Pews for St. Paul

Pews for St. Paul

Holston remains dedicated to hurricane victims

In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the photos of church ruins and tattered furnishings struck at the hearts of people who love their own churches.

Two years after the tragedy, 21 Holston congregations have stepped up to donate more than $20,000 to buy new pews for a hurricane-ravaged church in Pass Christian, Miss.

St. Paul United Methodist Church, led by the Rev. Theodore Williams, worshipped in their new pews for the first time in April. In October, the congregation plans to recognize the 21 churches and the Holston Conference during a rededication service.

The arrival of the pews during the week after Easter, said Williams, was the crowning touch in a months-long renovation project that began soon after St. Paul suffered Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Located four blocks from the beach, the church’s foundation, built in 1971, withstood the storm surge.

But the pews were ripped from the floor and everything else inside was destroyed,” said Williams. “We had to have groups come in and gut it all out.”

St. Mark UMC of Newport News, Va., and Central UMC of Albermarle, N.C., were leaders in the renovation project. During that time, several Holston members volunteered to work in an UMCOR warehouse in Wiggins, Miss. Someone from Holston Conference met Williams and promised to help him get new pews. Months later, Williams couldn’t remember who that person was.

The Rev. Tony Collins, pastor at Loudon UMC in Maryville District, volunteered at the UMCOR warehouse in October 2005 and again in December 2005. When he heard about Williams’ plight, Collins called conference staff and others to see if they had met the Mississippi preacher. No one knew anything.

Collins wasn’t willing to settle for that. He decided, “Somebody made a promise, so we ought to keep it.”
At first, he and the conference Volunteers in Mission office considered sending used pews, offered by churches that had renovated their sanctuaries.

"We eventually decided we didn’t want them to be used,” says Collins. “This congregation had already been through so much. We wanted to do it well. We wanted them to have a fresh, new start.”

A cost-estimate search led to Rugel Church Furnishings in Jefferson City, Tenn., which could produce the needed 24 pews for $830 each. The St. Paul congregation chose their own fabric samples and pew ends.

Collins then set out to find 24 churches that would each donate a pew. All he asked was that the pastors make the presentation to their congregations. The Rev. Brian Burch was one of those who agreed.

"I thought, ‘If we get $800, I’ll be amazed,’” says Burch, pastor of Rural Retreat UMC in Wytheville District. But immediately after the service, a visiting couple pulled him aside to say, “We want to be a part of this.” They gave him a check for $830.

In all, Rural Retreat gave $1,060 that day.

"It was completely out of the blue,” said Burch. “You’ve got to ask for what you need.”

With donations from 21 churches and from Holston Conference, the total collected was $20,347. The pews were installed the week after Easter, said Williams, who preaches to a congregation of 30 in average worship attendance.

"If it hadn’t been for the churches, this entire Gulf Coast wouldn’t be where it is today. You can see the results now,” said Williams, speaking of the recovery effort.

Thank you, Holston Conference, from the bottom of our hearts. And may God richly bless you.”


These churches gave to buy pews for St. Paul UMC in Pass Christian, Miss. :

Christ, Chattanooga District
Christ, Knoxville District
Concord, Oak Ridge District
Fairview, Maryville District
Fairview, Knoxville District
First Hillsville, Wytheville District
First Richlands, Tazewell District
First Rogersville, Kingsport District
First Sevierville, Maryville District
Kern Memorial, Oak Ridge District
Loudon, Maryville District
Magnolia Avenue, Knoxville District
Middlesettlements, Maryville District
Mooresburg, Morristown District
Mt. Olive, Wytheville District
Pleasant Hill, Knoxville District
Rural Retreat, Wytheville District
Rutherford Memorial, Knoxville District
State Street, Abingdon District
Tuckaleechee, Maryville District
Wright’s Chapel, Abingdon District