this together,” she said.
Walking the Last Days of Jesus will be held at Donnellson UMC, 221 University St., Donnellson, Iowa, from 8 am to 8 pm on Friday, April 14. The event is free and open to the public.

Wilton UMC continues mission in the new year

Wilton UMC continues mission in the new year

published 2/2/2017

The Wilton United Methodist Church has continued its mission-minded living into 2017. At the end of Advent season, the church raised more than $7,000 to donate to purchasing water pumps and pump maintenance training. This year, 24 people affiliated with the church volunteered at Sager Brown UMCOR Depot in Baldwin, La., leaving Iowa Jan. 21 and returning Jan. 28.

“We have a very committed, mission-oriented church,” Lanette Morgan, team leader for the mission trip, said about the large group. “We don’t need a lot of motivation to get people to do a mission.”
Several church members from Wilton go on mission trips with other groups and organizations. But, the Wilton UMC Mission Team tries to plan a large group mission trip every other year and smaller, closer-to-home trips said Connie Zeleny, chair of the Mission Team. In the past, teams have gone to the UMCOR Distribution Center in Chatham, Illinois, and to the Tree of Life Ministry in Mission, SD.
Morgan and the Mission Team decided to go to Sager Brown this year to change up the scenery from the Midwest and get people a little more excited to go.
“We thought people probably wanted to experience something more exciting and a different culture,” she said. “People like to escape cold Iowa winters, and that may have been some incentive for people to go!”
Morgan said the enthusiasm was immediate. Within two to three weeks of announcing the mission trip, 20 spots had filled up. In the end, 22 people from Wilton and two friends of the church members from Georgia went to Sager Brown.


Like in years past, the planning of a large group mission trip takes time, money and energy. Typically, church groups must reserve dates at mission sites a year or more in advance, said Morgan. The last trip to Chatham, Morgan had to reserve dates a year in advance. This time for the trip to Sager Brown, she had to reserve slots more than two years in advance.
“This has been a two-and-a-half year project because you have to make reservations that far in advance,” said Morgan. “Sager Brown is such a popular mission site.”
After the dates are set and approved, $25 per person must be sent to Sager Brown for registration. After the registration fee is paid, then comes the paperwork. A talent survey helps the Sager Brown staff place volunteers for work. Volunteers must sign liability and medical forms, provide proof of insurance and pass a background check. Morgan coordinated all the paperwork, except for the background check, which Pastor Mike Agnew handled.
The next step was raising money for the trip. The cost per person was $120 for lodging and $110 for meals. Additionally, Sager Brown required each person bring $50 to donate school supplies to 10 children. Luckily, the Mission Team holds an annual auction that raises thousands of dollars for mission work. The Mission team donated $90 towards the cost of food and lodging and covered the cost of school supplies donations.
“The whole church gets involved with the auction,” said Zeleny. “It has helped us do mission work in the community and outside of the community.”

Week of fellowship and mission 

The team arrived on Sunday, Jan. 22, and was able to meet with other volunteers in food and fellowship. The next day, though, the team went right to work. Volunteers helped with several projects at Sager Brown.
Some fill school kits and stitch the school bags, while others put together health kits. At the depot, several group members helped load semis with school and health kits going to Lebanon. Some of the group went into Baldwin and helped build and install a wheelchair ramp at a local home. Other outreach ministries were available to help with including light cleaning at a facility for the elderly, reading with children at a Head Start and helping with maintenance at a domestic violence shelter.
Most the projects helped people outside of Sager Brown, but one project helped the volunteers. Two of the Wilton team members turned several of the wooden Adirondack chairs into relaxing rockers for volunteers after a long day at work.
It wasn’t all hard work during their time in Baldwin, though. The volunteers got a much-deserved day off. They visited the Tabasco hot sauce factory on Avery Island and Vermillionville, a historical site like Living History Farms in Des Moines. The homes and “actors” are descendants of the indigenous people in the area including Arcadians, Native Americans, and Creole. They also visited a state park on the Gulf of Mexico.
This year’s mission trip and previous mission trips are continual reminders to the Wilton church members of our duty as Christians, said Zeleny. And often, those working in mission feel just as blessed as those they are helping.
“Sometimes it feels like we were so much more blessed than the blessings we brought,” she said.
For more photos and stories from the mission trip, visit the Wilton UMC to Sager Brown Facebook page.

Mission minded church continues fundraising tradition

Mission minded church continues fundraising tradition

published 1/30/2017
The United Methodist Church in Wilton, a small town 13 miles north of Muscatine, has a longstanding tradition of fundraising and mission work. The members of the Wilton church have raised money for mission trips and mission work for several decades. This past Advent season, the members once again kept the tradition going.
“The United Methodist Church of Wilton is very passionate about mission work and also very generous in their financial giving,” said Pastor Mike Agnew. “They have been a Third Mile giving church for many years.”
Each Christmas and Easter season, the church’s Mission Team will pick a charitable and mission-orientated organization for which to raise funds. Every year, the Mission Team will receive brochures and requests from various agencies. After discussing the many options on the table, the team will choose a charity.
The chosen charity for the Christmas season was the Church World Service water pumps and training program.
“That really caught our attention,” said Connie Zeleny, Mission Team co-chair. “Not only do these villages get the pumps, but they also learn how to maintain and repair the pumps so once the installers leave, the people there can maintain it.”
Access to safe water
According to Church World Service, every minute a child dies of water-related disease and 884 million people in the world lack access to safe water supplies. The Wilton church wanted to combat those numbers.
Through Church World Service, $1,000 will cover the cost of purchasing a water pump and the training of villagers to maintain the pump. The Mission Team set a goal of $1,000.
With typical winter weather, Agnew said he wasn’t sure they would be able to raise the funds needed. Additionally, he said he and the church treasurer, Bill Carter, were unsure if the church would meet their apportionments and get the budget into the black.
The congregation surprised everyone, though, raising enough money to get the budget in the black for 2016 with a surplus to start 2017, meet apportionments and donate $7,159.50 to go to water pumps. That was enough money for seven villages.
“People are really giving and they see the importance of church and church work,” said Agnew. “They make (giving) a priority.”
History of giving
In the past, the Wilton church donated funds to the Flint, Mich., water crisis, the Heiffer project, solar ovens and personal energy transport systems (PETS).
“The congregation is so motivated,” said Zeleny. “People go overseas regularly on mission trips and share their experiences.”
The turning point of when the church became so mission minded can be traced back to a presentation by long-time missionary Beverly Nolte. She visited the church and asked if anyone would like to join her on a mission from Africa. One person volunteered.
“Carolyn (Carter), a junior or senior in high school at the time, shot her hand up right away,” recalled Lanette Morgan, a member of the Mission Team.
The church started to raise money to help with expenses for the mission trip. The congregation raised $2,000 in about a year. From that point on, the church just kept raising money for mission.
Annual mission giving
Every spring the Wilton church holds a silent and live auction. Each year, the auctions bring in anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000. Using that money, the Mission Team will donate $250 or more monthly to different causes. Some of the money is also used to support a missionary and his wife in Africa and help pay for mission trips the church members take.
In 2016, the auction funds were used to donate a sewing machine to sew school bags and blankets for the homeless, meals for the homeless, UMCOR, food pantries, natural disaster relief and children’s books.
The Wilton church is unique in that it is so mission-minded, but Zeleny said learning about the lives of people outside your community can help other churches become more focused on mission. She encourages other congregations to share their experiences or to invite others into their church to share.
“That the way this church got started,” said Zeleny. “When you hear those stories, see those pictures and discover what they did when they go (on mission), you connect with others.” 

Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Team Leader Training

Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Team Leader Training

published 9/21/2016
Volunteers in Mission (VIM)  Team Leader Training will provide you (and your church) with all the information and tools that you will need to participate in or lead hands-on mission. Team Leader Training equips individuals to lead national and international teams to approved United Methodist project sites.  It touches on what constitutes an UMVIM team, team duties, team dynamics, cultural understanding, team spiritual formation, tips for travel and fundraising, timeline for organizing a team, forms and insurance needed.   

The main reasons to become a trained team leader are:
To Do NO Harm
To Do Good
To Stay in Love with God

It is not a game to be taken lightly but a covenant to enter into with God and the Host community as we practice sharing and mutuality in mission. There are so many facets to the experience and people do not need to go into it blindly nor do they have to reinvent the wheel!  We do not desire to “control” as much as to help facilitate the process of volunteering when training team leaders.

Training is based on standard North Central Jurisdiction UMVIM curriculum and the General Board of Global Ministries UMVIM Training Manual that will be available at a cost of $25.00.

Email to register with your name, address, and phone number. Registration required to ensure materials for everyone.
November 5 from 8:30 am-11:30 am
Iowa Weselyan University
As part of the INGATHERING Event
Mt Pleasant

Melisa Bracht-Wagner