KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (10/6/14) -- Pastor Tim York just called his congregation a “stubborn bunch of people.”
“You’re that faithful. You’re that stubborn,” the pastor said on a recent Sunday morning. “Your stubbornness and faithfulness are being rewarded by being able to be back in this place.”
With a newly repaired and polished sanctuary and a new ministry providing basic needs to the community, Vestal United Methodist Church is hoping for a comeback that will bring new people to their doors.
The gothic building has been a landmark in the South Knoxville neighborhood for 89 years, but for the last three years the space for Sunday worship has been unusable, according to York. The number of regular attenders has dropped to about 12.
“The fact that we are able to once again worship in this place is God’s work,” York said.
In May 2014, three neighboring churches joined to establish “Beacon of Hope” in Vestal’s education building -- providing food, clothing, “getting ahead” classes and other outreach ministries to people living in the 37920 zip code.
In August 2014, volunteers joined to rescue the sanctuary from water damage wrought by a 2011 hail storm. John Rodgers, a member of Church Street United Methodist Church in Knoxville, devoted more than 200 hours to repairing the ceiling and floor. He had help from the Rev. Kevin Blue, pastor at Asbury United Methodist in Clinton, as well as others from Church Street.
“I kind of made this my second home,” said Rodgers, a Knoxville fire marshal. “I want to see this church prosper.”
The Vestal congregation celebrated a “grand opening” of the sanctuary on Sunday, Oct. 5, with about 70 in attendance.
David Taylor, age 76, has been a member of the church since age 11. He remembers when the congregation numbered 400 in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“This church is the center of Vestal,” Taylor said. “We want the ‘Beacon of Hope’ to be an example in the community.”
The Beacon of Hope is the creation of the “benevolence team” at Church Street United Methodist Church, which partnered with the Vestal congregation, Mountain View United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, and local nonprofit Compassion Coalition.
So far this year, Beacon of Hope has provided financial assistance for utility bills, rent, bus passes, and gas to more than 135 people, according to director Richard Ginn. “If clients are physically able we ask them to complete voluntary community service at Vestal at a rate of one hour of service for each $10 worth of assistance provided,” he said.
In addition, more than 340 families have receiving clothing and toiletry items valued at $10,500. Ten people are involved in a class that teaches how to overcome poverty.
“Our overall goal is to serve the needy of South Knoxville and grow the membership of Vestal UMC,” Ginn said. “We encourage the people we touch through our programs to consider visiting the church service at Vestal, but the congregation has to close the deal by welcoming them with open hearts and providing spiritual support for their needs.”
Like many of the members who remain at Vestal today, Peggy Williams has strong family ties to the church.
“My granddaddy helped build this church, and my mother was christened and raised here,” said Williams, age 64. “We feel a closeness to this church, and we hope we can share some of that with others.”
Vestal United Methodist Church is located at 115 Ogle Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37920. Worship is offered each Sunday at 10:45 a.m. For more information, call (865) 686-6113 . Beacon of Hope is located in Vestal’s education building and offers a full schedule with a food coop and “Getting Ahead” classes. For more information, call (865) 599-5047.
"South Knoxville churches join to create Beacon of Hope" (The Call, 5/28/14)
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.