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By Charlotte Smith

After a United Methodist Church in Elizabethtown disaffiliated from the state conference, a devoted group of believers wanted to continue to worship as United Methodists, according to Toni Dickerson, with the promise of “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” 

St. Christopher’s Episcopal members offered their facilities as a sanctuary for the new Grace United Methodist Church believers until a new facility is found. The local Episcopal Church recently published a quote that embodies their generous heart in sharing their facilities, “Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

Rev. Mark Gustafson of the Bladen United Methodist Church Collective (Bladen UMC Collective) agreed to serve as the Pastor of Grace UMC. He has done an extraordinary job each Sunday, Dickerson said. 

Dickerson stated, “We believe that God has orchestrated opportunities for our church to flourish.”

A dedicated choir leads worship accompanied by Organist Randy Page each service. Dickerson explained, “We wanted to play handbells,” District Superintendent Tara Lain found a UMC in Wilmington was not using their five-octave set of handbells and offered to lend them to Grace UMC. Now two local United Methodist Churches have full handbell choirs; Grace UMC and Bethlehem UMC. 

This Sunday, June 4, Grace UMC will be official. At 10:30 am, Bishop Connie Mitchell Shelton, the leader of The North Carolina Conference of United Methodist Church, will officially install Rev. Mark Gustafson as the new church’s pastor. For the “special service,” Rev. Gustafson explained, members of the Bladen UMC Collective and St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church members will have a combined worship service starting at 10 am. 

Believers will participate in Holy Communion and worship together, and lunch will be served. 

When asked, “What does it mean to be a member of the UMC?”

Rev. Gustafson replied, “We believe in outreach to the whole community, to everyone.”

Grace UMC will start its mission work on June 24, Rev. Gustafson noted, by distributing food at the Cape Fear Farmer’s Market in Elizabethtown at 11:30 am.

On a standard Sunday, the UMC congregation meets at 8:30 am, and the Episcopal congregation meets at 10:30 am. The sanctuary is at 2602 W Broad Street in Elizabethtown, North Carolina.

About: The Bladen UMC Collective consists of Live Oak UMC, Bethlehem UMC, and, soon to be recognized officially by the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, Grace UMC. 

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