Jerusalem United Methodist Church celebrated its 170th anniversary with pomp and circumstance on April 6, when Bishop James Swanson preached the Sunday morning sermon.
“For us, a little country church to get the bishop was wonderful and the excitement level was really high,” said the Rev. Gloria Lancaster Rhudy, pastor of Jerusalem UMC.
Rhudy pastors five small churches in the Spring Valley Circuit of the Wytheville District. Jerusalem is in the Fallville community of Grayson County, Va. On April 6, members from each of Rhudy's churches attended the Jerusalem celebration.
"This is a church that, on a really good Sunday has 23 (in attendance),” Rhudy said. “We know at least 150 came to hear the Bishop.”
The chorus from Summerfield UMC, another one of Rhudy’s churches, sang during the celebration. Choir members from the five churches combined into one to lead the hymns. Savannah Reynolds, 14, sang a solo. Six-year-old Avrionna Reynolds served as acolyte. Lewis Bedfaul played his guitar and French harp. Rhudy said she asked Bedfaul to play at the last minute, and he had come prepared.
Swanson spoke on Isaiah 43:1-12, telling the combined congregations that God loved them and the people who established Jerusalem UMC 170 years ago. He said, “This is God’s church,” Rhudy said.
“The Bishop can get so soft and be so powerful,” Rhudy said, “and he can be funny and then tug at your heartstrings. You never look at your watch when he’s preaching.”
Many people responded to the altar call following the sermon. Some came in wheelchairs, and some came with canes, Rhudy said. She was especially touched by an encounter between Swanson and an elderly member.
"She had a cane and came from the back of the church,” Rhudy said of the woman at the altar. “The bishop is such a big man. He wrapped his big, muscular arms around her, just held her up and prayed for her for a long time. It was beautiful.”
Longtime church members Virginia Rhudy Vaughan and Henry Bourne also attended the celebration. Vaughan sang a song to the bishop she remembered from childhood. Rhudy refers to Vaughan, 97, as “the matriarch of the church,” because she has attended Jerusalem UMC all her life.
“We were so delighted to have the Bishop,” Vaughan said. “I thought it was an honor to have him. It was a wonderful time.”
Vaughan started teaching Sunday School at age 14. She used to give each of her students a little Bible, “because I loved them and they needed a Bible,” she said. Every now and then, former students will tell Vaughan that they still have the Bibles she gave them -- something that Vaughan says makes her cry.
Irma Gardner said she’s taken Vaughan to church services for the past 20 years. She described the April 6 service as “spirit-filled.”
“You could feel the spirit,” Gardner said. “It’s hard to put into words.”
Henry Bourne, 93, served as treasurer of the building fund committee for 45 years. He's attended Jerusalem UMC all but 15 years of his life.
While serving on the building fund committee, Bourne remembers putting siding on the church, new floors, ceilings and walls, and constructing a community building. He recalls seeing a receipt showing that the laborer who built the building in 1881 received only $550.
“When I was a boy, that church had two doors,” Bourne said. “The men went in on the right side and the women on the left. They couldn’t cross over because there was a bar down the middle. In those days, that’s just what people did.”
Bourne, too, enjoyed listening to Bishop Swanson at the anniversary celebration.
“The church was full, and he preached a good sermon,” Bourne said.
It was the Rev. Gloria Rhudy who campaigned for the Bishop to preach for the church’s anniversary. She said she called the bishop’s office, only to be told he was booked up for the year. Rhudy told the secretary that she wanted the bishop for the anniversary, and she didn’t care when. It was around Christmas when she received confirmation of the visit.
“I was in Wal-Mart , and it was very noisy,” Rhudy said. “They asked if I still wanted the Bishop, and I said, ‘Yes, praise God, I do.’ I got so tickled that I said that in the middle of Wal-Mart. I was oblivious to who was around me.”
Rhudy said she and church members spent a lot of time getting ready for the Bishop’s visit. She wrote a church history for the newspaper and promoted the event throughout the district. District Superintendent Chuck Starks attended, as well as a former Jerusalem pastor, the Rev. Lonnie Fields.
“It was worth it,” Rhudy said of the hard work. “I’m really glad the Bishop sees the importance of not only going to bigger churches, but to the smaller ones, too.”