Each year the West Ohio United Methodist Rural Advocates award the William B. Murray Vital Church Award to a rural church worshiping less than 100, that displays passionate worship, radical hospitality, risk-taking service and mission, extravagant generosity, and faith-forming relationships. The 2019 recipient of the West Ohio UMRA William B. Murry Vital Church Award is North Lewisburg UMC, from Capital Area North, with Karen Montgomery as pastor. So far in 2019, the North Lewisburg Church has had 14 baptisms and 9 professions of faith with an average attendance of 75.
Sunday morning worship is just the beginning of North Lewisburg's ministry to their rural community of about 1,400 people. As the demographics surrounding the church began to shift, church leadership took a new look at how the church could respond. "What makes our church unique is that it refuses to quit, even during challenging times," says Pastor Karen, now in her eighth year at NLUMC. "We believe God is still at work in and through our rural church. We are not just surviving; we are strong and healthy and are making a significant impact in our community."
Much of that impact comes through numerous outreach ministries to the North Lewisburg community. Wednesday Community Suppers offer a free meal to about 175 people each week. After the church started delivering meals to the nearby senior living community, they decided to create a weekly worship experience to go along with those meals. In addition, North Lewisburg runs a food pantry that serves over 100 local families once a month.
In 2014, the church re-established its youth group, which averages 25 attendees each week, many of whom also participate in North Lewisburg's Connect4Success mentoring program. This program takes place inside a local middle school, where 50 students meet one time per week with mentoring adults during the regular school day. Many of these students also take part in service learning projects through the church, including Serve Week Youth Camp. The camp, held during the church's VBS, includes doing home repairs around the community and serving at the NLUMC food pantry.
Also for children and youth, North Lewisburg holds the Cool Tools 4 School back-to-school event, offering school supplies, free haircuts, immunizations, physicals, and food. Cardinal Corner Childcare Center is a Christian childcare facility that provides affordable care for 70 infants, preschool, and latch-key children.
Started in 2017, the church's Celebrate Recovery addiction ministry was born out of a crisis. A family with a loved one suffering from addiction reached out to the church, and NLUMC realized there were no resources in the area for those dealing with addiction. One of the Celebrate Recovery attendees, who has three young children, said, "I come from a long generational history of drug addiction and family chaos, but with God's help, it's stopping with me! It's going to be different for my kids!"
Just recently, the church has seen some impact from these outreach ministries on Sunday morning worship numbers. More importantly, though, says Pastor Karen, "My hope is that our church will continue to see lives impacted and transformed, that many people will come to experience new life and freedom in Jesus."
Congratulations to North Lewisburg United Methodist Church for receiving this year's West Ohio UMRA Vital Church Award!