- A home-cooked dinner for utility workers on Christmas Day. – Dickenson, Va.
- Extra loads of firewood for people who need heat. – Greeneville, Tenn.
- Hot coffee and a warm place to sleep for stranded travelers. – Tazewell, Va.
In an unusually cold and snowy winter, Holston churches are finding opportunities -- amongst the icy roads and frozen pipes -- to share the love of Christ.
But prior to the joys of ministry, many have experienced winter headaches. Parking lots have been salted and meetings re-scheduled. Pastors have felt forced to cancel worship services, even in the deep-south part of the Holston Conference.
At Sand Mountain UMC in Trenton, Ga., the Rev. Wayne Cook called off worship on Jan. 10 because of the icy roads leading up the mountain. “We don't need anyone taking a chance to get to church,” the Chattanooga District pastor announced on Facebook.
At Norton UMC in Big Stone Gap District, Pastor Ken Taylor blamed snowy roads and a power outage for the cancellation of the Dec. 27 worship. At First Gatlinburg UMC on Jan. 6, Tracy Starker mourned the cancellation of Wednesday night Bible study and Tuesday afternoon delivery of groceries to weekly motel residents.
Yet, other churches experienced blessings along with the inconveniences. During the week before Christmas, thousands of residents in southwest Virginia lost their power. Three Bells UMC in Big Stone Gap District offered its building as a shelter to the community of Duffield, Va.
On Christmas Day, the power was still out near Dickenson, Va., and utility workers from four states away were trying to repair the damage. The congregation at Sulphur Springs UMC went into action.
With turkey and ham donated by Food City, about 30 church members prepared a Christmas dinner and supper for 150 utility workers in the fellowship hall. An additional 100 neighbors without electricity in their homes came for dinner as well. Later, the Sulphur Springs youth group delivered boxed meals to about 50 more homebound senior citizens.
“It was a great blessing, that we had the opportunity to do this on Christmas Day,” said Pastor Charlie Killen of the Russellville Circuit, Abingdon District. “We took $300 out of the church budget to pay for the food. By the end of the day, it was donated back to us.”
In Greeneville, Tenn., Christ UMC is leading a firewood ministry that the church started last year. But with the severity of this year’s winter, the ministry is working overtime and involving other churches.
“There’s nothing like working outside when it’s 15 degrees,” said Greg Isom, who helped deliver 20 loads to needy neighbors on Jan. 9. “We were delivering it as fast as we could get it split. We’ve got to have a big day of hauling and splitting next week to try and stock it back up.”
Also participating in the ministry are Asbury UMC, Trinity UMC, and Cherokee Circuit, all in the Morristown District. Five non-United Methodist churches have joined in, too, along with inmates from the local jail. The group receives names of families depending on firewood for heat from the Greene County Food Pantry, according the Rev. Ginger Isom of Christ UMC.
“Last winter, we delivered 200 loads of wood. This year it’ll be close to 350 or 400,” she said.
In Tazewell, Va., Mt. Olivet UMC recognized a ministry opportunity when a tractor trailer loaded with cattle slid off and blocked the only road into Burkes Garden on Dec. 18. The church building was opened for six motorists who were forced to wait until the truck could be moved the following morning. A neighbor took blankets and pillows off her beds and sliced a ham and bread for the stranded guests, according to the Rev. Rodney Lawson. Church members dropped by to make sure the visitors were comfortable and to offer hot coffee and breakfast.
The following morning, with 24 inches of snow on the ground, neighbors helped the driver maneuver his truck back onto the road, and the guests were on their way.
“A port in the storm of life is Jesus Christ,” said Lawson. “It is so wonderful when one of his church buildings can be a port in the winter storm.”
At your service
Other Holston ministries also reported their winter-weather ministries. After receiving a strong response from Holston churches during the Christmas outreach, Jubilee Project has been better equipped to meet the community’s needs, according to Doris Burton.
“We’ve had a few problems with families with broken water pipes, low wood supplies, and other needs related to the cold,” she said. “We help where we can and try to keep our finger in the dike. Our kids, however, are keeping warm with the blankets and coats that [Holston churches] provided for them and their families at Christmas.”
On a day when Chattanooga was dizzy with the unusual prospect of snow accumulation, the University of Tennessee cancelled its classes. The UTC Wesley Foundation promptly stepped up with an irresistible invitation.
“It's 29 degrees, the snow is falling, and the sky is gray,” the Rev. Keith Moore wrote on the Wesley Foundation Facebook page on Jan. 7. “Don't you wish somebody had a nice bowl of hot soup waiting for you and a warm fire to sit beside?”
At day’s end, the Wesley Foundation’s Jackie Watson reported that the “major storm had not materialized.” In fact, the snow was barely visible on the ground.
However, the students “enjoyed the extra time off” and their special guests were some UTC janitors who stopped by for a bowl of soup and Christian fellowship.
See the January newspaper for additional photos.