El Paso Congregation Held as Example of Transformation

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El Paso Congregation Held as Example of Transformation
FORT WORTH: The United Methodist Church is "feeding the physically and spiritually hungry," Bishop Sharon Brown Christopher of Urbana, Ill., reminded the denomination's General Conference during her April 24 Episcopal Address at in Fort Worth.
"Our world is transformed and reconciled as we offer the Bread of Life," the bishop added. "St. Mark's United Methodist Church in El Paso, Texas, is setting the example for all of us."
Christopher's remarks introduced a video feature produced by United Methodist Communications, one of several stories from around the world about the millions of lives being transformed through encounters with God, made known in Jesus Christ.
Nearly every Saturday, members of St. Mark's drive 40 minutes-and a world-from home, to share the gospel with people in the fringes of Mexico.
Just a short time ago, they seldom ventured from their pews. "They had no idea," recalls member Norma Ricci, "that people were living in the desert in cardboard boxes."
St. Mark's had struggled for years before the Rev. Thomas E. Nagle came on board in 1991. "It was the church nobody wanted to come to," he says. Three prospective pastors had turned down the assignment.
Focusing on families, Nagle opened a school, spurring growth. The Rev. Curtis Borden, associate pastor, says, "Our best evangelists are our little kids. They go to St. Mark's to school and then they start inviting their parents."
When momentum slowed, Nagle prayed for guidance during a retreat. He heard God's call to renew his congregation. His associate pastor suggested that, since St. Mark's was a traditional church, his vision might be best served by starting a new church.
He told her, "I don't feel God calling me to go back and start a new church &ellipsis; I feel God calling me to go back and transform the one he has already given me."
Part of his strategy was teaming with a dynamic contemporary pastor. The Rev. Felicia P. Hopkins' services rock one side of the church while Nagle's more traditional fare soothes the other.
The balance appeals to what is arguably the most diverse congregation in its conference. "We don't say it has to be THIS way," says Hopkins. "People are hurting in this world and they really want to know that the Potter is willing to make them over again, anew, another."
St. Mark's has an average Sunday worship attendance of 1,100-of 1,500 members. Much like their friends in Mexico, they are resilient.
They have learned that grand things spring from prayer and passion. "If you've got that kind of energy level and that kind of commitment-wow!" says Nagle. "The things God can accomplish in your church!"
General Conference, the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church, is meeting in Fort Worth April 23-May 3 with 992 delegates, half clergy, half lay.

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