RETHINKING CHURCH IN KINGSPORT: "We reached the point where we had to do something different"

RETHINKING CHURCH IN KINGSPORT: "We reached the point where we had to do something different"

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Packed house

“Prayer is a gift that God blesses us with,” says the Rev. Susan Arnold, a member of the Rethink Church Team.

“We agreed the importance of having the dreams and visions in this district being supported in prayer. We can only imagine what God desires to do through ministry opportunities here in the Kingsport District.”

Included in the district’s strategic plan was a March 13 prayer service. When the designated Sunday night arrived at Crossroads UMC, the sanctuary was packed with 257 people: “prayer warriors” identified and invited by Kingsport pastors.

By the end of the service, 58 people had signed up for the newly created Intercessory Prayer Team, said Arnold, who will lead the team in “surrounding” the district’s revitalization with prayer.

An equal number of people signed up for an e-mail prayer team. “I’m also thinking about using Facebook,” Arnold said.

No one was more surprised by the huge response than Arnold, although she has already witnessed the positive power of prayer and shared ministry in her own parish.

Arnold is part-time local pastor for St. Luke UMC and Emory UMC. The Rev. Ray Amos is pastor for St. Matthew UMC and Emory. The three churches comprise the Elm Tree Parish.

At an enthusiastic and well-attended charge conference in November 2010, the three congregations celebrated the success of their shared Wednesday night program for 50 children and youth. The three churches have worship attendances ranging from 35 to 75 each.

In addition to the Wednesday program, Elm Tree Parish has started seasonal outreach projects for a nearby low-income apartment complex (a “painted pumpkin” party in October, Easter hat decorating in April)  and is planning other joint ministries.

“I know St. Luke couldn’t be doing the things we’re doing now. I know because we tried for years,” said one charge conference speaker.

“All we want to do is serve God. It’s amazing to me how we can do that as a parish,” said a member from St. Matthew. “When people ask me where I’m from, I don’t say St. Matthew. I say Elm Tree Parish.”

Success spreads

As news of Elm Tree’s excitement began to spread, “more people and more churches started asking about parish ministry,” Arnold says.

Three other parishes are also inciting interest. The Bloomingdale Parish – including the Kingsley, Vermont, Salem, Arcadia, and Holly Springs churches – is uniting to help the Rev. Grover Starnes implement his idea of a spring-break Vacation Bible School during the week of March 28. Starnes is pastor of Arcadia and Holly Springs.

The Rogersville Parish – including First Rogersville, Kincaid, Meadowview, and Ebbing and Flowing churches – is still developing. But in January, Kincaid and First Rogersville joined with First Surgoinsville to take 60 total youth to Resurrection. Members from Kincaid are also singing in the First Rogersville choir’s Easter cantata, which will be presented to both churches.

Like the other parishes, the West Carter’s Valley Parish is combining for some Holy Week services this year. West Carter’s Valley includes Lebanon, Grange Hall, First Church Hill, Ross Campground, Cameron, and Valley Center churches.

However, this month the six-church parish had a breakthrough when it decided to hire a full-time parish youth director.

“We’ve had serious discussions in discovering what our gifts are and how we can mesh,” said the Rev. Deborah Collins, a member of the Rethink Team and full-time local pastor at Lebanon UMC and Grange Hall UMC. “We hope to have the youth director in place by this summer.”

If any of the six congregations can’t financially contribute to the youth director’s salary, members will be asked to teach crafts or participate in another way, she said.

Later this month, Grange Hall UMC is stepping out by inviting its five sister churches to a praise and worship service.

“Change is hard, but the more we know each other, the better we can be,” says Collins, whose two churches have nine and 40 in worship attendance.

“We don’t want to close any churches, but we reached the point where we have to do something different. We’ve got to get re-connected, re-committed, and re-dedicated so that we can reach the people in our communities," she said.

Collins, Arnold, Starnes, and other pastors have praise for Graves, who helped them see how their churches could be more successful and fulfill their purpose.

“He is an anointed man,” Collins said. “He challenges us to better than what we are, not to think small, and to use our imagination and creative gifts for what God wants us to do. He’s an extreme motivator and encourager.”



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