When Pastor Cheryl Nymann moved from Minnesota Conference to serve a newly organized, three-point charge, she never imagined that the three churches she serves would connect quickly in their love of Christ. The three congregations—Murdo UMC, Draper UMC, and White River UMC, recently gathered in Draper, South Dakota, at the United Methodist Church to learn more about each other, worship, and be in fellowship.
When Nymann first learned about the opportunity to serve in the Dakotas, she was asked to serve two United Methodist congregations—one at Draper, South Dakota, and one at Murdo, South Dakota. A third congregation, White River UMC, was added to make it a three-point charge.
“I am so glad they added the third congregation to the mix because all three churches have such a good spirit. That is what I love about it,” said Nymann. “In Minnesota, I served a three-point charge, so it is not like it is out of my comfort zone. Every church has its personality. So, bringing them together was all part of God’s plan. I feel so blessed we came together.”
This is the first tri-church event. The idea started in discussion at the Tri-Church Pastor Parish Relations Committee or PPRC. There are three people on the PPRC from each of the congregations. Pastor Cheryl suggested an all-church worship service followed by a potluck. The committee members brought the idea to their congregations and made it happen.
“I thought it would be nice for them to get together to know everyone a little bit more,” said Pastor Cheryl. "So we all met at the Draper church. They were very enthusiastic about it. I was pleased.”
Everyone met at the United Methodist Church in Draper for worship. Luke Dowling, the son of a church member in Draper from Pierre, South Dakota, played guitar and sang some songs. The local church members used a back-to-school theme to make it festive. Decorations hailed welcome on the door and inside the sanctuary. Backpacks were blessed. Each student got a new drawstring sports pack with a water bottle and some pencils.
“We did a blessing. The entire congregation held their hands over the students, and we prayed over the students that were there,” Nymann said. “It was attended so well. I was so pleased. We had 77 parishioners in the small, little Draper church. One of the older members of Draper UMC thought that the last time they had many people in the church was back in the 1950s.”
There was a potluck afterward. “What was exciting about the potluck, besides the food—the food is always good, people stuck around afterward and visited with one another. They got to know each other a little bit more. It was a wonderful event,” said Pastor Cheryl.
Cash gifts, that are not designated, received as part of the offering at worship and a free will donation at the potluck will go to a mission project selected by Draper UMC.
Post-COVID, many churches are experiencing declining attendance and searching for ways to invite people into a community of believers in Christ. These three rural congregations are not unique in the hunt to invite people to Jesus but are hopeful.
“The expression of hope is present. A lot of people had never been to the Draper church. Some of the parishioners, especially from the White River area, had to drive over an hour to come to church that day. So that is an expression of enthusiasm and hope,” said Nymann.
Nymann came to ministry late in life at age 53. She was licensed seven years ago after attending the Dakotas Licensing School. She is supported in her call to ministry by family, friends, and the congregations she serves.
“The first three churches I served were part of my home, where I had always lived. I knew everybody. Some were my relatives,” she said. “We did not know a soul when we moved to the Dakotas to serve these three churches. The people have welcomed us and invited us into their homes and communities. We receive a lot of care. We are blessed to be here.”
Pastor Cheryl and her husband are not new to South Dakota. Cheryl taught at Takini School near Sisseton, South Dakota, when they were first married.
The couple has two adult children. When she first felt the call to ministry, her children were struggling. At the same time, her pastor reached out and asked her to get involved by attending the annual conference. Unknown to Nymann at the time, it was God calling her into ministry.
One night, she had a dream where she heard the voice of her deceased uncle, stating that she should go into ministry. When she woke up, she was unsure of the dream. Being a nature lover, she drove to a nearby lake to clear her head. Sitting in her car looking at the lake, a young man walked by wearing a veteran’s hat. She got out of her car and thanked him for his service. The veteran was the mirror image of her son, who was also a veteran and struggling.
“I was asking God for help. I just knew that the dream, the veteran showing up in my path, was God’s way of telling me I should go into ministry,” said Pastor Cheryl. “I was at the right place at the right time. Going to annual conference affirmed that. When I got back, I told my pastor that annual conference, the dream, was life-changing, and I was going into ministry.”
Each week, Nymann finds herself traveling about 60 miles to lead three worship services in west central South Dakota. First, she leaves the parsonage in Murdo, South Dakota, by 7:30 a.m. for worship at Draper UMC at 8:30 a.m. Then she travels eight miles west to Murdo for worship at 9:45 a.m. Finally, at 11:15 a.m., she wanders 24 miles south for worship at White River.
“So far, there is plenty of time to get to all three services. White River has a worship team that can step in and start worship if I am late,” she said.
Next are plans to get something going for the youth as a tri-church ministry. “It is all up to them and the Holy Spirit,” said Pastor Cheryl.