Church embroiled in age discrimination claims after announcing relaunch

The Cottage Grove church is trying to attract younger worshippers.
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A Cottage Grove church says that all are welcome despite reports it is asking its older members to stay away while it tries to attract younger worshippers.

The Grove United Methodist Church has been struggling with dwindling numbers at its services, with only around 30 attending regularly, prompting a move to embark on a "relaunch."

This relaunch would comprise of the church closing its doors in June, re-opening in December with a more youthful pastor, Jeremy Peters, who will be charged with attracting a younger demographic.

While relaunches are common in Methodist churches seeking to boost their congregations, it has sparked controversy within its current congregation that has now reached a wider audience because of a Pioneer Press article published Saturday.

The newspaper reported that current members of the church, many of whom are over 60 years old, are being asked to worship at The Grove's Woodbury church not just during the temporary closure, but for 15-18 months after the relaunch as it looks to boost its appeal to younger families.

The plan was revealed in a memo authored by Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, the leader of The Grove's two churches. Peters told the newspaper that while current members will not be physically barred from attending the Cottage Grove location, they are asking them to "let this happen."

The memo sparked outrage from some of the existing members, with one of them, Bill Backstetter, telling KARE 11 that even if they are still welcome at the church, it nonetheless feels like they are being driven out.

"I feel that's totally age discrimination, just wanting youth, the younger families," he told the TV station.

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The church responds

But the church has taken issue with some of the reporting regarding its relaunch, issuing a letter to its congregation that was shared on its website on Tuesday.

It argues that the Pioneer Press article did not "accurately portray" what it's planning, though it didn't refute the claim that members had been asked to worship elsewhere for 15-18 months until they can "migrate back" to Cottage Grove.

"The worshippers at the Cottage Grove location are beloved members of our church family; their presence and contributions are part of our identity," it says.

"The Cottage Grove members have been invited to serve on a transition team to identify the traditions and values that are important to them and to explore options during and after the relaunch.

"We are working to connect them to the existing worship services at Woodbury or help them continue as a group at a different time and/or location after the building closes to prepare for the relaunch.

"We recognize that people may have a range of feelings about the Planting Project. We acknowledge and honor those feelings, and we seek a safe space where all these emotions are welcomed and affirmed."

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