The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

February 3, 2014

Two Fulton churches merge into one

By Amy Kent
Herald Staff Writer

FULTON, Ill. — An era has ended with the closing of an 84-year-old Fulton landmark but, with every ending there’s a new beginning.

Trinity Reformed Church of Fulton hosted its final Sunday service in December after learning that the church could no longer sustain its own individual entity and now First Reformed Church in Fulton has embraced the closing congregation and welcomed its members into their family.

“It’s really sad to lose a church. It’s really sad to see another congregation go through that,” First Reformed Church Pastor Edie Lenz said. “But we believe that Jesus died and rose again. And so, we believe in a God of resurrection and that there’s new life that comes out of death.”

Over the course of the last month, the two churches have unified into one, adapting some of their practices to embrace the new change. Although Lenz welcomed everyone from Trinity to join the new unification, not everyone has been receptive to the invitation.

Trinity Reformed Church Vice President Ken Vanderploeg has retained a role as supervisor for the newly formed consistory at First Reformed, and although he has embraced the change, nearly half of the congregation at Trinity is resisting the consolidation.

“It’s like a death in the family,” Vanderploeg said. “Everybody grieves differently so you just deal with it as you can, pick up the pieces and life goes on.”

To welcome those that have decided to join the First Reformed Church, Lenz created a consistory made up of representatives from both churches. In doing so, she worked to develop a variety of people from both to voice their concerns on behalf of the people they represent.

The unification team, as Lenz calls it, has developed a way to embrace the joining of the two churches by combining different practices that each congregation is familiar with.

So far, Lenz is feeling those adaptations have been not only a benefit to those who have made the transition but with sustaining the First Reformed Church in a time when church membership and active worship has seen a steady decline.

“First Reformed has been pretty aware for the past seven years that something had to be different, the way that we’ve always been isn’t working,” Lenz said. “In opening up the door and saying we’re going to do these things differently so that we are welcoming our brothers and sisters from this other church, it’s also opening the door to say, ‘well we could do this different too,’ or ‘I wonder about this?’ and that’s been really exciting.”

While making those changes has made the transition a little easier, Lenz understands leaving a church is a substantial loss that comes with a lot of pain.

Vanderploeg understands that pain after being a member of Trinity Reformed Church for 44 years, but he is doing what he can to get involved with his new congregation, and encourage his fellow worshipers to embrace the changes they are facing.

“You don’t get over it easily but First Reformed has been very loving, with open arms in all respects,” Vanderploeg said. “We’re trying to look at it like a wedding. Two churches are unifying in a marriage and taking two I’s and making a we.”