Wildwood UMC is an older, primarily white, historic church making new history by partnering with an African American congregation.
Established in 1881 as a Methodist Episcopal Church South (this denomination emerged from a split over slavery), it is a church that has had some ups and downs in its 130-plus year history, according to Senior Pastor Michael Beck.
For the past six years, the members of the congregation have been challenging the long existing racism and segregation of the Wildwood community.
God’s Glory Ministry Inc., an African American congregation, was planted by Pastor Bernard Taylor over ten years ago. The congregation has been growing rapidly and is also actively involved in the transformation of the community.
The two congregations have created a new partnership. God’s Glory Ministry Inc. recently found themselves in need of a space to worship, as the building they were renting was suddenly being sold. Pastors Taylor and Beck, who already had an established relationship, planned to partner for using the Wildwood UMC facility.
These two congregations have not “merged” in the corporate sense; they are sharing space and combining some ministries. For instance, they are partnering on Wednesday night community dinners, youth and children’s programs and some outreach.
On Sundays, the campus is now home to three worship services. Wildwood UMC has a family-friendly blended service at 9 a.m. in their fellowship hall featuring a breakfast, then a traditional service in their sanctuary. God’s Glory Ministries Inc. has their worship service in the fellowship hall at 11 a.m. A transition team of members from both congregations transforms the space in between services.
In March, North East District Superintendent Rev. June Edwards came to speak a word of encouragement to the churches for their work. “Jesus has sent out the invitation to all,” she said. “There is plenty of room at the banquet table. Thanks for making room for each other.”
On Easter Sunday, all three services were packed full, each experience very different and very beautiful, according to Beck.
Both pastors believe that God has orchestrated this union, and that the impact is bigger than just their two groups of folks.
Taylor, who was not expecting a sudden move, sees this as part of God’s plan. “If you want to make God laugh tell him your plans; His plans always prevail,” Taylor said. Both pastors see this relationship contributing to the next step in the healing and reconciliation of the Wildwood community.
“I was a little surprised how segregated Wildwood was when we arrived. The railroad track was literally like the dividing line between black and white” said Beck, who has actively spearheaded the Interracial Unity Movement for the past six years.
“That division does not reflect God’s desire for human community.”