Local Methodist churches to merge
North Fort Myers’ landmark church, North Fort Myers United Methodist Church on Pondella Road, will merge with downtown First United Methodist Church of Fort Myers, celebrating with a Fourth of July picnic and concert event, with games, food and fun.
Local well-known and beloved pastor Lia Willets will be the new pastor at First United Methodist, a move that will better serve both communities, she said.
The location of the downtown church is only four miles away from the Pondella Road North Fort Myers location, across the Business 41 or Edison Bridge, at the corner past the first light.
The official day of the merger is July 1.
“The purpose of the merge is to combine resources to better serve the community,” said Willets. “Both congregations are very excited about it. We all know we are going to be able to do more to reach out and help local families as well.”
Already, she said, the two church youth groups bonded. “Our youth groups are the first and leading the way.”
Willets said she is looking forward to being pastor of the downtown landmark church.
“It is 138 years old, very recognized in the community. There is a well-known preschool, a thrift store, youth groups and family ministries there already,” she said.
The campus is very large and welcoming. Besides the preschool and thrift shop, there is a gymnasium, large sanctuary and chapel. “How this came about is that both churches wanted to increase outreach. They (First United Methodist) approached North Fort Myers to join them.”
She said the local congregation is taking the move enthusiastically. “They want to go out on a Mission, to reach out to both communities, downtown and North Fort Myers. We can all be Christian leaders in the communities.”
Her plans are to focus on multi-generational programs, including a Kid’s Club for elementary age children, youth group for middle and high school aged children and activities for seniors. “Seniors are looking for fun activities now,” she said.
The celebration of the union will be a big July 4th celebration, free and open to the public. It will be held Sunday, July 4, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., staring with a worship celebration at 10 a.m., followed by a picnic, live music, games and food from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
There will be activities for the whole family. There will also be a water slide, obstacle course, face painting, snow cones and more for children, along with door prizes. Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson will be attending, among others.
“This will be a first annual event for us, something we’d like to do each year.”
The last service at the Pondella Road location was Sunday, June 27.
The North Fort Myers Church is being welcomed by staff and officials of First United. Amy McGlynn is the director of Bible Camp and works with children’s programs. “We have a very well known, prestigious preschool in the downtown area,” she said. “We are Gold Seal accredited, which is the highest accreditation you can get. We meet the highest standards.”
She said her pre-school families are all looking forward to the picnic, and she, along with the congregation, is looking forward to the unification.
North Fort Myers resident Willets is a dynamic, experienced church leader. Willetts holds a Masters degree in theology from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. She has been a church leader for more than 20 years in Florida.
She also has an interesting family background — her husband is another popular North Fort Myers area pastor, the Rev. Tom Willetts, pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church. The two have two children. Tiffiana is in Princeton University and Isabel is a local honor students in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program.
Isabel will be helping with Vacation Bible Camp. Free Vacation Bible School will be held at the new location Aug. 9 through 13 for all children in both communities. For information on that program or the preschool, call 332-2493.
Isabel has already been helping with the merger of the local youth groups. “I’m excited about all of this,” she said. “The facilities are very nice and the youth groups of both churches have already been meeting together and doing services together.”
First United Methodist Church of Fort Myers is at 2466 First St., Fort Myers. For information call 332-1152.