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Fargo First UMC making disciples across generations

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

Downtown Campus 2048 995

Three images from freshly-renovated spaces at First UMC in Fargo, N.D. Photos from Fargo UMC Facebook page.

“The church is being equipped to reach those not part of the church, beyond the walls. We are creatively thinking of ways to engage everyone from the youngest disciples to the oldest disciples together,” said The Reverend Ryan Mutzenberger, lead pastor at First United Methodist Church in Fargo, North Dakota.

A year ago, First United Methodist Church in Fargo, North Dakota, began a $2 million renovation of interior spaces. The renovation included the main kitchen, fellowship hall, restrooms, and two classroom spaces, which are 99% complete.

“On June 22-23rd, we will be celebrating our 150th year of ministry,” said Pastor Ryan. “We recently had a great celebration of being able to renovate places in this historic church. We allowed people to bless and consecrate the spaces and celebrate the ways they have partnered in ministry.”

Making space for partners.

It is a project that has been in the works since 2019, Mutzenberger explains. “June 2020, we were ready to break ground on a different renovation project. COVID delayed that. In 2021, we had a chance to reevaluate space and ministries. Inflation caused pricing to increase. We came up with a new vision and a new plan. We asked, ‘What needs to be done with this historic building?’ People have worked hard to make the plan happen. We complete this project with zero debt.”

The goal was to start the 151st year of ministry without debt and continue to make new disciples. The congregation sold property they owned in the south section of Fargo, received a gift from First UMC's foundation, and finally generous gifts from members made the debt-free goal possible.

“We've invested in the church building to invest in our community. These new spaces will allow us to invite the community and different groups in the community to use our spaces at a reduced cost versus renting a space somewhere else in the community,” shared Pastor Ryan. “We have a partnership with the NDSU Extension Service. They come in and do some parenting classes. Several recovery groups meet in the building in connection with the Restoration Church that is here. We formed a new partnership with a group of scrapbookers holding scrapbook retreats at the church.”

People who come to the church will experience modern amenities and more space to move around. The restrooms are larger and accessible to everyone. The fellowship hall has new lighting and windows. There is more natural light. It does not feel or look like you are in a basement. The basement is now air-conditioned. The building has been fully wired with data ports, so you can plug in technology wherever needed.

“I just learned that the mechanical system is smarter than I am. If we were to have 100 people in that fellowship hall at one time, the system would sense the amount of heat that 100 people give off and adjust itself,” explains Pastor Ryan.

Dinner Church

Engaging in Fresh Expressions 

First UMC started Dinner Church in January. Everyone and anyone in the community is invited. Café First cooks and serves dinner for anyone, beginning at 5 p.m. After dinner, there is time for a Jesus story and conversation.

“We have about 30 people attending on average. Two-thirds have a connection to the church, and one-third do not have a connection to us,” Pastor Ryan said. “We are reaching new people and sharing Jesus' stories with them. We feed basic life within us—body and soul.”

Dinner church is part of the Fresh Expressions movement across the Dakotas-Minnesota Area. A team of six people from First UMC in Fargo is part of the Fresh Expressions training with Michael Beck.

The Fargo-Moorhead Jail Chaplains Association is in partnership with First UMC. They hold two classes and meetings at the church weekly. Paul Plueddeman, a certified candidate for ministry seeking status as a licensed pastor, coordinates that ministry. 

“I am doing my best to be the encourager and cheerleader and let lay people step forward,” said Pastor Ryan. “The jail chaplains currently hold two classes, led by  Plueddeman, a member of First UMC. We are looking forward to them expanding this summer and fall,” said Pastor Ryan.

Wednesday nights are busy at the church, too. Café First, a group of volunteers, has been feeding folks for 25 years. They make a meal served at 5 p.m. for dinner at the church. At 6 p.m., a group gathers to knit for the prayer shawl ministry, and there is a handbell choir. Family worship service happens in the chapel at 6:15 p.m., followed by a children's ministry program at 7 p.m., choir rehearsal, youth group, and training for jail chaplaincy.

Something for every generation

There are several small groups. “We have probably a half dozen small groups meeting at other times throughout the week and not on that busy Wednesday. Many of them are affinity groups based on a particular activity that they all are focused on. Our Scribes are a group of folks who love to write. Some of them write poetry, some write short stories, and some want to learn from others and get some constructive feedback. They sit down and creatively write together, share resources, and give feedback to each other,” shares Pastor Ryan.

Other small groups include Hope Circle, a United Women in Faith group. It is a multi-generational group that gathers for devotion, Bible study, mission, and service.

The Caring Closet is a group of volunteers who gather donations of children's clothing from the community. They clean and sort that clothing and prepare to distribute items for free twice a month to anyone who would want them. In 2022, the Caring Closet served  an average of 115 families per month.

A men's group meets two Sundays a month. An average of ten guys attend the group, from college to 85 years old. There is also a Disciple Bible class that meets on Sundays.

Early Sunday mornings, the Seeker class, an adult Bible study group, meets. Reverends Deborah and Gary Ball-Kilbourne, retired elders, lead the group with Bea Kintzler, a clergy spouse.

“Seekers has outstanding leadership. They have been meeting for many, many years. They cover many topics. It is a wonderful adult faith formation group,” Pastor Ryan said.

There are four worship services on Sundays. A contemporary worship service starts with upbeat music in the chapel at 9 a.m. That service includes children's Sunday school during worship time. At 10:30 a.m. Restoration Church has a worship service in the chapel, and traditional worship begins in the sanctuary with the organ. Then, at 6 p.m., there is an evening service with Restoration Church.

Fargo First Youth Group

Youth group on Wednesdays.

Ministry candidate Paul Plueddeman helps with Restoration Church. Restoration Church is a recovery ministry that First UMC has partnered with and supported for several years. At the church, the ministry holds worship in the chapel weekly and several weekly meetings—Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous.

“The recovery ministry is changing,” shares Rev. Mutzenberger. “They have been a recovery worship ministry for 25 years. There is new leadership. They are feeling that they can't grow. It is hard to thrive when you have just such a small niche. They are trying different things to become a new church plant not connected with the United Methodist Church. We partner with them as a faith community and continue to make space for recovery ministries in our building. As a large downtown United Methodist Church, we have a visible and inviting space for everyone.”

Children's and youth ministries have come alive. In 2018, First UMC partnered with Ministry Architects' consultant Stephanie Caro. Rev. Kris Mutzenberger led a group of laity through training. The team visioned what it means to create space and make disciples for children and youth. They mapped out curriculum and milestones throughout a child's faith journey at First UMC.

“Children look forward to participating in the curriculum and reaching the milestones. We hired part-time lay members of the church to serve as Director of Children's Ministries and Director of Youth Ministries,” described Pastor Ryan. “It is engaging. For example, we rotate children through areas on Sunday morning, Bible story time set like a theater, arts and crafts, and science discovery time. It is all related to the scripture for the day. Kids are engaged and experience scripture in different ways.”

It has been inspiring for Pastor Ryan and the leadership at First UMC to watch people become involved in ministry, be partners, welcome community members, and reach beyond the church walls. In this place, everyone of any generations finds more of Jesus.

“We have become a multi-generational church. Everything that we do— sitting around a table for dinner with somebody on Wednesday evening, small groups, children's and youth ministry, recovery ministry, and worship on Sunday, we ask, ‘Is there a way we could include the youngest child to the oldest adult?’ Here is an example. We found that some moms wanted to attend Wednesday evening groups, but needed to watch their young children. So, our children's and youth ministry directors said we could do something. It didn't cost money, but it created ministry opportunity and a chance to engage disciples,” said Pastor Ryan. “It has been fun watching. The biggest thing is just start, make disciples.”


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