MARYVILLE, Mo. — Change is in store for two of Maryville’s historic Protestant congregations.
After decade-long ministries in Maryville that in many ways have paralleled each other, the Rev. Scott Moon of the First United Methodist Church of Maryville and the Rev. Jonathan Mitchell of the First Presbyterian Church of Maryville are moving on.
Both pastors are scheduled to leave their respective pulpits at the end of June.
Moon and his wife, Michele, are retiring from professional ministry and will relocate to their home in the Ozark foothills near Cape Girardeau. Mitchell and his wife, Jana, are moving to the Pacific Northwest, where Mitchell will pastor the First Presbyterian Church of Pendleton, Oregon.
A native of nearby Walla Walla, Washington, Mitchell and his wife have family members in the area.
“It’s time to go home,” Mitchell said of the move.
Moon’s successor, the Rev. Kim Mitchell (no relation to Jonathan), will relocate to Maryville from her home near Cape Girardeau, and will fill the FUMC pulpit as the congregation’s first female lead pastor.
Mitchell’s successor has yet to be named and will be selected by the denomination’s regional presbytery in Kansas City in concert with the local church board.
Mitchell said the congregation will be served in the meantime by temporary “supply pastors,” and that the process for choosing a permanent minister usually takes anywhere from a year to 18 months.
Both FUMC and First Presbyterian have 19th-century roots in Maryville stretching back more than 130 years.
A community ministry
Mitchell’s tenure at First Presbyterian has been strongly marked by community service and social outreach.
The Princeton Theological Seminary-trained pastor has been a key leader with both the Nodaway County Ministry Center food pantry and Habitat for Humanity. Also under his guidance, the church has continued to offer The Shepherd’s Kitchen, a Thursday evening community supper served free of charge to anyone who wants or needs a hot meal.
The weekly offering recently became an ecumenical effort with meals prepared and served on a rotating basis by Hope Lutheran Church, First Christian Church, First Presbyterian and Northwest Missouri State University emergency preparedness students.
Reflecting on his time in Maryville, Mitchell said he has come to treasure the city’s strong sense of community, which he believes has enabled him to “empower people so they can go forth and be God’s hands and feet in the world.”
He said he has been blessed with a congregation whose members often identify needs and opportunities for ministry on their own, so that one of his main functions as pastor has simply been to “give them the tools they need.”
Though he is eager to continue his ministry in the part of the country where he grew up, Mitchell said he will miss Maryville’s neighborliness, and the willingness of its residents to help others in need.
“Everybody knows each other, so it’s not like we’re strangers,” he said. “That doesn’t happen in most places.”
Mitchell continued that he has come to appreciate Maryville’s tightly knit character and will continue to hold fond memories of “the Ministry Center, Habitat — the Spoofhounds — and of course the people of this church.”
A legacy of experience
Like Mitchell, Moon leaves behind a legacy of promoting community service. In fact, given FUMC’s longstanding support of the Ministry Center, Habitat and its weekly no-charge CHOW (Church on Wednesday) meal, the two churches often function as sister congregations.
Already an experienced pastor when he came to Maryville in 2009, Moon is entering retirement at the close of more than four decades of professional ministry after leaving an early career in banking.
Those years behind the pulpit provided Moon with the skills to steer a forward-looking middle course, even as the United Methodist Church denomination fractured — and continues to fracture — over the ordination of gays, lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals and others with varying sexual identifications.
While making it clear that he favors acceptance and inclusiveness, Moon has kept his focus on local ministry and growth, an emphasis that resulted in construction of a modern “gathering space” addition to the north of the late-19th century sanctuary and refurbishment of the church’s 1950s-era education wing.
International schisms aside, Moon said he has intentionally worked to make both his church and the community in general “live up to its potential in ways that suit its character.”
“Every church has its own distinctive personality,” Moon said, “and I’ve tried to focus on things that are a good fit and that help us be better at who we are.”
He added: “Mainline churches will never return to the way they were in their mid- (20th) century heyday. But our values and theology and expression of faith will continue into the future — and maybe even grow.”
Moon said those values, among other things, embrace inclusiveness, respect, justice and care for the environment.
Looking back on his career, Moon said these are challenging times for “mainline” protestant churches who are faced with rapidly shrinking congregations, the emergence of evangelicalism as the perceived face of American Christianity and denominational splits over everything from music to sexuality to the ordination of women to biblical inerrancy.
“This is a critical time for all mainline churches,” said Moon of the cluster of denominations that 60 years ago formed the backbone of American religious belief. “But I think we are making progress toward adapting to a changed world. All institutions, it seems, are facing radical transformation, and the church is no exception.”
During his own career, Moon said he has sought to deal with these challenges by gradually shifting his pastoral philosophy.
“In the first half of my ministry my job was to run a church,” he said. “During the second half I’ve been called upon to lead a church.”
As for his legacy in Maryville, Moon said he believes he is leaving behind a local community of faith “better equipped to engage the community in ministry,” a congregational commitment, he said, “that translates to meeting people in their need.”
On a personal level, the Moons’ departure will affect the ministries of not one church, but two, since Michele Moon, in addition to being a Methodist pastor’s wife, is also a devout Roman Catholic who serves on the staff of St. Gregory Barbarigo Church as a pastoral associate for adult faith formation.
Moon said his wife’s dual spiritual commitment has enabled her “to meet expectations in a variety of congregational settings.” He added that Michele’s ability to bridge denominational divides has been “essential” over the decades to his own success.
In addition to the weekly CHOW meal, other FUMC ministries that have flourished under Moon’s guidance include the Cool Kids early childhood education program, the Friends Caring group for older single adults and support for the Oklahoma-based Cookson Hills mission for at-risk young people and the Lydia Patterson school in El Paso, Texas, an institution that provides college preparation and English as a second language instruction of youth living on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.