Small-town Kansas church thinks big, wins award
His parishioners believe he’s the reason for the change, but Pastor DeMerle Eckart shrugged off any suggestion that he deserved an evangelism award from Discipleship Ministries and The United Methodist Church.
“God has granted us this award,” Eckart said after receiving the One Matters Award for evangelism during the Salina District charge conference Nov. 19 in Concordia, Kansas. “Anyone could have won this award, because it’s the Holy Spirit that’s doing the work. The Holy Spirit works where it will.”
The One Matters Award was introduced in 2015 by Discipleship Ministries to encourage evangelism. It came with a $1,000 check.
“Culver United Methodist Church is already embracing that aspect of ministry,” said the Rev. Dee Williamston, Salina District superintendent, who nominated the church for the award.
The United Methodist Church in the Ottawa County, Kansas, town of 120 people had as few as four people attending church, a parishioner said in a video
shown during the charge conference.
Eckart, now in his third year at the church, said he was asked what kind of increase in attendance he expected. He replied 25, and thought it was beyond the church’s grasp. At a Sunday this summer, attendance hit 31.
“He’s just a real personable person. He goes out and knocks on doors all around the community,” Culver UMC member Elaine Unfred said in the video. “He’s active with everybody. He’s not pushy. He’s just fun to visit with.”
A former 25-year veteran teacher in Arkansas and in the Twin Valley school district, which includes Culver, Eckart started to make connections with people in the town with daily coffee.
“It wasn’t church-oriented, it was just to get together to know people,” church member Jannet Castillo said.
Eckart said he was discouraged by having as few as one person come to the Saturday coffee gathering. He said he prayed for guidance. Now, the coffee group has grown to six days a week, all but Sunday.
“People don’t come to church,” he said, “but they do come to coffee.”
Eckart said he’s hoping to expand the ministry to smaller towns in the area, meeting weekly at the local grain elevators.
He said the church also is looking into purchasing abandoned houses and rehabbing them to offer for sale or rent to bring new people into the community.
“We’re gung-ho,” Eckart said. “We’ve got tractors waiting.”
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