Published Aug. 29, 2013
Mission work a focus for Hinsdale Methodists
Generosity and emphasis on helping others have made an impression on new pastor
By Pamela Lannom
One thing has struck the Rev. John McCoy in his seven weeks as senior pastor of the Hinsdale United Methodist Church.
“It’s very, very rare to encounter a church that is so invested in so many ways in missions,” he said.
That focus is ingrained in the church, said 35-year member Zed Francis, a member of the missions committee who also serves as chairman of the stewardship and finance committee.
“Clearly you can look at the biblical prerogative,” he said. “Jesus commanded us to help those who are less fortunate and share the gifts that we have, and our church really takes that to heart. When we’ve had a mission opportunity, we’ve never had trouble raising the funds required. It really is part of the fabric of this congregation.”
Many people join the church because they want to be active, said Carole Cartwright, a 15-year member who serves on the staff-parish, communications and worship committees.
“We have a congregation of people who want to do things. It is a congregation where we are blessed. Most of us have incomes and some of us have very good incomes. I think people want to give back,” she said.
“The congregation is exceptionally generous and so people will oftentimes make reference to Luke 12:48 — to whom much is given, much is required, much is demanded, much is expected,” he said.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, espoused a similar approach, advising his followers to “earn all you can, save all you can, but give all you can,” McCoy said.
“People do that in remarkable ways,” he added.
Among the church’s many mission efforts are two focused on the homeless. The church supports PADS and Bridge Communities, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the homeless. The church sponsors a family in transition for two years by providing financial support of $10,000 a year for rent plus a mentoring team.
“It’s a significant commitment,” Francis said. “We’ve done that for over a decade.”
The work also helps the younger members of the church gain perspective on what life is like outside of Hinsdale.
“This is almost like a fantasy,” McCoy said. “You can very easily assume this is the way everyone lives, and it’s not that way. It allows you to be even more appreciative of the gifts you have received.”
The mission programs are not part of the church’s operating budget. They are heavily supported by the United Methodist Women, and, as Francis pointed out, the congregation responds when alerted to a need. That same generosity was evident when the church was planning to build a new $4.5 million sanctuary.
The goal was to raise about $3.4 million. Most churches the same size would never expect to raise that amount of money. But organizers knew HUMC members would responds.
“When we started a campaign to build the new sanctuary, we called in the experts to help us fundraise,” Cartwright said. “When they looked at us on paper, they said, ‘You are not going to be able to raise this amount of money.’ We said, ‘Just tell us what we need to do.’ ”
The church — and the denomination — offer generosity of another sort to Cartwright, who grew up Baptist.
“What I find is that Methodists welcome discussion, and this is not true in a lot of churches,” she said. “That is one of the things that attracted me and attracts lots of people.”
Cartwright has taken several intensive Bible classes offered at the church and enjoys studying Scripture.
“That’s been a real important part of my spiritual growth and my ability to incorporate the faith into my life instead of incorporating my life into the faith,” she said.
Although the church has no debt and 350 to 400 members, its leaders are not complacent. One of the reasons McCoy was assigned to serve as pastor of the church is to grow membership. His previous church, St. Mark in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, had 2,200 members.
“There are phenomenal opportunities to grow the church and to expand the number of ministries and to build up on the existing ministries,” he said.
The way to do that is to get out in the community. McCoy holds a doctorate in clinical community psychology, but said he’s no armchair psychologist. He prefers the Doobie Brothers’ “Takin’ it to the Streets” approach, where the reach is greater.
“By changing the surroundings, you change not only the individual, but you change larger systems,” he said.
And sometimes that means a non-orthodox approach, such as offering a worship and Bible study in a bar, as one Methodist church has done, or sponsoring a fantasy football league, as HUMC is about to do. McCoy quoted Jesus from 1 Corinthians 9:22: “I become all things to all people.”
The congregation has also tried to be conscious of what it means to serve families with young children, who might have commitments that compete with Sunday morning worship time.
“The reality is that the church needs to serve families differently or offer opportunities differently than they might have done a few decades ago,” Francis said. “People’s first connection with HUMC might not come on a Sunday.”
For those who do first encounter the church during worship, Cartwright expects they will like what they hear from the new pastor.
“He is going to be a wonderful draw,” she said of McCoy. “A lot of people are going to come just to hear him.”
Affiliation: United Methodist Church
Pastor: Rev. Jon McCoy, senior pastor
Worship: single 9:30 a.m. worship service through Sept. 1, 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. worship starting Sept. 8, 9:15 a.m. Sunday School for all ages starting Sept. 15
Membership: 350 to 400
History: the church was chartered Jan. 18, 1959, and met at the Hinsdale Community Center until the building at Garfield Avenue and 55th Street opened in April 1963. The church has been expanded twice, and the latest addition included a new sanctuary that opened December 2005.
Theology: United Methodist Church founder John Wesley’s credo was “The world is my parish.”
“So wherever we are, we are engaged in the world, making a difference in a great number of ways,” McCoy said.