In early March, parishioners at Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove and Woodbury United Methodist Church voted to merge, creating one church with two locations.

Leaders from each church are working now to legalize the blended parish by July 1.

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"Initially each church will keep its current name, although those names may be changed later after discussion with both congregations," said Gary Christensen, a member of the initial Peaceful Grove task force.

The blended parish is the product of 18 months of discussion between leaders of the two churches -- churches which differ in size, attendance and budget. Woodbury Methodist is more than 150 years old, has a weekly attendance of approximately 700 members and an annual budget just under $1 million. Peaceful Grove is 18 years old, has a weekly attendance of 71 and an annual budget of $100,000.

The goal of the blended parish is to allow both congregations to engage in new and expanded ministries, Christensen said.

Dan Wetterstrom, pastor at Woodbury United Methodist Church, said, "A blended parish will allow us to add a half-time pastor, offer an alternative worship service, expand the small group ministries and develop new outreach teams.

"We believe that by partnering together, we can accomplish more than working separately," Wetterstrom said.

The merger will mean unified committees in finance, staff parish, trustees and leadership. It will also mean one budget, eliminating redundant administrative functions and combining advertising efforts, according to Christensen.

Wetterstrom will be responsible for preaching and worship at the Woodbury campus, while Stina Koppes, now associate pastor at Woodbury, will lead worship at Peaceful Grove. An additional half-time associate pastor will be appointed to focus primarily on outreach, Christensen said.

The Rev. Deb DeMeester, who is serving the Cottage Grove congregation as interim pastor, will leave that position this summer.

While a combined task force concentrates on completing the legal process by July 1 -- the effective date of merger -- parishioners are already combining programs.

Members of both churches have taken part in joint mid-week Lenten services, held at Peaceful Grove and led by teams from both churches. A family event for Lent, "Journey to Easter," is scheduled Friday, March 21, at the Woodbury campus and the Woodbury church's Stephen's Ministries leadership is training a Peaceful Grove team to share the responsibilities of the one-on-one support program for those in need. The two churches have combined volunteer efforts at Feed My Starving Children and musicians from both churches have shared their talents. Plans are also underway for blended summer camp and Bible school programs.

Toni Lambert can be reached at