Holston's Congregational Development office has even more reason to celebrate the New Year as two congregations take historic flights into the future.
On Sunday, Jan. 2, First Hillsville UMC in Wytheville District officially launched its second campus, the downtown "Out of the Box Worship Center."
Both events were landmarks in Holston's goal to start 15 new churches in five years (2009-2014) and revitalize several existing congregations, according to the Rev. Richard Edwards, Holston director of congregational development.
By chartering to become a full-fledged United Methodist church, Sycamore Tree completes an eight-year journey since Fairview UMC began the congregation in 2002.
The founding and current pastor, the Rev. Jeff Wadley, reports that the church has baptized 69 people, taken 39 trips to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, and bought and renovated a building – "without debt on a $125,000 project."
About 60 percent of Sycamore Tree's 212 persons on the roll joined Dec. 12 by profession of faith. Representatives of Fairview presented a gift of a chalice and plate, and an offering of $13,000 included "our regular offering, renovation funds, and and money to finish two schools in Kenya," Wadley said.
Bishop James Swanson preached at the special service, advising the congregation to refrain from thinking they have "arrived."
"There is no time to sit back and let your guard down," Swanson said.
On the second day of January, United Methodists in Hillsville, Va., celebrated a new worship service with 118 in attendance.
"We had people who I have never met before, and we had people who are divorced and feel they can no longer attend another church because their former spouse attends there," said the Rev. Ronnie Collins, Out of the Box pastor. "We had people who had not been in church in a long time, and we had people who have never really been to church much in their life. The icing on the cake is that we had youth who are part of Out of the Box youth program bring their parents who do not attend church."
Out-of-the-Box started in October 2008 as a downtown storefront youth ministry led by Collins, First Hillsville's associate pastor. Within 18 months, weekly events attracted between 60 and 100 youth.
With coaching and grant support from Holston, Out of the Box acquired a new building and is set to offer "A New Worship Experience for Carroll County."
Out of the Box is counted as the third launch in Holston's 15-church goal – "and our first church in Virginia," Edwards said. The first two were Cokesbury UMC's West campus in the Oak Ridge District and The Remedy in Maryville District