When a brand-new Hispanic congregation began worshiping at a long-established Greeneville church in 2010, they were invited guests.
They couldn't have known that three years later, the original church would close and the Hispanic congregation would adopt the building as their own place of worship.
Mount Sion United Methodist Church – or Iglesia Monte de Sion Metodista Unida – was started when a Greeneville pastor approached the Rev. Arturo Reyna about beginning a Hispanic worship service in her church.
The Rev. Martha Moore Beamer was pastor at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church when she learned a Hispanic family was searching for worship in the area.
"At that moment a light came on," Beamer says. "While the Mount Vernon congregation worshiped at 9:30 every Sunday and never used the facility again until the next Sunday, why not have a Hispanic service available for those who would like to worship in the afternoon?"
Beamer contacted Reyna, who saw a need for a United Methodist Hispanic service in Greeneville. Reyna is Holston Conference Coordinator of Hispanic Ministries and pastor of Iglesia Rios de Agua Viva Metodista Unida (Rivers of Living Water UMC) in Morristown, Tenn.
Reyna then approached Iver Lopez, who had recently completed lay-leadership training, to ask if he wanted to help begin the new congregation in Greeneville.
Lopez responded, “I’ve been feeling like I am called to preach. Maybe this is God saying it’s time,” according to Reyna.
Reyna and Lopez brought a team to Mount Vernon to spray wash and paint part of the building and work on the parking lot. They agreed to pay Mount Vernon $100 a month for operating expenses, Beamer says.
The new Mount Sion congregation began their new worship service at Mount Vernon in summer 2010, quickly growing to 48 in worship attendance.
However, the Hispanic congregation overwhelmed the existing congregation of six people. Within a year, Mount Sion was in search of a new home.
When the Rev. Ginger Isom invited the Mount Sion congregation to come to Christ United Methodist Church, Reyna and Lopez were grateful.
"We had the space available, space that they could make theirs while they were with us, so there was no reason not to open our doors to them," Isom said. "They needed room to grow."
The Mount Sion congregation left Mount Vernon, occupying two large Sunday school rooms at Christ United Methodist Church in summer 2011.
Unfortunately, relocating the congregation four miles south -- from a country road to downtown Greeneville -- caused worship attendance to drop, says Reyna. "We lost 15 people within two weeks."
For two years, Iver and Reyna continued to preach and teach a small but dedicated Hispanic group at Christ UMC. In spring 2013, Morristown District Superintendent Tom Ballard telephoned Reyna with a new offer.
“Mount Vernon had gotten to the point where they could no longer continue,” Ballard said.
With fewer than 10 members, Mount Vernon officially closed at Holston Annual Conference 2013. Ballard asked Reyna if the Mount Sion congregation wanted to use the building, while paying for insurance and utilities.
Reyna’s response was, “God will provide. Let us try it for six months.”
The Mount Sion congregation moved back to Doughty’s Chapel Road in September 2013. To Reyna’s delight, a church, Sunday school class, and individual in the Morristown District donated enough money to pay the insurance and utilities through February 2014.
With about 25 in current worship attendance, Mount Sion still hasn’t recovered its attendance high from 2010. Yet new families are visiting and Reyna says he sees hope in the congregation’s enthusiasm and activities.
“I think we’re here to stay,” Reyna said of the Mount Sion congregation.
"Mount Sion has met unexpected obstacles, but they have endured," said Beamer. In October, she brought members from Cherokee Circuit to worship with Mount Sion in a bilingual service.
Reyna says he appreciates the generosity offered by Beamer and other pastors and congregations to Holston’s 10 Hispanic congregations -- many that Reyna helped begin.
Even now, Bethel United Methodist Church of Morristown is allowing the Rios de Agua Viva congregation to meet in their building, while the Rios roof is being repaired, Reyna said.
“As a Hispanic pastor, where can I go but to my brothers and sisters in Christ for help?” Reyna said. “That’s where I see true meaning in ‘Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds,’ because they are not just words. They are living words. I have experienced it.”
To contribute to Morristown District Hispanic ministries or to invite a Hispanic congregation to share a tamale fundraising meal with your congregation, contact the Rev. Arturo Reyna at (423) 200-8748 or the Morristown District office at email@example.com
- "23 Hispanic church leaders receive national training" (The Call, 12/9/13)
- "What does it mean to be United Methodist?" (The Call, 8/5/13)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.