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Bishop Hill reverend harvests faith in two churches
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Bishop Hill United Methodist pastor Rev. Ann Champion is always on the go between Bishop Hill and the Galva church.
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Bishop Hill United Methodist pastor Rev. Ann Champion with some personal items collected by the church for the needy.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Bishop Hill United Methodist pastor Rev. Ann Champion.
BISHOP HILL -- A Slim Fast breakfast foretells the type of day the Rev. Ann Champion usually has. Her time is slim, and it goes by fast.

Parishioners of her rural Bishop Hill United Methodist Church may enjoy a less hectic country lifestyle, but the idea that Rev. Champion's pace is any slower than her urban pastoral counterparts just won't hold baptismal water.

Her duties are doubled -- she also serves as pastor at Galva United Methodist Church.

The churches, known as the ''Neighbors in Christ Parish,'' are six miles apart, separated mostly by corn fields and surrounded by local history.

Rev. Champion originally had not figured she would play a part in it.

''The image I had for my life was to graduate from college, go to work at John Deere, get married and have a family,'' she said. ''It didn't work out that way.''

When she was a Moline seventh-grader, she first felt called to the ministry but cast that aside in favor of a wished-for lucrative Deere career.

She went on to graduate from college with a bachelor's degree in business administration and even worked as an insurance salesman for a while, until she pursued a master's of divinity degree from a Methodist Theological Seminary in Ohio in 1986.

Rev. Champion was appointed to the Neponset United Methodist Church, the first of her eight appointments in her more than 25-year career.

Her pastoral progress took her to Galva Methodist in 2008. The Bishop Hill church was added to her duties a year later. The church had been a part of a former ''ABC Parish,'' consisting of Altona, Bishop Hill and Clover Chapel congregations, until a new merger created ''Neighbors in Christ.''

''It's a good match,'' Rev. Champion said. ''They're in the same school district and share the same fire department and ambulance service and many other partnerships.''

Farmers, small-business owners, health care workers and teachers commonly are found sitting in the pews when she preaches at 9 a.m. Sundays at Galva and then at 10:15 a.m. at Bishop Hill.

Fewer active farmers, though, are now among the ranks, Rev. Champion said.

''Farms have become such big businesses; we're seeing more people who have some connection to the agricultural business than farmers themselves. It's more about the occupations that feed into farming,'' she said. ''Statistics also have indicated that the top two jobs for women are in health care and education.''

Plenty of anecdotal reminders exist, though, to remind Rev. Champion that she's in farming country. She recalled, for example, getting messages from the church secretary saying she had to go home because her husband's tractor wouldn't start or that she had to drive a combine instead of working at the church.

Being in farming country also has a way of changing some church plans, such as stewardship drives. Past harvests were so late, some people found it difficult to attend stewardship meetings, and were filled with uncertainties and anxieties over what their harvests' yields would allow them to share with the church.

So Rev. Champion moved the church's latest campaign to an earlier date to avoid any similar harvest headaches.

A big difference between urban and rural ministries is in the expectations church members have, she said.

''Rural ministry has much more to do with community life,'' Rev. Champion said. So, becoming more active in the community has been one of her main goals, including her recent addition of becoming a Rotary Club member.

Otherwise her job entails a lot of paperwork -- ''lots and lots of paperwork,'' she said.

Record keeping and data collection has become a big deal, and matches her earlier business administration interests.

''A lot of work as a minister is in terms of administration,'' Rev. Champion said.

There's also the expected sermon preparation work, visiting the sick and attending church meetings and gatherings, she said.

Her rural surroundings compound hospital visits, Rev. Champion said. ''That takes me all over the place -- to hospitals in the Quad-Cities, Iowa City, Peoria, Galesburg, the Mayo Clinic and elsewhere.''

It makes home visits for anything less than a serious crisis almost impossible, Rev. Champion lamented.

From August to October, her church had hosted four weddings and lost seven members to death.

Those highs and lows are ''emotionally tiring,'' she said, and makes Sabbaths entirely important to her life, as her parishioners keep reminding her.

''They've also come to the realization that they can do things for themselves and not have to wait for a pastor to come along and do it,'' Rev. Champion said. ''They've actually learned how to be more like the original Methodists, which were lay-led.''

The Bishop Hill church has long been on the registered list of historic places but attained additional national honors two summers ago, when it was named as a United Methodist Historic Site, ''which means we're a unique place in the life of the Methodist Church in America,'' she said.

The award plaque given to the church is displayed prominently on a table in the back of the sanctuary, alongside a stack of pamphlets that trace the church's history back to Sweden, before the 1846 establishment of a settlement of Swedish dissidents who moved to the area to find religious freedom from the Swedish Lutheran state church.

''It was in Sweden, prior to the organization of the Jansonists, a Methodist minister from England, George Scott, was on a mission to spread the 'good word,''' reads the pamphlet.

Later, there was ''enough interest in the Methodist doctrine for a group of Colonists to form a congregation.''

Methodists comprise the second-largest religious group in the area, only behind the local Catholic contingency, she said, adding that a lack of Lutherans is understandable when considering the history of community founders seeking to escape the church of their homeland.

The Methodist Church, just a couple blocks down from the Bishop Hill Country Store, features many pieces of historic lore, including stained-glass windows illustrating numerous religious symbols such as a dove, an anchor, a lamb and a crown.

Windows near the church altar also remind Rev. Champion and her parishioners to ''Look Up, Lift Up.''

''One of the biggest things on the rewards side of being here,'' she said, ''has got to be the emotional support I receive from the congregation.''










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