For six weeks this summer, the Rev; James Mills, and English Methodist minister, occupied the pulpit of University United Methodist Church in College Park. At the same time, the Rev, Carroll Gunkel, the University Methodist pastor, was ministering to Mills' four small rural congregations in the north of England.
Mills and Gunkel traded congregations and homes as part of the World Methodist Council's annual ministerial exchange program. Although they had been corresponding since October, the two have never met.
"It was great!" said Mills of his term here, and members of his surrogate congregation agreed.
"He was a marvelous speaker; he preached so much warmth," said Dale Bormuth, a church member for 29 years. "But I guess what I liked best about him was his sense of humor."
Other members said they were surprised at how quickly and easily Mills "melted in."
"He was visiting sick people his first week here," exclaimed one.
At his farewell luncheon Sunday, Mills kept his audience amused with homely anecdotes and witty asides. "I like to put in something to make them happy and pleased with themselves," said the smiling minister.
Mills, 59, said he enjoyed the experience of having a different sort of congregation to preach to. "They would always come and tell me what they liked about my sermons and the messages they took away with them," said Mills. "And that's rather pleasing," Mills said. "In England, people will either say nothing or they'll say thank you, but that's all;
"It helps tremendously when you have a rapport with the people," he said.
One of the chief differences between the congregations on Mills' rural circuit in the Wakefield area of Yorkshire and his exchange church is economics.
Although his English circuit is considered affluent, Mills said, the people who tend to make up his congregations don't have much disposable income.
As a result, usually only active church members give regular financial support to their church. Without that support, churches can't afford staffs or even a secretary, Mills said, and he finds himself, "doing a lot of things a minister here wouldn't do. But we also depend more on volunteer workers who take a lot of the load off.
"American churches have far more resources," he said. "Americans are better educated in giving than church members in England. They (the British) just don't have quite the same amoung in their pockets after taxes that Americans have."
Mills, who has been an exchange minister in the United States twice before, said that although basic church practices and services are the same for American and English Methodists, he sees several minor differences,
Methodist ministers in the United States "tend to go by the book" in their liturgies, he said, whereas "in England we make up our own prayers." Although Sunday, when Mills conducted the service in the English style, church members said they didn't notice any difference except some additional hymns.
He also noticed that "Americans use more folk tunes in their hymns," while his English congregations "use more traditional European tunes" often by classical composers.
Mills said also that Americans tend to dress more casually in church than their English counterparts; "Englishmen tend to wear thick suits even in the summer and a lot of women wouldn't go out without a coat over their dress," he said. "But we don't have very hot summer days like you do here."
Members of University Methodist noticed some differences between Mills and the American ministers they'd experienced as well. "He uses much more philosophy," said one man. "He talks a lot about his own experiences, which makes it interesting," said another.
"Through some of the stories he told us we were able to look back on our roots and our heritage in the Methodist system, said Kenneth Fell, a pastoral assistant at the church.
Charlotte Jones, another church member, said, "We've enjoyed the different flavor and perspective Mills brought us.I gained information about the workings in the Methodist Church that I didn't know much about before."
Many members said they believed their pastor, Gunkel, would bring insights from England that he would pass along to them.
Mills and his wife, Doreen, said that although they miss the fresh air and cool summer days of the Yorkshire countryside, both would be sorry to leave College Park.
"I'm going to go right home and apply to the chairman of the district for a fourth exchange," Mills said.