For decades, Central United Methodist Church has stood tall, peering over historic Broadway and Main streets, with its old world stained glass windows and high reaching, staggered steeples, invoking in passers-by a feeling of nostalgia. Throughout the years, it has remained a prominent religious symbol in Winona. But as the 1960s came to a close, the number of people attending church throughout the United States took a big hit and numbers began rapidly declining.
In May of 2010, Central United Methodist decided to increase the size of their congregation. McKinley United Methodist was also was experiencing a decline in membership so the two churches decided to pool their assets and merge their congregation into what is known today as Wesley United Methodist Church. The new tenants, included newly appointed Pastor Dale Arendt, brought with them fresh ideas. The merger is resulting in a new direction for the church, but one thing remains the same – the church’s motto to love God, love people.
“This was a very emotionally challenging part of the transformation,” Pastor Arendt said. “McKinley United had to give up their building and Central United had to give up their name. There was a lot of deeper work to reflect on during this time. But this change helped us rebrand and relaunch into what we have today.”
To keep up with changing times, Pastor Arendt said it was important for the church to adapt to modern practices and ways of preaching in order to appeal to a younger and more technology-driven demographic. In order to do this, the church needed some serious upgrades. Recently, a new sound system was installed that works in harmony with the natural acoustics of the main worship space. Two giant screens were installed that display weekly announcements, Pslam readings and song lyrics to the congregation. In addition, the use of Facebook and texting, yes texting, is encouraged.
“We’ve got a generation today that is hooked up to technology from nine to five every day,” Pastor Arendt said. “We are able to use those tools to reflect on the Gospel by using the mediums they are used to communicating with.”
An upgrade to the church’s website and Facebook page allows for congregation commentary, and Pastor Arendt said it keeps the conversation of God going long after they’ve left church.
The main worship space also saw another interesting change with the removal of seven back pews. In their place sit several high-top tables and a coffee stand. The congregation café is open for business.
“It’s another experiment we’re trying to promote fellowship and congregation involvement after the service,” Pastor Arendt said.
A two-year merger, or rebirth, process came to a close this year. In January, the church celebrated the joining of congregations with a Rebirth Sunday service and in May, Wesley United Methodist Church celebrated the final phase of transformation with the official change in name.
Pastor Arendt said there are still two worship services – one devoted to the traditional style of worship and a later one he calls a “comtempo” service, offering a more modern-day religious experience.
“As a church, we exist for those who are not present yet,” Pastor Arendt said of the church’s philosophy. “But we still hold tight to our belief system of love God, love people. We knew the church needed a big change and we are willing to take the risk in order to bring in new people. I trust in the congregation and I trust in this process.”
For more information about Wesley United Church visit their website.