“It is exciting and encouraging to keep churches going in the communities.” That is how Rev. Sandra Marquardt describes the new alignment and shared ministry of Trinity UMC and St. Thomas UMC in North Dakota. “Working together is a good illustration of doing God’s work and being open to the Holy Spirit,” Marquardt says.
On June 30, 2019, First United Methodist Church in Cavalier, North Dakota, closed. That left Trinity UMC in Cavalier, without a ministry partner. The two United Methodist congregations were aligned as a two-point charged, served by one pastor.
“We celebrated all of the ministries that happened at First UMC on June 30,” said Rev. Sandra Marquardt, who served as the pastor for the two congregations in Cavalier. “Bishop and Char Ough attended, he preached, many people in the community and extended families were present to mark the occasion.”
Cavalier, with a population of 1,200, is the county seat for Pembina County in North Dakota. The community is surrounded by several smaller towns, one of which is St. Thomas, North Dakota. St. Thomas, population 311, is 20 miles to the north and west of Cavalier, has only one church in the community, a United Methodist Church.
“The Lutheran congregation in St. Thomas closed this summer,” said Marquardt. “The United Methodist congregation is the only active church in the community. The church is right next to the school, so there are ministry opportunities.”
In the Dakotas Conference, there are roughly 50 multi-point charges— multiple congregations in alignment with each other for ministry. There are 32 configurations of two congregations in ministry together, 15 involve three congregations, and three alignments involving four congregations. This alignment happens for a multitude of reasons: geography, finances, sharing a pastor.
Rev. Randy Cross, district superintendent for the Northeast District of the Dakotas Conference, recommended that Trinity UMC consider aligning their ministry with the United Methodist Church in St. Thomas, North Dakota. Cross, gathered a team of leaders from each of the congregations, with the guidance of Pastor Sandra, to consider the realignment. The team now serves as the combined Pastor-Parish Relations Committee (PPRC), wrestled with things like the times for worship, finances for the pastor’s salary and benefits, and other details.
“Transitions can be challenging and hard. Randy was a good guide. He encouraged us to be creative, to do something new,” says Marquardt.
Four months into the transition, both congregations are living into something new. Each week, Rev. Marquardt leaves her parsonage in Cavalier and heads to St. Thomas for worship at 9 a.m. She does not linger after the worship service, service at Trinity UMC begins at 10:45 a.m.
“It is working,” says Marquardt. “We have some preliminary ideas for taking care of service when the weather gets bad this winter.”
Each of the congregation continues and is discovering new ways of connecting in their communities. Each summer, Trinity UMC and other community organizations sponsor a Christian music festival, “Off the Charts.” More than 5,000 people attend each August.
This fall, St. Thomas welcomed 220 children and their families to God’s Pumpkin Patch. The event, which happens on a Wednesday in the fall each year, involves supper, games, a Bible lesson, and of course, pumpkins.
Each of the congregations is offering opportunities to grow in faith. At St. Thomas UMC, there is an active Sunday School program for children through adults. At Trinity UMC, youth gather with others from the community for LIGHT, an ecumenical youth ministry program. Adults at Trinity UMC can join a Sunday School class before worship each week or join an ecumenical study on Wednesday afternoons. Confirmation is offered every other year.
Rev. Marquardt has been intentional about communication and sharing messages across the two congregations. There is a bulletin and newsletter shared by the congregations. The PPRC continues to meet and discuss things like Christmas services and the Christmas program. The group continues to explore what they can do better together.
“We continue to ask, how do we make disciples and go out and be disciples? It is important to be open to the Holy Spirit and ask for wisdom. We are open to changes and trying new things,” says Marquardt.