The Rev. Patty Walker has been the “church planter” at First United Methodist Church for the past year.
The title is literal. Walker has been seeding a new church, the storied downtown congregation’s Prairie Campus.
The new branch bears fruit today with the launch of worship services. The celebration coincides with Palm/Passion Sunday — the beginning of Holy Week.
Walker will lead weekly 10 a.m. worship services at Banning Lewis Preparatory Academy (see box). The plan is to sink roots in the eastern Colorado Springs community with services at the school for now and eventually build a church there, she said.
“We are growing a church, and I think it’s an exciting thing for this church to be doing,” said Walker, who has been minister of caring ministries for FUMC for six years.
FUMC is the city’s first church, established in 1871, when city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer donated land for it. Part of the church’s mission has been to grow with the city. It has “planted” other churches: Mountain View United Methodist Church in Woodland Park in 1978, Sunrise United Methodist in Briargate in 1980 and Wilson United Methodist in the Mountain Shadows area in 1987.
With FUMC approaching its 150th anniversary, the timing was right for new growth.
“In this climate, where more and more people — especially young people — are opting out of going to church, this model plants an additional location that will remain connected to this church (FUMC’s downtown campus),” Walker said.
The Falcon-area location was chosen because no other main Protestant church is south of Woodmen Road and east of Powers Boulevard.
“We do have members who live out east there who drive in for services. It’s about a half-hour drive,” Walker said. “But the greater motivation is: That is where Colorado Springs is growing, to the east. It grew out of this desire to reach new people who are living out there. There are a lot of young families.
“This is a time when millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) are opting out of church. It’s very important to us at the United Methodist Church that we reach out to those people.”
Young people seem to think “Christian” means judgmental, she said. “They think it’s an institution that might’ve been good for grandma that really doesn’t have relevance in their lives. But I feel like young people have a spiritual hunger.
“We’re an everybody church. We are open-minded, inclusive and Christ-centered. The United Methodist Church is a big tent church. It has people from all different political persuasions, such as Hillary Clinton and Jeff Sessions. There’s something really beautiful that can happen when you come to the table with people who are different from you. You need both the traditional and new viewpoints at the table.”
The new campus also fills a need for female pastors in the eastern part of the city, she noted.
“I think there are also a lot of people who are hungry for the viewpoint of a female pastor.”
A calling fulfilled
Walker felt a call at age 12 to become a minister when women in the ministry was a fairly new concept.
“God kept tugging at my heart,” she said. “I grew up in Indiana in a very conservative church. But it never made sense to me that God wouldn’t want to use the talents of half the population in the ministry.”
At Washington University in St. Louis, Walker majored in religious studies and psychology before enrolling in the seminary at Yale Divinity School.
She fell in love with Colorado while working at Samaritan House in Denver between her degrees. When the opportunity arose in 2007 to become chaplain for Pikes Peak Hospice, she didn’t hesitate to move west with husband Roger and kids from their home in Cleveland.
After five years of ministering to hospice patients, Walker joined the ministerial staff at FUMC in 2012.
The Rev. Kent Ingram, senior minister at FUMC, announced a year ago that it was time for the church to spread eastward. Then he approached Walker and asked, “How would you like to go out on the Eastern Plains?”
“I immediately said ‘yes!’ It’s an amazing thing to give my life to. I’m so excited to connect people to God,” she said.
The mother of three said her vision for the Prairie Campus is to be the “church that serves and has hands-on programs that can really be the hands and feet of Jesus.” Just as the downtown church has a longstanding relationship with Urban Peak, Walker would like to work with nonprofits in the east.
The Prairie Campus is “seeded” with a launch team of 50 to 75 FUMC members who volunteered to make the move. “Some of them live in the Eastern Plains. Others just felt a call to reach out,” Walker said.
After the 10 a.m. worship service on Easter, April 21, the Prairie Campus will host an egg hunt and celebration featuring a DJ from Mountain Country Radio (107.3FM), a bounce house and cupcakes. It will start about 11:15 a.m. outdoors, weather permitting.
“I hope the church will become a place for people to meet God, make friends and make a difference. I want people to find community there,” she said. “That the services are held in the gym reminds us that the church is not a building; it’s the people. We’ll be sitting on folding chairs ... but they’re good folding chairs!”
All are invited to see the “new thing this old historical church downtown is doing,” she said.
Contact the writer: 476-1602