Photo by Claudia Parker
Max and Patricia Hodges of Palos Hills were married at Worth UMC in 1967.
As most churches prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Worth United Methodist Church officials hope to revive their perishing congregation by merging with Palos Heights United Methodist Church.
It appears the 9 a.m. Sunday service will mark the final Easter celebration at the 130-year-old church at 7100 W. 112th St. Perhaps next Easter the members of this church will be celebrating at the Palos Heights church at 12101 S. Harlem Ave.
During a service on March 22 Worth UMC Pastor, Sung Kown Oh, urged his congregation to vote and it had nothing to do with the April 7 municipal or school board elections.
It had to do with the possible merger.
“Sunday, May 3, right after worship service, we need to make sure all of you attend, this is an important decision,” Oh said. “We’ll decide if we will be merging with Palos Heights UMC. We need each of you to vote on this.”
What God has joined let no man put asunder is often heard during wedding ceremonies but this sentiment could be heard among the congregation as they gathered in their fellowship hall after the March 23 service.
Max and Patricia Hodges of Palos Hills were married at Worth UMC in 1967, 48 years ago. The two have been active members since 1980.
“We’re going to vote to merge so we can remain with our church family,” Max said.
Max Hodges said he has served on various church auxiliaries including trustee, vacation bible school and the United Methodist men’s group.
“My wife does more than I do,’’ he said. “She’s a certified lay servant, worship leader, food pantry volunteer and she reaches out to the sick by sending cards and things.”
Tom and Carol Martin of Chicago Ridge said they’ve seen seven pastors come and go since 1958 when they joined.
“Yes, I intend to vote,” Tom Martin said. “I want our members to stay together too. This is the only church my family has ever known.”
The Martins have two daughters, Suzanne Osinski of Chicago Ridge and Julie Malcerk of Palos Heights who are also members.
Of the 20 members present after the service, there wasn’t one who said he or she felt good about the closure. The church started the year Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” was published and professional baseball players made a maximum of $2,000. Many believe with so many of the founding members having passed away, their families, little by little, have gone elsewhere.
Jane Hughes of Orland Park has been a member so long she quantified the years as, “Forever!”
“I’ve been here a long time.” Hughes said while sipping coffee. “This is depressing. I’m not sure which route I’m going to take.”
Helen Kristufek, an 86-year-old Worth resident, said she isn’t even Christian but she’s upset too.
“I’m a Greek Orthodox but I’ve been coming here off and on since 1954.” Kristufek said. “I come because of the people; I’ve built good relationships here. I don’t understand how this happened. It’s very sad.”
Abby Morgan of Alsip is only 14 years old but she said she likes to hang with members who don’t look like her.
“I’m not a man but I love going to the men’s breakfast for their chocolate-chip waffles.” Morgan said. “And, I like hanging around the old ladies, listening to their conversations makes me laugh.”
Morgan didn’t refer to any particular senior but there was one who didn’t have a problem speaking her mind.
Ramona Paulumbo, of Bridgeview, had very strong opinions about previous church leadership and program cuts causing drops in membership.
Paulumbo said the writing was on the wall when members stopped getting financial status updates on the church budget.
Pastor Oh has been pastoring Worth UMC for two years, but for 30 years total. He and his wife, Sunghee of 37 years plan to retire and relocate to their home country of Korea once the merger is complete.
“I don’t see this as a closure. It’s a rejuvenation process, like a life cycle.” Oh said. “I don’t want to see the church settle independently. The merger would be best.”
“There were conversations about a merger when we were appointed to this church,” Sunghee Oh said.“We knew there were financial difficulties and that this was a possibility, but it’s still sad.”
To some it feels like a total liquidation sale.
Everything must go, including the church food pantry that feeds upwards of 200 families per week and a daycare center. Members said they’re praying for a buyer so the food pantry and daycare can remain as tenants to the new owners.