PAXTON — The Vineyard Church of Paxton’s transition to Hope Vineyard Church on April 1 means more than just a name change.

Over two decades, the Rev. Jimm and DeDe Wood have wanted to make more of an impact on their community. In the next two weeks, the culmination of that reality will occur at their church.

Residents in Paxton since 1995, the Woods have been pastors for the past four years at The Vineyard Church at 152 N. Market St. in downtown Paxton, which will be known starting April 1 as Hope Vineyard Church. On Easter Sunday, the church will begin worshiping under this new change at its 9:15 a.m. and 11 a.m. worship services. With the name change, Hope Vineyard will become a locally led congregation.

When the church began, it did so as a campus under the larger umbrella of the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois, one of 1,500 congregations under that denominational system. In that paradigm, the Paxton congregation benefited from financing from that auspice, but most of the sermons were generated via a satellite feed coming from the Vineyard’s main campus in Urbana.

The Woods will now be doing the bulk of the preaching, and the congregation of more than 100 will be financing the ministry in full. It’s a leap of faith that has caused a few sleepless nights, but Jimm and DeDe Wood believe this is a change that will allow them to minister more adequately to the needs particular to their own situation.

"As we’ve been pastors over four years and gotten to know our congregation, we’ve grown in our desire to want to connect more specifically with our community," Jimm Wood said. "This transition will allow us the flexibility to focus more intentionally on the specific needs of people in the Paxton area and connect more personally with our congregation. We had thought at some point we might become our own entity — the question was whether it was the right thing, right time and right reason. It seems right now that all three are aligned for us to take this step."

Nearly two dozen years ago, Jimm Wood was more inclined to be a rock star than a pastor, and DeDe was planning on being a teacher. They had met in Aurora, a large western suburb of Chicago, and had completed degrees at Eastern Illinois University, getting married in 1993. Jimm Wood was teaching orchestra in the Urbana school district, and DeDe Wood was a substitute teacher there when they moved to Paxton in 1995.

"DeDe was very pregnant with our first child, and housing was affordable and we fell in love with the town," Jimm Wood said.

As they fell in love with Paxton, they fell more in love with God, too. DeDe Wood was involved in a number of Bible studies in the area, including one led by Pam Larson. DeDe Wood eventually helped Larson make costumes for a Vineyard Church children’s presentation in Urbana. The Woods came to church to see that presentation and loved the worship service, which eventually led to their making the Vineyard their home church.

Soon, Jimm began getting acquainted with the church’s worship team and DeDe began getting involved with the women’s ministry. They became more active, even beginning Bible studies in Paxton as small group leaders to a contingent of people who had already been attending the Vineyard and commuting to Urbana. DeDe was eventually overseeing 10 small-group Bible studies in Paxton and the area — totaling around 100 people — as part of being a small-group ministry pastor.

In May 2001, Jimm Wood left the Urbana school district and began serving as a worship pastor for the Vineyard’s campus in Urbana. DeDe Wood eventually became a small-group pastor and continued work already begun in Paxton. By that point, Happy Leman, senior pastor of the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois, had overseen the coordination of three other church plant ministries off the Urbana model — those in Sullivan, Danville and Charleston.

"Hap had a vision to establish church plants and satellite campuses," DeDe Wood said. "We embraced that vision and were communicated that vision, not knowing we’d be the leaders called to be pastors here. In November 2009, we were driving down to help the Sullivan campus’ worship team one morning when we became aware that we would be the ones to lead a Paxton campus. And I was exhilarated."

In winter 2010, it became clear to the Woods and to the Vineyard that a Paxton campus could be a viable option. They set up an interest meeting in April of that year and were pleased with the initial reactions.

"When we first had an interest meeting (for starting the Vineyard Church of Paxton) there were 83 people, and most of them had been connected in some way with the Vineyard," said Jimm Wood. "There was a lot of excitement and energy, so we decided to launch."

On Sept. 26, 2010 — Jimm Wood’s 40th birthday — the Vineyard Church of Paxton had its first worship service on the corner of Market and State streets. The Woods discovered that most of the people they were ministering to were not connected to any church, although some had previously been churchgoers or had been raised in the church.

Hope Vineyard Church is one of 13 in Paxton and one of the rare storefront churches in the city. And it’s a bit different in other ways, although Jimm would tell you, "We’re just one tool in God’s tool chest here, being used as God sees fit."

Those who attend the Paxton church on a Sunday will see a well-lighted, open coffee area that is alive with conversation and tasty coffee. The dress is casual; the music style would be what one would hear on the radio (electric guitar, bass, drums, and a rock ‘n roll feel); and the liturgy is simple and straightforward. There’s a lot of singing, and at the end of church there are usually people praying at the stage area.

The Woods are grateful that their congregation has seemed open to having people share their vulnerabilities and creating an environment where one’s shortcomings don’t prevent them from feeling accepted. DeDe Wood hopes the church’s name change will communicate that, too. 

"We’re changing our name to communicate to our community that hope can be found in Jesus," she said. "We should be able to tell people that they can find hope in the church. Our name will reflect that."

Hope Vineyard Church of Paxton’s Easter Sunday services will occur at 9:15 and 11 a.m. on April 5. A Kids Church is held simultaneously.