As the newly expanded congregation gathered for the 10 a.m. worship service and “Rally Day” at Palos United Methodist Church on Sunday, Sept. 13, the sign outside said it all, “Two churches united by faith.”
The worship service, followed by a potluck luncheon at the church at 12101 S. Harlem Ave., marked the official merger of Palos UMC with the congregation of Worth United Methodist Church, at 7100 W. 112th St. The Worth church, which has a 132-year history, had been struggling with low attendance for some time, and both congregations voted in May to merge so the Worth congregation wouldn’t have to scatter.
Worth UMC officially closed its doors a few weeks ago when the Rev. Sung Kown Oh retired on Sept. 1.
“We are so glad for this day, when we’re officially joined as one,” said Pastor Laura Barkley, as she welcomed the new members from the pulpit. “This is wildly exciting. We can’t express in words how happy we are.”
Following the traditional greetings of peace that worshipers shared with those seated around them, Barkley brought more than 40 members from the Worth congregation in attendance to the front of the church, where they officially joined the Palos congregation with a renewal of faith.
As they returned to their seats, the Palos congregation of about 80 people gave them a round of applause, and some good-natured ribbing was heard in the pews about what else was in store for them. One woman was jokingly told that the next step in the membership process would be getting a tattoo. “Can I choose where I get it?,” the newcomer asked with a laugh.
“I was surprised at how many people came over from Worth. It was like Christmas or Easter,” said Jim Dagger as he headed over to the potluck luncheon following the service. “I wasn’t sure if the greetings of peace would ever end,” he said with a grin.
Byril Sanders, of Palos Park, and a member of the Palos Heights church for 40 years, said he has experienced the closure of four Methodist churches during his lifetime, including in the Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods of Chicago.
“A lot of the smaller churches are going to close,” he said.
Julie Milcarek, 52, said she was a lifelong member of the Worth church. “It is nice to have someplace to go. They have been very welcoming here. It’s new beginnings,” she said.
“It is sad when a church closes, but at least they had someplace to go,” said Judy Zedak, as she and her husband, Gene, chatted with members of the Worth congregation at the potluck lunch in the church hall.
“When I signed up to be the liturgist for this service back in June, I didn’t realize it would be such a big day,” said Gene Zedak.
Kristina Gaughan, who lives a block from the Worth church that she belonged to for 45 years, noted that its 132-year history predates Worth itself, which was incorporated in 1914. But she said that while its closure was difficult, traveling a little farther south on Harlem to go to church will be easy.
“While a building is important, it is not as important as the work we can do together. It was hard to get things done with only 30 or 40 members. We are stronger together, and we need to evolve to survive,” she said.
Many members of both the Palos Heights and Worth congregations had already been volunteering together at the food pantry at the Worth church, assisting more than 100 area families.
Barkley had said after the service that she was pleased to report that the food pantry will remain open in the building, although the church is no longer there. There was some concern about that because the Palos Heights church does not have the space for it. An outside agency also rents space for a daycare center there, and that will remain open as well.
“It is not the building that is important, it is the people. Jesus wasn’t concerned with buildings. It should be about his message,” said Gaughan, to the agreement of her lunch companions.