Rural Churches and Renewal
The Greater Leipsic Multi-Site Parish in rural Leipsic, Ohio, could be considered the future of the rural church — four smaller United Methodist churches anchored by a larger one.
The multi-site parish includes Leipsic UMC, Gilboa UMC, Oakdale UMC, New Beginnings UMC and New Hope Bethel UMC, with four pastors serving the five churches. Senior Pastor Bill Patterson ’75, along with three associate pastors, Rev. Tom Graves, Rev. Amy Haines and Rev. Ruth Carter-Crist ‘07, rotate worship on Sundays.
“Each pastor has a focus church where they are responsible for administration,” Rev. Patterson said, “and we rotate the preaching on Sunday mornings. Each pastor preaches in their focus church two Sundays and then rotates two Sundays at another church, but we also cover for each other at times when it would be difficult if you didn’t have this kind of setup.”
The pastors meet every Monday morning to plan, talk and pray for each other.
“The parish concept helps us eliminate the ‘lone-shepherd’ syndrome of the single charge appointment,” said Rev. Carter-Crist. “The sharing of gifts and
resources allows small-membership churches to benefit from elder appointments when they are faced with temporary financial limitations.”
In addition to regular worship, the parish holds an after-school program three nights a week, which includes homework help, games, activities and dinner.
“For some of these kids, this is probably, other than their school lunch, the only other meal that they’re going to get,” Rev. Patterson said. “We know that some of these kids are coming from some pretty difficult backgrounds. It’s a way to offer some concern and love in practical ways.”
The parish is also active in missions. In the past 3 ½ years, they have sent two mission teams to Mexico, four to Henderson Settlement, two to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and one to Bremerhaven, Germany. In December, a Sunday evening disciple Bible study group went to the Holy Land.
“We’re always looking for mission opportunities,” Rev. Patterson said, adding they are hoping to partner with a church in Cincinnati to send mission teams to Jamaica to work with United Methodist churches there in a partnership.
The parish also sponsors a “love fund” twice a month to raise money for people in their immediate area who need help with utilities. A recent soup and sandwich dinner after the last home football game raised almost $10,000 for three local families with serious medical issues.
“In our little town of 2,000, 585 people came,” Rev. Patterson said. “The reason that we’ve had such good attendance is the support from all the different churches,” he said. “They know it’s not just something the Leipsic Church is doing for themselves but a community effort and a service to the community. And I think that’s been an amazing thing.”
Other parish opportunities include 5th Quarter, a post- football game youth activity, as well as Bible studies, Operation Christmas Child and a pre-school program.
“We have a lot going on and it’s important to note the Leipsic Church has significant financial resources, which makes much of it possible,” he said. “We’re trying to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us and try to figure out how to use it in ways that will enhance the kingdom of God in the lives of people.”
The five churches have come together to share gifts, passions and resources and are investing in ministry that is greater than any one person, any one pastor, or any one congregation. By sharing ministry and fellowship, they are living out their vision for being and making disciples of Jesus Christ in their rural communities.