Community reacts to the departure of Grace United Methodist pastor

By Ryne Turke on June 18, 2016 at 8:09am

A local pastor, whose contributions led to the establishment of Jacksonville’s homeless shelter, is being moved to a new church.

Since 2008, Pastor Mike Fender and his wife Beth have led Sunday services at Grace United Methodist Church. Sunday will mark their final service, as they prepare to take over at Decatur First United Methodist Church.

The Fender’s have a 30-year history with Grace United Methodist Church, dating back to their time as MacMurray College students. Mike Fender called Grace a “second home.”

The Fender’s passion for helping the Jacksonville community stretches far beyond the Sunday pulpit though.

New Directions Director Vanessa Tyus tells WLDS-WEAI News that Mike Fender and the Grace United Methodist congregation provided a permanent location for the homeless men, women and children of Jacksonville starting February 2, 2011.

Tyus says Mike Fender has been deeply involved with New Directions from day one and adds the homeless shelter wouldn’t be running without his leadership.

“Day to day we know we have a roof over our heads, we can utilize our showers downstairs, we can wash clothes daily and use the downstairs kitchen. Even some of the programs we have, we have been able to utilize the church,” says Tyus.

Tyus says the Fender’s will be deeply missed by New Directions.

“We praise God for Pastor Mike’s commitment that he has to New Directions, the homeless and our community. He will be very much missed, but I know God has another plan for him,” says Tyus.

Mike Fender is also proud of the summer food program Grace United Methodist has hosted the past four years. The church provided over 17-hundred meals to needy children in Jacksonville last summer.

In late 2011, the First Christian Church community was left without a place to worship after the church, located at 508 West Vandalia, suffered serious fire damage. Along with Jacksonville High School and Turner Junior High, Grace United Methodist offered a building for the community to attend church.

Pastor J. Cook says First Christian will always be in debt to the Fender’s and Grace United Methodist.

“Couldn’t thank him enough for their hospitality during the hard time in the life of our church. That was made possible through the leadership of Mike. He showed a gracious and humble spirit while we were being their guests,” says Cook.

Cook complemented Fender’s social conscious and called him one of the “most community aware” pastors in Jacksonville.

Reverend Donald Jackson of Normal First Untied Methodist Church will take over for Mike Fender starting June 25th.

The Sunday worship service from Grace United Methodist can be heard on WLDS 1180 at 11 a.m. each week.