After more than 30 years of ministry, CHUM Church makes changes
In the midst of a recession during the early 1970s, churches throughout the Central Hillside neighborhood were flooded by individuals seeking food, shelter, and other assistance. Eventually, ten of those churches decided to band together to creat...
In the midst of a recession during the early 1970s, churches throughout the Central Hillside neighborhood were flooded by individuals seeking food, shelter, and other assistance. Eventually, ten of those churches decided to band together to create Churched United in Ministry, an organization that helps low-income people throughout the area get food and shelter.
With the creation of CHUM came one of the organization's earliest programs. CHUM Church, founded in 1974, began to provide a place of worship for those not involved in a spiritual community because of developmental disabilities.
"There was a time when many people with developmental disabilities were housed in state hospitals, and in the 1970s, those hospitals closed," said Meg Kearns, CHUM Church coordinator and director of distributive services at CHUM. "Many people began coming back to their communities, and the church thought they needed something to help these people get acclimated again."
CHUM Church's mission was to help those coming back to their community get connected with a congregation.
"It started when the disability movement was getting off the ground, and it was a process of the churches getting together and figuring out what to do," said Mary Schmitz, development director at CHUM.
"The primary goal has always been for people to have a choice to worship in any church they choose," Kearns added. "If they want to be involved with a mainstream church, we help them find the right fit."
For more than 30 years, CHUM Church has been hosting monthly gatherings at Peace United Church of Christ, not just for individuals with developmental disabilities but for the community at large. Now, the program is changing to bi-monthly gatherings that include Christian education lessons, a short worship service, a meal and fellowship.
The congregation of 40 members came together Feb. 12 for the first of these bi-monthly gatherings. Working in partnership with several area churches, CHUM Church gatherings will be hosted by a different congregation every other month.
"Having one congregation each time may encourage more connections to be made," Kearns said. "We also want to get them involved more regularly so they might get to know the members better."
Area churches that host CHUM Church gatherings at Peace Church include French River Lutheran, Duluth Congregational, Lakeside Presbyterian, St. Michael's Catholic, and Lester Park United Methodist.
Because people who attend CHUM Church gatherings come from throughout Duluth, Proctor, and Cloquet, Kearns said having a central location at Peace Church makes things easier.
In the past, the gatherings took place on Sundays from 3 to 4:30 p.m., which caused conflicts for many members.
Kearns, who has been the program's coordinator for 18 years, said attendance at the gatherings was declining, so CHUM decided to change the meeting time to 4 to 6 p.m. With the change, coordinators added a time for fellowship and dinner following the service.
Each gathering begins when the congregation is divided into small groups and teachers present a lesson. Linda Goese has been a volunteer teacher at CHUM Church since 1979 and is also on the program's advisory board.
"I've learned and received much more than I've given by being in community with people with disabilities," she said. "It's such a part of me after all these years, and it's really part of my Christian journey."
Following the lessons, a half-hour worship service is held. With a new speaker at each gathering, Kearns said the April 15 worship will be led by Catherine Schuyler, pastor of the Duluth Congregational Church.
"The worship services are low-key and informal," Kearns said. "We do this because there are a number of people that say they are not part of a mainstream faith community, and it may be because the services are too long for a person with a developmental disability."
A time of fellowship follows the service, where Kearns said she hopes members connect with one another.
"Everybody has some kind of gift to offer, and if you broaden the makeup of your community, the whole community benefits from that," she said. "If the gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody."
When it comes to the future of the program, Kearns hopes CHUM Church can connect members to mainstream churches and provide a place for those with developmental disabilities to worship.
"We want people to know that everyone is welcome to come to CHUM Church," she said. "It is something that is informal and spiritual and a place that people who come can see as their home church."
"I think it's a wonderful witness for the church to proclaim widely that the church of Jesus Christ is open to everyone and is varied in its forms of worship but always with the goal of sharing God's love," added Schuyler. "I love the welcoming and the basic foundation that has been a part of CHUM Church for decades."
The next CHUM Church gathering will take place at Peace Church, located at 1111 N. 11th Ave. East, on Sunday, April 1. For more information on this program, call Kearns at (218)720-6570 or visit www. chumduluth.org/chumchurchinclusiveministr.htm.