OTTUMWA — Independence Day wasn’t the only thing Pastor Chris Childs celebrated this weekend.
He also celebrated his one-year anniversary as Grace Ottumwa Church pastor. It has been an exciting roller coaster ride for him, filled with adventure and surprise.
The adventure came a year ago when the three methodist churches — Willard Street United Methodist Church, Wesley United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church — merged into one church, Grace Ottumwa. The surprise was, well, COVID-19.
For a while the congregation worshiped in the Ottumwa High School cafeteria and finally found a new location — 201 McKinley Ave. — in the fall. They’ve been worshipping there since the beginning of December 2019 and stopped in-person services in mid-March.
Since he has pastored the church for a year, he said “people tapped into the idea that we are a church for the community,” which has shown through their actions such as pursuing small groups at coffee shops, serving meals for the kids and homeless and making 1,000 masks for those in need.
Pastoring the church, he said, allowed him to positively reflect on how it has changed him.
“My love for people has grown over this past year,” he said. “I’ve known for a while that everyone is going through something that God is part of their story. I’ve sat with them, prayed with them. I’ve seen God do a lot of healing and transforming them and reshaping people into the image of Christ.
“Grace Ottumwa wants to make a difference, and I want to see God at work there and join into what he’s doing,” he added.
Childs said it has also led him to discover another realization, which is the idea that “everyone needs their people to do life with.” He doesn’t want the church to be a “typical Sunday morning church service,” or in other words a church that feels disconnected from people. Amidst COVID-19 he was reminded of just how important relationships are, something he’ll continue to stress.
“This is a good time to be a church and develop the most meaningful opportunities to grow in faith and have distant small groups,” he said. “That’s something we get to do. People have been able to interact in worship, ask questions and submit prayer requests.”
While the congregation isn’t worshipping in-person, he’s confident they will reopen when the time is right. Childs is looking to move forward and see the church branch out into the community.
“One of my personal passions is I want to see unity in Ottumwa and that starts with churches,” he said. “Right now we’re doing a faith-based Bridges out of Poverty training with Vern Reed. We’re going to collaborate and I’m excited about our churches working together.”
From July 8-14 the church is also offering live and virtual tours for no more than 10 people. Interested attendees can register at http://graceottumwa.churchcenter.com/registrations or call the church office at 641-682-9464. Face masks will be required prior to entering the facility.