When the Rev. Judi Hunt told the congregation at Wesley United Methodist Church that they would host a “Run for God” series, which combines Bible study with training for a 5K, she got funny looks from a few.
“We are an aging congregation, with some exceptions,” Hunt said, laughing. “I told them we can ‘mosey for God,’ and that’s okay.”
Run for God, which begins Sept. 2, is open to the community and part of the church’s larger effort to better connect with nearby neighborhoods on and near Rea Road in south Charlotte.
Wesley United Methodist, founded in 1977, is taking part in a new effort by the United Methodist Church in the Charlotte area to help smaller congregations. Wesley United is one of the first to be partnered with a larger, thriving church – in this case the 4,000-member Matthews United Methodist – so they can share resources and expertise.
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Hunt was appointed senior pastor of Wesley, which has about 120 members, a year ago. She splits her time there with Matthews United Methodist, where she’s worked since 1997 and is one of six pastors.
“This is a unique arrangement,” Hunt said. “Our whole goal is to build the community of God, which is what we are called to do.”
In some cases, that has meant larger Methodist churches merging with smaller ones to become campuses of the larger church. Good Shepherd in Steele Creek, for example, recently absorbed Zoar Road United Methodist, and Mill Grove in Indian Trail and Weddington United Methodist also have absorbed smaller churches.
Wesley United Methodist is benefiting from resources, manpower and wisdom learned through years of growth at Matthews United Methodist, Hunt said.
“The idea is to take the DNA that is the makeup of a vital church and find ways to infuse that into the smaller church,” she said.
Matthews United Methodist members have helped Wesley during its annual fall pumpkin patch sale and church work days. If the smaller church is short a musician for Sunday worship, a Matthews United Methodist member often has stepped in. Hunt called it a “great collaboration.”
The changes at Wesley in the past year have been internal and external. The church has renovated some of its interior and given the outside of the building a fresh coat of paint “to reflect the newness here,” Hunt said.
The congregation spent a year considering its mission, and now it’s ready to reach out to the community and Olde Providence Elementary School, which is across Rea Road from the church.
The church has renovated its playground and nurseries, preparing for new families. It’s already seeing more traffic on the playground.
Run for God is one of the church’s new outreach efforts. It’s aimed at people the church staff has seen walking and running along the sidewalks in front of the church.
“We’re trying to look at who we see in our neighborhood and connect with them,” said Cindy Tanner, Wesley United Methodist Church administrator. “This is a great small church that really wants to serve the community.”
Run for God is a 12-week program that will be led by Diana Monago, who recently led the study at Matthews United Methodist.
Run for God was founded in 2010 by Mitchell Hollis, who had begun running three years earlier and became so involved in the sport that a fellow church member warned him, “Don’t let this become your God.”
In response, Hollis, who lives in Dalton, Ga., started a running ministry. Run for God emphasizes physical health and draws parallels between faith and endurance.
Wesley’s Run for God program is designed for people who have not run before. It will meet 9:15 a.m. Tuesdays at the church for 12 weeks. The program combines Bible study and training that will help participants get ready for a 5K race and develop their relationship with God.
Run for God also will offer child care during the weekly meetings.
For more information and registration, visit www.wesleyumccharlotte.com. The church is at 3715 Rea Road.