by Bob Grawey
Elk River United Methodist’s new pastor, JoAnne Amaral, has already tackled camp with the youth of her church, and is full of fresh ideas to get her church more involved in the community, too.
United Methodist’s first female pastor comes to Elk River from serving as the pastor in a Wyoming, Minn. church. Her first day was July 17.
Heading into her fifth year of ministry, Amaral is fairly new to the pastorate.
Before life as a pastor, she owned her own IT consulting company for many years in Chicago.
God finally got her attention, though.
“I kept trying to run away from God,” Amaral says, “but God is stronger and faster and finally caught up with me.”
That was in 2001 and the Amaral family moved to Minnesota, where she enrolled in Luther Seminary. Amaral’s husband also went back to school at that time, getting his teaching degree.
After graduation, an opportunity opened to move to China as missionaries, and the Amarals, with their three daughters, called rural China home for a year.
“It was a Dickens novel,” Amaral says. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. There were parts that were wonderful, but the people there live a very meager existence, especially in rural communities.”
That experience, though, had a dramatic impact on the seminary graduate. Amaral says she was reminded daily of how much God loves the whole world.
Her office is a testament to that expanded world view. Objects from countries around the world adorn her walls and furniture. It is another reminder, she adds, of God’s great love for everyone.
“God’s welcome is deep and wide,” Amaral says. “China was life-changing.”
The new United Methodist pastor says her China experiences will serve her well in Elk River, as she attempts to bring more knowledge and information to help people in the church expand their vision.
She says it is her most important role in bringing United Methodist into the 21st century. Communication, she adds, is key, but the church has not necessarily kept up with modern technologies.
“Community 50 years ago was built through church fellowship,” Amaral explains. “Then we had Sunday school as that entry point in building community. Then there was missions. Now we have electronic media to build community.”
The new pastor says it is important to bridge generations of church goers through communication venues that work for all ages.
More updated communication technologies will help the church reach out better to help people in the community, too.
“It’s helping the church understand that it isn’t about going to church on Sunday,” Amaral says. “We are the church and the body of Christ.”
Amaral says United Methodist is already involved with some community outreach, like CAER food shelf, and wants to learn more about the organization to get involved at a deeper level.
She also wants to research and gather information on domestic violence resources in the area.
While in her last pastorate in Wyoming, Amaral served on the board of a domestic violence center. It is her passion, she says, and wants to get involved with children’s and women’s issues as they relate to domestic violence.
Service projects are another way she would like to get her church involved more in the community.
One strength Amaral is looking to use at her new church is to give spiritual direction so people can see how God is still working in their lives.
Another gift is being able to make Scripture relevant for today.
“Making God pertinent for today is all about showing people that God is still present and still alive,” Amaral contends, “and to show people how he is actively working in everyday situations.”
Church attendance averages 300 each week and services are held at 9 and 10:30 a.m. Sundays.
Sept. 11 the church is planning a grand re-launch after a major interior renovation. The all-day event, called “God’s Welcome,” will be a day of remembrance for the victims of 9/11 as well.
The event will kick off fall and winter service times of 8:15, 9:30 and 11 a.m. with Sunday school at 9:30 a.m.
Wednesday night services begin with a free community supper at 5:30 p.m. which is open to the public.
Services follow for the entire family beginning at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Youth service starts at 7:07 p.m.
“I think I have the best job in the world,” Amaral beams. “I mean, who else gets to talk about God all day and gets to demonstrate his love all day?”