The seasons of change continue rolling in for Joyful Spirit United Methodist church members, as Rev. Amy VanValkenburg said. Over the past five years, members have experienced changes including combining the Deer Creek and Wadena churches and selling both of those buildings. The Deer Creek building sold in 2018 and the Wadena building is in the final process—and now their new building is delayed.

With the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the church joined the wait and see process, according to building committee chair Richard Vogue, though the transition to a shared building space at the First Congregational United Church of Christ has taken time as VanValkenburg said. The moving and adjusting over the past 10 months includes understanding another denomination and expanding ways to care for members, such as a YouTube channel for services during the pandemic.

“The actual building of the building has had to wait so that we can have these relationships built so that we can serve our members because it’s really not about building a building. It’s about building the discipleship for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and so that has to take precedence over everything else and then these other things will fall into place as we do that work,” VanValkenburg said.

The “biggest delay” is forming the capital campaign to fundraise for the estimated $800,000 building, according to VanValkenburg. As the estimate was given last year, VanValkenburg expects it will change.

“There’s so much time and planning that goes into a capital campaign for a building project that it has to be your admin team’s whole focus and … we just haven’t been able to do that,” VanValkenburg said.

In the meantime, Vogue said the five building committee members are working on improving the property on Hwy 29 in Compton Township. Spruce trees were added and electricity will be put in this week.

Vogue said the property projects are “moving forward,” including the addition of drive-in outdoor services on June 7. The first service had approximately 15 vehicles and the second had 25-28 vehicles, according to Vogue.

Rev. Amy VanValkenburg (left) is transitioning to a pastor role at the Atwater and Rosendale churches. She will also be attending Luther Seminary for her Master of Divinity with her full tuition covered from the Jubilee Scholarship.
Photo courtesy of Amy VanValkenburg
Rev. Amy VanValkenburg (left) is transitioning to a pastor role at the Atwater and Rosendale churches. She will also be attending Luther Seminary for her Master of Divinity with her full tuition covered from the Jubilee Scholarship. Photo courtesy of Amy VanValkenburg

Another service change in the mix is VanValkenburg’s new pastor appointment to the Atwater and Rosendale churches where she will serve three-fourths of the time while also attending Luther Seminary for her Master of Divinity. Within the Methodist denomination pastors are appointed yearly by the Board of Ordained Ministry, which considers the needs of the church members and the pastor and their family, according to VanValkenburg.

“This new appointment for me will help me focus on that path that God has opened the door to … and it’s going to be very consuming for a very long time,” VanValkenburg said.

VanValkenburg will be closer to Luther Seminary and have time for her family by serving Atwater and Rosendale. Although Luther will have fall semester classes online due to the coronavirus, VanValkenburg plans to stay at the parsonage provided in Atwater for two to three days a week with her family there on Sundays and as possible otherwise.

Between VanValkenburg’s last Sunday on June 14 and Rev. Kevin Gregory’s start on July 5, certified lay servant Kathy Techam will lead worship services at the new building site and possibly on YouTube. Techam said church members are being trained on the YouTube process.

“It’s kind of daunting when you’re trying to fill in for a pastor of Amy’s quality but you just do the very best that you can in bringing the word that you feel the people need to hear at that time, whether it’s from something I’ve learned in a Bible study or something that another pastor has said that’s got me to thinking, ‘Well, our people need to hear this too,’” Techam said.

One of the lessons Techam has learned from VanValkenburg is the value of connectionalism, including caring for people’s needs during the pandemic.

“We really need to be in contact with our people, our church family, finding out what their needs are and trying our very best, whether through prayer or actually taking something to them that they need,” Techam said.

As for VanValkenburg’s time in Wadena and Deer Creek, she is grateful to have started her ministry journey with the Joyful Spirit church members and leadership, UCC church, the Ecumenical Ministerial Association and the partners of the backpack program. After starting in June 2019, the community and pastors welcomed VanValkenburg and her leadership. With events like the community nativity and the Empty Stocking Fund, she said, “That is community.”

The needs of church members and the community are at the top of VanValkenburg’s concerns along with church members not only worshiping and praising God on Sundays but also heading out into the community to share the love of Christ.

“I think that serving on the other side of the doors of the church is what Christ is asking us to do. Put the saddlebags on your horse and get out into the community,” VanValkenburg said. “It’s about what the needs are in the community. So get out there and be part of that.”

VanValkenburg will continue forward with the lessons of communal projects and the value of showing up in the community.

“Being part of that Ecumenical Ministerial group and serving with them and understanding and working cooperatively and loving our neighbor whether they’re Jewish, Muslim, Christian or non-affiliated, that’s the Christ-like work that we need more of in the world,” VanValkenburg said.