City ministry goes on after van crashes into fellowship hall

City ministry goes on after van crashes into fellowship hall

David dines with his dog at Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church on Monday, Dec. 10. Milo the service dog was later treated with a bowl of meatballs.


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Dec. 11, 2018) -- The big question at Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church this past weekend was:

Would the damage caused by the van that crashed into the church on Friday interfere with the ministry that happens on Monday?

The answer is no, because the people who serve in this aging church are used to working around the lack of heat, broken windows, sagging ceilings, and other challenges. A hole in the fellowship hall is nothing.

“It won’t change anything,” said the Rev. Dennis Loy, as volunteers swept up debris from the crash. “It has to get in line with all the other things that are needed. This morning the hot-water heater went out and flooded the kitchen.”

Although the fellowship hall was chilly and the tables were dusty from the demolished wall, the free noontime meal that feeds more than 100 people every Monday went on as usual. The tables were wiped. The kitchen was mopped. The food was prepared. Hungry people waited outside.

When the doors finally opened, the guests barely noticed the boarded-up hole and the orange cones marking off the broken bricks and vehicle parts. They were more focused on the warm spaghetti, hot coffee, and Christmas cake.

“We had 140 before Thanksgiving,” said Matt Helms, a Presbyterian who joins with about 10 United Methodists and other volunteers to provide the meal, as they have for the last eight years. Most of the partakers walk or drive to the church from a five-block radius, he said.

Magnolia Avenue also offers a food pantry and clothes closet supported by other churches. Average worship attendance at the inner-city church is now 25, in a grand old sanctuary that once hosted hundreds.

The crash was caused by a hit-and-run driver who tried to back the van out of the predicament before fleeing, Loy said. “I found the car key on the floor.” The police are handling the crime. The insurance company is handling the repair.

Russ Johnston, who started a free clinic at Magnolia Avenue in 2013, was the first person the police called and the first church member on the scene late Friday night. He lives 30 minutes away. “The police said there were four people in the van. He told me the van wasn’t registered to the guy who was driving.”

A half hour after the Monday meal was served, the meal was over. Loy said there were no second helpings today because the number served was high. The fellowship hall quickly emptied out.

Upstairs on the second floor, the free clinic was just getting started. Patients lined the halls, still bundled in their coats. Inside a big room that seemed to be a former parlor, volunteer physicians and nurses prepared to see about 40 patients.

The cracked windows let in the December cold. The volunteers were frustrated that the space heaters were overloading the electrical system.

It was just another Monday at Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church.



Contact Annette Spence, editor, at

For information on how you can help, contact the Rev. Dennis Loy at Send checks to: Magnolia Avenue UMC, 2700 E. Magnolia Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37914.



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Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.