Mother Beth Maynard of Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church

Since opening its doors in 1883, Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church has stood as a testament to the love that runs deep throughout the diverse community in their downtown Champaign congregation. With strong devotions to communal outreach and with an array of different ministries that cater specifically to the needs of their parishioners and neighbors, Emmanuel Memorial has proven for over a century to be beacon for both those who are in need as well as those who are called to serve. We were honored this month to be able to sit down with Mother Beth Maynard who expounded about her love for her position as Rector, the history of the church, and her hopes for Emmanuel Memorial’s church community when she retires later this year.

Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church is a proud member of the Champaign Center Partnership!

Tell me about yourself and how you got involved with Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church.

My name Beth Maynard and I am the Rector at Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church. I am a native Tennessean but had spent much of my adult life in new England until I was called here to Emmanuel eight plus years ago. I have been an Episcopal priest for 28 years and have served in several different contexts: in parishes, I’ve taught in seminary, and ran an intentional community for a while. So I have a diverse background. I am married to a man named Mark Dirksen and we have just really loved being here at Emmanuel and living in Champaign-Urbana. Champaign is a fantastic city that is full of opportunities and all sorts of things you can do conveniently, great parking, great arts, great food. This city is just an all-around wonderful place to live.

Can you tell readers about a typical day in your life?

In the life of a priest, there is truly no typical day. Ministry is such a diverse and interesting way of life because there is so much change. There are certainly anchors though. I do a practice called the daily office, which is the ancient monastic round of prayer, and we do that here at Emmanuel every weekday morning and evening. So, whether I’m here or at home, that is sort of the bookend of the day. Then, some of the events that could happen in a typical day are counseling meetings and all sorts of administration planning for ministry events, working with folks who are needy or homeless or need some financial assistance, meetings with our lay leaders, study and sermon preparation, worship leadership — gosh, there’s just so much in the day of a priest but there’s truly no typical day! If you’re called to it, this is the best job on Earth and I love it.

Many people may remember that there was a fire in 2018 that damaged the rectory of the church. Can you please tell me about that and how rebuilding the rectory has helped enhance what you are able to bring to the community?

let me tell you that story because it is truly a great story. Our rectory at the time was not being used for several years other than for storage. A discernment group of our members were trying to imagine what God might be calling us to use this space for. In late 2017, our governing board, which is called the vestry, had endorsed the vision that we wanted to give the space a cosmetic overhaul and offer it for a community ministry. And then the attic caught on fire in 2018. Due to the amazing efforts of the Champaign Fire Department, they were able to save that wing of the building, which is historic, dating from 1917. But there was a great deal of interior damage. The building had to come down to the studs and we discovered that was not structurally sound. If the fire had never happened, we would have undertaken the cosmetic overhaul and then offered it to the community, and it could very well have fallen down around someone’s head. This is a great example of the way God works through adversity to make something even better happen.

Now the rectory has been redone and is structurally sound, the downstairs has been turned into a beautiful open meeting and gathering space, and the upstairs has been turned into an office suite. We worked with a number of community leaders on envisioning how this space might be used and in the end we created a partnership with the CU Trauma and Resiliency Initiative, who are key players in the Community Gun Violence Reduction Blueprint for Champaign. They are leasing the space as part of their work with the victims of violence and families, and also with providers to help them offer trauma-informed services. We honestly couldn’t have asked for a better result to that visioning process that began way back in 2017.

Tell me about what your sack lunch ministry is and how it has given you a better insight on some of the challenges that our community faces.

Our Sack Lunch Ministry is a ministry in which has allowed us to provide sack lunches to the homeless and working poor in our community. Our location, on West Side Park, has given a lot of these different people in need of our service a convenient place to come and has given us a lot of opportunities to interact with the homeless community, in such a way that several of them are our friends that come to our services. That’s just part of life here at Emmanuel. One of the things that is particularly great about it is most days we do have members of the church who come in to hand out those lunches, which gives them a chance to get to know and interact with people who they would probably never meet otherwise. It certainly keeps our feet on the ground in terms of the realities in Champaign,  how many needs there actually are here and what God might be calling us to do about some of them.

Does Emmanuel Memorial take outside donations to help the members of our community that may be in need?

While we don’t have a food pantry per se, we do have a grocery delivery ministry. It stocks nonperishable donations that our delivery volunteers can use and then they go out and buy chicken or whatever. But yes, we’re always collecting at services and everything. We also have a Wish List on Amazon for our Sack Lunch Ministry that can be found if anyone in the community wishes to donate to that.

If you wish to donate to Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church’s Sack Lunch Ministry Wish List please click on the following link


What do you find to be the most rewarding part of your position?

It is all so rewarding but if I had to pick it is seeing people discover that God is real and that he can make a difference in your life.

With this being your last year before your retirement, what are your hopes for your successor and what do they have to look forward to in stepping into such a pivotal role in our community.

Emmanuel is a wonderful church community as we are very diverse in many ways from age to economic backgrounds. Whoever comes here will have the luxury of beautiful worship and beautiful music that is already in place; so often priests have to build that. Also, whoever comes here will find a church where there are many opportunities to help embody the Kingdom of God and embody the good news among our parishioners as well as the community. There are so many open doors for ministry and mission in Champaign. We are blessed to have a very generous congregation, so whomever comes will have resources to get things done. And it is a luxury for a pastor to have resources that they can put to work. I hope that Emmanuel will get a faithful priest that loves the depth and tradition of the Episcopal Church and who is also creative and can relate to all ages. Finally, they’d better be ready to work hard because there is a lot of hard work here.

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