May 22, 164 members of Ebenezer and Washington Street United Methodist Churches in Tiffin gathered in the sanctuary of Ebenezer UMC and voted to merge the two congregations, effective Aug. 1. They chose a new name, Faith United Methodist Church, to be located at 75 N. Sandusky St.
Repairs are still in progress on Sandusky Street after a lightning strike damaged the electrical system two weeks ago, but the first worship service for Faith UMC is set for 8 a.m. Sunday. A potluck brunch is to take place during the usual Sunday school time between services. The second service at 10:15 a.m. is to have some symbolic elements to celebrate the joining of the congregations.
The Revs. Donna Van Trees and Nathan Howe, who are sharing ministry at Faith, said they cannot yet describe the new church. They explained the process of consolidation and said the proposal to combine was not a directive from the local United Methodist Conference.
"It came very much from within the congregations, with the support of the conference," Howe said.
"It was a majority vote to merge, so that's a positive thing," Van Trees said. "It's capturing the vision that God is doing something beyond us ... so that's where the excitement comes in."
Howe had been splitting his time as pastor with Washington Street and St. Paul's United Methodist Church on Madison Street, and he is to continue as St. Paul's pastor. Because the two downtown churches are so close geographically, they had been doing a combined vacation Bible school for more than 10 years.
About two years ago, Ebenezer joined St. Paul and Washington Street for some activities. Not long after, the discussion to merge began with all three churches "at the table." Ebenezer and Washington Street discovered they had a lot in common.
"Each church has its own unique culture, but people from Washington Street and Ebenezer began to feel that our culture, our DNA, was very similar," Van Trees said. "I think it was just people coming to realize that we were doing the same thing in two different places, and if we pooled our resources, might we have more opportunities for outreach, or greater outreach in the community and doing God's work?"
Howe agreed that meeting in one location will save on overhead and maintenance costs. The choirs, Sunday school classes and other groups are to be combined. The Washington Street church is to be closed, and Howe said he is exploring options for the building's fate. The 1924 cornerstone (from the original Market Street church), located in the basement at Washington Street, probably will be removed and placed somewhere at the church on Sandusky Street. Howe said St. Paul had its reasons for remaining a separate parish.
"I think St. Paul was just in a place of establishing their own identity and being St. Paul's the best way they possibly can. And I think that it's been very healthy for St. Paul's, as well, to exclude themselves from the merger conversation," Howe said.
With about 300 members, St. Paul's is the site of a lot of "foot traffic" from community members, especially when Ecumenical Sharing Kitchen is open. With its Edison electric chandelier, the building is a registered historic site with the state of Ohio and United Methodist Church.
"It's a very functional building, and it's used a lot all week. ... We have people dropping in at least a couple times a week looking for assistance," Howe said. "I think it's important for the United Methodist Church to have a presence downtown."
When Howe became pastor of Washington Street and St. Paul, both changed the times of their services. After Sunday, the Sunday service at St. Paul's is to return to its 10 a.m. time slot. Howe is to be the regular presider at Faith's 8 a.m. service on Sunday. He will have office hours at St. Paul Mondays and Thursdays, when the sharing kitchen is open, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Faith.
As far as choosing a new name, a steering committee with administrative leaders from both congregations asked the individual churches for suggestions. "Faith" and "Emanuel" were proposed by members of both groups. The two names were submitted to church members for a vote, with "Faith" being selected. Washington Street UMC had its final service July 31, so some of the church's furnishings are to be transferred to Sandusky Street.
"The cross and the Bible will be coming from Washington Street United Methodist Church, so when we gather for worship on the 7th, those will be brought forward and placed on the altar," Van Trees said.
"In the sanctuary, the baptismal font will be coming over, worship banners will be coming over. ... Throughout the building, there are some other items the trustees from the congregations have agreed to incorporate into the building," Howe said.
Although the trustees from the two churches have worked together to make the transition as smooth as possible, not all the changes will happen overnight. Various issues still need to be approved.
Services at Ebenezer are to stay at 8 a.m., 10:15 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Ebenezer's phone number, (419) 447-6748, is to be retained for the Faith UMC office. "Ebenezer" lettering on the cornerstone will have to stay, but the name will be changed elsewhere.
"Everywhere the name can be changed, it will be changed," Van Trees said. "It's a long process."