Different bishop, different times, different approach!

Christ United Methodist Church: Photo by Ralph Stewart
The doors to Christ United Methodist Church in Vineyard Haven, known as the Stone Church, will open wide on Sunday morning for a festive celebration of the newly-formed United Methodist Parish. Photos by Ralph Stewart

By Mary-Jean Miner - June 29, 2006

Beginning in the mid-1800s traveling circuit riders served all the Methodist churches on the Island. One pastor lived in the parsonage, usually in Oak Bluffs, and served all the churches. Only the pastoral team of Leon and Helen Oliver, both ordained United Methodist ministers, have come close to this consolidation of all the United Methodist churches on Martha's Vineyard.

This summer, an historical event will take place. The four United Methodist churches, including Chilmark Community, Trinity in Oak Bluffs, Christ Church in Vineyard Haven, and Edgartown UMC, will come together to form the United Methodist Parish.

According to the historical committees all along the eastern seaboard, of all the United Methodist conferences, there has never been a united parish set up by the church parishioners; this type of consolidation is usually initiated by local bishops and their cabinets, with the cooperation of parishioners. In our case, a Parish Ministry Planning Team, comprising two members from each of the governing committees of each of the churches, along with the pastors, the Rev. Nancy Collins, the Rev. Nanci Wnek, and the Rev. Mary Jane O'Connor Ropp, has spent a great deal of time during the past two years laying the groundwork for this first true parish. This will group together missions, the United Methodist Women, expenses for pastors, and the use of parsonages.

Christ United Methodist Church: Photo by Ralph Stewart
Christ United Methodist Church

Gary Shaw, the District Superintendent for the Cape and Islands, has joined the effort, along with Peter Weaver, the bishop of the New England Conference. Beginning in September of 2004, the first Island-wide group met in Edgartown, exploring each church's strengths and needs, wishes and dreams. All four churches found common ground and the process of voluntarily establishing a cooperative parish began, exploring ways to share and save. The Rev. Stephen Linear served as consultant from the Conference.

The new parish will have a three-person team, which will include two ordained ministers and an administrative assistant. The United Methodist appointment system began to explore possible pastors, and the Rev. Susan Heafield was selected, along with the Rev. O'Connor Ropp, who will be reassigned to this new setting. The team will serve all four churches. July 2 will mark the establishment of the Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Parish; the service, to be held at Christ United Methodist Church in Vineyard Haven, will include installation of all new committee members, a welcome to the new ministry, and a celebration of the appointments of the two pastors. All the churches are now in the transitional process of saying goodbye to their former pastors, Ms. Wnek and Ms. Collins, who have lent much support to the focus groups in their organization efforts. Ms. O'Connor Ropp will be recognized for her service as the pastor of Trinity church and celebrated in her new role.

In true Island tradition, there will be a potluck celebration following the service.

Parish service and celebration, Sunday, July 2, 11 am, Christ United Methodist Church, Church Street, Vineyard Haven. Spiritual music with Jim Thomas and the NAACP Chorus at 2 pm. Potluck meal follows service.

Mary-Jean Miner is a freelance writer who lives in Tisbury with two retired racing greyhounds. She frequently writes about classical music and art.