In Wahpeton, North Dakota music from today and yesterday set the stage for celebrating 50 years of unity. The service began with “My Life is in You Lord,” a contemporary song and ended with "Blest Be the Tie that Binds," an 18th-century traditional hymn, which was sung at the first service of Wahpeton United Methodist Church (UMC) 50 years ago.
In 1968, two churches, Wahpeton Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB) and the Wahpeton Methodist Church, become one congregation worshipping in one space, Wahpeton United Methodist Church.
The union followed the formation of The United Methodist Church. On April 23, 1968, The United Methodist Church was created when Bishop Reuben H. Mueller, representing The Evangelical United Brethren Church, and Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of The Methodist Church joined hands at the constituting General Conference in Dallas, Texas.
Theological traditions steeped in the Protestant Reformation and Wesleyanism and relationships that dated back almost two hundred years facilitated the union. With the words, "Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church," the new denomination was given birth by two churches that had distinguished histories and influential ministries in various parts of the world.
In North Dakota, the two churches, Wahpeton EUB and Wahpeton Methodist could have remained two separate congregations, but they chose to come together. Rev. Stanley Mueller was the pastor for both of the worshipping congregations. Lois Berndt, local historian and a member at Evergreen UMC, recalls the transition.
“The pastor served both of the churches. The two congregations were experiencing declining attendance at worship. A committee decided that we would be stronger together,” said Lois.
Berndt, shared with those present at the celebration service, that the two churches were rooted in German heritage. “In 1877, German immigrants came to the Great Bend area of North Dakota and formed the EUB church in that area. The Great Bend EUB church was instrumental in starting the EUB church in the Wahpeton, under the leadership of Rev. Gideon Eberhart,” said Lois.
The union continued in 1974 when Wahpteton United Methodist erected and dedicated a new church. It was renamed Evergreen UMC in 1992 when they merged again, this time with Zion United Methodist Church of Great Bend, North Dakota. Evergreen trees line the road or court to the church. The trees inspired the name of the union, Evergreen UMC.
Zion UMC officially closed in 1992, and the church building was moved from Great Bend to Wahpeton. Today the building is located right next to Evergreen UMC and is a sign of the unity. The Zion chapel is used for education, small groups and fellowship.
Tiana Bohn, current member, and a lifelong United Methodist shared her experience and perspective about being a United Methodist at the 50th anniversary celebration worship service. Bohn grew up in South Haven, Minnesota where five generations of her family attended the Methodist church. Her grandmother had 55 years of perfect attendance at Sunday School.
Bohn described her faith journey as challenging through her formative and young adult years. “The church was there for me. No matter how far I wandered away from the church, I was welcomed back and supported. When I moved to Wahpeton, I found a home at this church—Evergreen UMC.”
The cross and flame, the trademark of The United Methodist Church, is a symbol of love and connection to Triana. “When my grandfather died, we purchased a huge cross and flame for the top front of the church,” she said. “The cross and flame can be seen from miles away. It calls to all that see it that they are welcome. It says that no matter how broken we are, The United Methodist Church is accepting. Those looking for connection can see a cross and flame from miles away. The symbol that you are welcome here.”
Rev. Jen Tyler challenged congregants during the sermon. “How will we continue our heritage? How will we make disciples?” Tyler’s sermon, entitled “Invited: Go. Ready. Set.” focused on Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
The scripture is the mission of The United Methodist Church—To make disciplines of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The mission statement was recently affirmed as the mission for Evergreen UMC. “As the worldwide church today struggles with the issues related to homosexuality, we are called to make disciples in unity. It is up to us to be the church and make connections with our neighbors. We are The United Methodist Church.”
Members left the service with a sense of joy and hope for the future fostered by Jesus’ love and the connections of The United Methodist Church. “We are greater together than we are apart,” remarked one congregant. “Jesus’ love will be what we are about.”
Learn more about the denomination's 50th-anniversary celebration.