The following story is re-posted with permission from The Mountain Press.
SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (July 9, 2017) – The Connexion is growing.
When the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church leased the former site of The Gathering – a one-time megachurch in Sevierville that surrendered its massive property to a bank in 2013 – many area Methodists wondered what the huge campus would become after it sat empty for almost three years.
At the time, regional Methodist leaders said the massive church, nearly 40,000 square feet, would be used for concerts, large-scale conference events and a recovery ministry, and creative media projects.
The Holston Conference entered into a two-year, $300,000 lease on the property, with a $5.3 million option to buy. So far the facility and its 49-acre campus have been used for a multitude of purposes. And the ideas keep coming.
“I took over May 1, and when I came, we had three kinds of visions for the use of the property and the building,” the Rev. Jason Roe, a Holston Conference evangelist who was tasked with taking the reins of the campus, explained. “One is for us to see if we can generate a new congregation here – most church-plants don’t have a building … (two) is the Hispanic congregation that is already meeting here … they’re worshipping somewhere around 300-400 people (weekly); and (three), it’s an events center.”
El Ministerio del Espiritu Santo, a Spanish-speaking congregation that holds weekly services in the church three nights a week, is among the largest such groups in the area. Several nonprofit relief groups focused primarily on long-term wildfire recovery – Appalachia Service Project, Volunteer East Tennessee and AmeriCorps among them – are leasing space in the building for their base of operations.
“Part of our hope is that this is going to be a mission center,” Roe said. “We want to be not only a local hub to help Sevier County, but a regional hub.
“I want to affect Sevier County, I want to affect greater Knoxville … the five states surrounding us around the world. It could be done here as a nucleus of mission and outreach. We want to be a place where we connect people with resources … whatever they need.”
The site has also hosted numerous concerts, Christian retreats and Holston Conference events.
It has also started work on a large-scale recovery ministry.
Using the popular Celebrate Recovery program, the program is taking off and will be launched countywide in the coming months.
Sevierville resident Jeff Weiss has been tasked leading the recovery program, which deals not only with drugs and alcohol but anything causing difficulties in people’s lvies.
“Hurts, habits and hangups,” Weiss said.
“Any kind of recovery,” Roe added. “Drug, alcohol, divorce, grief, depression, obesity, money, co-dependence, pornography. If you’re struggling we’re (going to help).”
It’s a program, Weiss and Pete Smith, another on the leadership team for the Connexion, have both been through and believe everyone could benefit from.
“Rick Warren and Celebrate Recovery is a leadership factory,” Weiss said. “In fact, he says he will have nobody on his staff that hasn’t been through recovering from a major hurt, habit or hangup in their life.”
“The reason for that,” Smith said, “is if you haven’t recovered, you’re most likely in denial.”
And it’s through that recovery mission that Roe hopes to grow a congregation.
“If you go to most churches … to start a recovery ministry inside of a church, there’s this awful nuance – those people,” Roe said. “So our thought is, we’re going to do recovery ministry first and we grow a church out of that. Give me the broken. Let’s have a congregation here that doesn’t know life without recovery. Our country really needs recovery. We live here in the middle of it. Nobody is being serious about our drug problem. It’s systemic in our service industry.”
“We’d really like to get the recovery ministry cranking,” Weiss said, “because that is what we feel is the calling – to reach those least and lost. The ones that have fallen through the cracks, that’s who we’d love to be ministering to here.”
Lease signed for Sevierville facility (The Call, 2/8/16)
'Vacation Church' launches at The Connexion (The Call, 5/30/16)