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President Amy Novak, left, of Dakota Wesleyan University, congratulates Brandon Vetter, DWU campus pastor, Thursday after his announcement that the Fusion worship group that meets at DWU will become its own church. (Photo courtesy of DWU)

Modern worship group Fusion forms own church

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

A weekly alternative worship service birthed by a local church and Dakota Wesleyan University has become its own independent congregation.

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Services known as Fusion were launched in 2011 at the Sherman Center on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. The project was a partnership between DWU and the First United Methodist Church, which is located in downtown Mitchell. The aim was to reach 18- to 35-year-olds with a modern approach.

The effort thrived — so much so that Fusion has now become its own church, according to a Thursday news release from DWU. Fusion will continue to be housed on the DWU campus.

“Fusion is an opportunity for the United Methodist Church to reach a group of people who prefer a less traditional approach,” said Brandon Vetter, DWU’s campus pastor, in the news release. “We use pop culture, video clips, new music and a casual atmosphere to deliver the Gospel — those things won’t appeal to everyone, but they appeal to our congregation.”

Vetter said about 140 people attend Fusion services weekly, with about 10-20 worshipers who cross over from the campus Thursday service — mostly students who assist with music. The majority are young families.

Vetter will continue to be Dakota Wesleyan’s campus pastor and Fusion pastor through June, and the university will begin a search for a new campus pastor within the next month. Vetter will transition to serving Fusion full-time.

Kathy Hartgraves, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church, called Fusion’s development a “great, wonderful thing.”

“It’s growing the United Methodist Church,” she said in a Thursday interview with The Daily Republic. “Having another United Methodist Church in the city would be a great thing.”

In the Dec. 6 edition of the First United Methodist Church newsletter, Hartgraves published a letter to her congregation updating the relationship between Fusion and First United Methodist. The letter said a church consultant began working with representatives of both entities in December 2012 to “enter into conversations about the relationship between First UMC and Fusion.” A task force was eventually formed with representatives from Fusion and First United Methodist, and the task force members “worked to cultivate a healthy partnership between Fusion and First UMC,” Hartgraves wrote.

On Nov. 12, the task force made a recommendation to the First United Methodist Church Council, and the resolution was approved. The two entities became independent Jan. 1 but will continue to work together in several ways, Hartgraves’ letter said.

“We as a congregation need to celebrate the part we have played in launching the ministry of Fusion,” Hartgraves wrote. “Through our efforts we have helped to launch a ministry that is reaching people who seek a different worship experience. We have much to be proud of in that.”

DWU President Amy Novak compared the development of Fusion to the spirit of early Methodists. The university is Methodist-affiliated.

“When I think of the early Methodist circuit riders who founded Dakota Wesleyan University with nothing but faith to guide and sustain them, I look at what Brandon and the FUMC have done here on campus, and I see that same pioneer spirit, reaching out to young people in an innovative way,” Novak said in DWU’s news release.

“Fusion’s creation, and now its establishment as its own church, speaks to the ethos that founded us: ‘How do we bring the church to those who are unchurched? And more importantly, how do we help others reconnect with Church?’ When we successfully do this, we begin to truly change our world.”

The concept of a university’s campus ministry planting a church is unique nationwide, Vetter said.

“To my knowledge, it’s never been done before,” he said in the news release. “The idea came a few years ago and just grew from there. Dakota Wesleyan and the FUMC and the bishop of the Dakotas Conference have all been so supportive of this idea — the amount of freedom I have been given to experiment and just try it has been extraordinary. I’m not sure if there is another campus that would have let me do this.”

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