SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (June 1, 2016) – About 30 people participated in the first “Vacation Church” worship service held May 28 in the facility leased by Holston Conference to reach tourists with the Gospel.
Renamed “The Connexion” with a new sign to match, the 38,000-square-foot building made its United Methodist debut after three months of preparation, said the Rev. Rusty Taylor, Holston director of congregational development and revitalization.
“Millions of people go up and down this road,” Taylor said during the Saturday service at 5:30 p.m. “Three million people visited Dollywood last year. It is our prayer, hope and expectation that we will be able to develop a ministry for the millions of people visiting the Great Smoky Mountains each year.”
Chris Lee led worship and the praise band. Lee is contemporary music worship director at First United Methodist Church of Maryville, Tenn.
“We’re not going to have any one particular music style,” Taylor told participants. “We don’t have any traditions to uphold or break.”
On July 2, the bluegrass band Jimbo Whaley and Greenbrier will provide “patriotic” worship music for the Saturday evening service, Taylor said. The band previously appeared at Convocation in February 2015 and at Annual Conference in June 2015.
Taylor said he personally would preach at the June 4 service, followed by the Rev. Jeff Lambert of First Sevierville UMC on June 11. The Rev. Bruce Adams is scheduled to preach June 18.
Adams is projected for appointment to The Connexion as a part-time local pastor in June, Taylor said. Adams owns the production company hired by Resurrection youth retreat organizers each January.
Also attending the “Vacation Church” service was Bishop Dindy Taylor and the Rev. Nathan Malone, Knoxville District superintendent.
Previously known as “The Gathering,” the steel, stucco, and stone structure was the former home of a non-denominational congregation with the same name. The congregation vacated the building in late 2013, after building it for a reported $11.3 million in 2008.
On Feb. 1, Holston Conference agreed to lease the building for two years, paying $150,000 annually.
The $300,000 two-year lease – in addition to the estimated $120,000 to $130,000 in annual operating costs – will be paid entirely with congregational development funds held by the Holston Conference Foundation, Taylor said.
If the ministry developed at the Sevierville building is “viable,” Taylor said he will pursue Holston’s purchase of the property. Earlier this year, the price was $5.3 million.
“If we go forward after two years, then we will definitely have to use conference funds,” he said. The $300,000 paid for leasing the site may be applied to the purchase, he said.
According to Holston Treasurer Rick Cherry, Foundation funds designated for congregational-development use currently total $4.5 million.
The 1250 Middle Creek building, located on 49 acres, is three miles north of Dollywood Theme Park. The facility was renamed “The Connexion” in reference to John Wesley’s description of the Methodist movement, based on Romans 12:4-5.
The public is invited to worship every Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Lease signed for Sevierville facility with goal of reaching millions (The Call, 2/11/16)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.