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Local Global Methodist Churches Spring Up in the Desert Southwest

By Walter B. Fenton

Ginni Herron and Bill Robinson help prepare for the delivery of 27 shoe box gift packages that Gracepoint Church in Gilbert, Arizona, provided for Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan’s Purse.

Taking root and growing in the desert is no easy task, but two new Global Methodist congregations are doing all they can to plant Global Methodist churches in Arizona and Nevada.

“No local church or conference sponsored us,” said the Rev. Gwen Mader, founding pastor of Gracepoint Church in Gilbert, Arizona. “The church began with just my husband Rod and me, and a little bit of cash we had saved as seed money. It is a work of faith.”

Gracepoint was recognized as a GM local church in May of 2023, and then spent several months preparing for its launch worship service which took place on Christmas Eve. It meets in a middle school cafeteria in Gilbert, a community just southeast of Phoenix.

Three hundred miles northwest of Gracepoint, the people of Journey Global Methodist Church meet on Sunday afternoons in southwest Las Vegas.

“When Shana Dobrowski from the The River Network [a GM Church partner in church planting and multiplying] suggested I start a church in Las Vegas, I laughed out loud,” said the Rev. Mark Maddox. “I told her I was too old to start a church. She told me I definitely was not! Well, God had the last laugh on that one!”

Maddox explained that not long after his conversation with Dobrowski, a few people connected with him via Facebook in early 2023 to explore the possibility of starting a local GM church. In April, 12 of them met together to consider how God might use them in their city, and shortly thereafter, they started worshipping in their homes twice a month. By June they were holding Sunday evening worship services in a non-denominational church. “God has blessed us,” said Maddox. “We had 50 people on Christmas Eve, and we believe God continues to move in our midst as we share the Gospel in Las Vegas.”

Both Mader and Maddox are elders in the GM Church with years of experience in ministry.

Mader, a former United Methodist pastor, was ordained in 2013 in the Dakotas Annual Conference, but her service in the church includes decades of lay ministry dating back to the mid-1970s. Among other opportunities, she served as a youth director while attending Scarritt College in Nashville, Tennessee, and at Church of the Resurrection (Leawood, Kansas) as its Director of Worship Ministries in its early formation. She explained it was while serving at the Church of the Resurrection that she began to sense God nudging her into ordained ministry and someday planting a church.

Rev. Mark Maddox welcomes worshipper Katherine Davis to Journey GMC in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A native of Illinois, Maddox moved to Tucson, Arizona, in 2000 to assist a brother who was recovering from surgery. By 2005, he was pastoring a new UM church startup in the city that grew to 450 in worship. From there, he was appointed to serve a church in Las Vegas, but eventually decided to leave the denomination when it became clear it was heading for a break-up. He could no longer, in good conscience, remain in the UM Church. For a time, he worked as an executive pastor at an Assemblies of God congregation, but with the launch of the GM Church, he believed he should return to the Methodist fold.

The two pastors are quick to acknowledge church planting is not for everyone, especially those without a sponsoring congregation or denominational start-up funds.

“For those who are used to worshipping in a church sanctuary with pews, an organ, and maybe stained-glass windows, it’s not easy to walk into someone’s home or a school cafeteria for weekly worship,” said Mader. “But most find new friends and a warm welcome and feel right at home after they make that first step; then they wonder why they hesitated.”

Attendees at both church plants are a mix of former UM Church members and people from other denominations. Mader and Maddox, also note that most attendees have migrated to Arizona and Nevada from other states, either in the upper Midwest or from California, Oregon, and Washington.

Asked about being the church in Las Vegas, Maddox said, “First, it’s crazy! The city’s famous Strip is full of flash and glitz, and I am sure many tourist enjoy that. But for the people who live here and who visit us, well, they’ll find a congregation that loves God, that is willing to share God’s truth with love and grace, and that joyfully welcomes them to experience the new life in Jesus Christ that they know. They’ll appreciate people who are authentic and friendly.”

The Gracepoint and Journey congregations are part of the emerging Western States Provisional District of the GM Church. The district covers a vast geographical region, stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the West coast and Hawaii, and from Alaska to Arizona. With Ms. Katherine Cosner, a laywoman based in Bremerton, Washington, Maddox is co-leader of the Western States Transitional District Advisory Team, and Mader is one of its 25 team members. The group is very close to petitioning the GM Church’s Transitional Leadership for permission to launch the Provisional District on May 3, 2024.

“I know it’s stereotypical to describe Westerners as rugged, persevering people, but the stereotype fits Global Methodists in the West,” said GM Church Bishop Mark Webb. “They’re busy planting new churches, fervently praying for the Holy Spirit to liberate and revive others, and offering the Good News to people from all walks of life. The re-birth of a vital Methodist movement in the West will have its challenges, but our God delights in multiplying the faithful.”

You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.

The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.

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