by Janet Dabbs
Versailles United Methodist Church (UMC) pastor Lora Cunningham has served in ministry for more than a quarter century. She grew up in the Methodist church and never left.
Throughout the years, she has served as both a youth pastor and a lead pastor as she was reassigned to different churches. “God called me to be a pastor,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t end up doing the job we want.” She enjoys working with youth the most. “They are fun,” she admits.
She is the pastor of two historic churches: Versailles UMC, at 219 N. Monroe in Versailles and the Glensted UMC on Z Highway in Glensted. One has been around for more than 100 years, and the other was here even before the city of Versailles was founded in 1854.
The Versailles UMC was founded in 1836 and has the distinction of being the oldest Methodist Church in the state of Missouri. The first service in Glensted UMC was in May 1886.
“The Glensted UMC is a country church and the other is a town church,” Cunningham explains. “Each church has a different feel, but both congregations are welcoming and loving. All are welcome, and when we say all, we mean all.”
Both of the local UMC churches are very active with ministry to children and in missions work. They financially support a “mission of the month.”
Last July, members of the Glensted UMC sponsored a trip to Haiti where they distributed water filters so people could have clean water. Glensted also has started a baby boutique. They are filling it with baby and children’s clothing, diapers and other baby supplies to be distributed free to families in need.
The Versailles UMC also has a “Bread and Jam” ministry where every week they bake 50 loaves of sweet bread to give to recipients at the Food for Morgan County food bank.
The church has an after-school outreach to youth in the community. Approximately 50 kindergarten through fifth-grade students are let out of school early Wednesday and these students are bussed to Versailles UMC to attend the after-school program JIM (Jesus In Me). The children play games, have a snack, make crafts, and learn about the Bible. The church also hosts a Vacation Bible School in June.
They serve lunches to visiting 3MT youth from three different counties who do an annual outreach where they clean, paint, and do yard work or whatever is needed in a community.
“Anyone is welcome to participate in any of our church programs,” Cunningham said. “You do not have to be a member. We are building relationships through all the different changes people go through in life. We all go through births, weddings and deaths, and it is good to experience these all together as a family. It makes us stronger when we do it together.”
An Ecumenical Celebration happens 5 p.m. every fifth Sunday when the Versailles UMC and the Glensted UMC join together with the Second Baptist Church of Versailles, the Golden Beach Community Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. Each church takes a turn hosting the celebration where there is worship and a fellowship dinner.
“It is important to be in unity and not just with people in our own denomination,” she said. “If we can’t all get along, why would anyone want to be a Christian?”
The Versailles UMC children join together with the Presbyterian church children for Sunday school at their church across the street. “It’s all about building relationships,” Cunningham said. “You can watch church on television or listen on the radio, but it is much better to walk into a building for fellowship and relationship-building. Besides making disciples, that is why we exist.”
The UMC denomination chooses how long a minister will pastor a church. Cunningham has been relocated several times. “I love Versailles,” she said. “No matter where they send me I will come back and retire here. I love how everyone knows each other and the people are so kind. I used to hear people complain about how everyone knows your business if you live in a small town. Thank God we do, so then we know how we can help each other.”
Homosexuality and the UMC
“The UMC, as a denomination, has recently been going through some rough times due to differing opinions as to whether or not we should welcome gay clergy,” Cunningham said.
From the pulpit, she goes along with the denomination, who recently ruled homosexuality a sin and gay clergy unqualified to pastor.
“I don’t believe it is a sin,” she said. “I think clergy can be gay, but in a rural setting … it would be hard. I believe in same-sex unions and I believe they should have all the same rights as a heterosexual couple.”
Some of her church members feel differently, however. “We all have different opinions and God will sort it out. Our job is to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.”
by Janet Dabbs