Why I stayed: 'Our faith is ingrained in how we live'

Why I stayed: 'Our faith is ingrained in how we live'

This is fourth in a series of stories shared by United Methodists in Holston Conference during a season of renewal in our faith tradition. Joanna Corvin now attends Rural Retreat United Methodist Church in Rural Retreat, Virginia. Since 2019, she has served as administrative assistant in Holston Conference's New River District office.
I was born into Stevens Creek United Methodist Church. My grandfather, Garnett Stanley, was a charter member who helped put the church where it is now in Fries, Virginia. The deed is dated 1946 and the building opened in 1951. I grew up being Methodist with my grandparents and parents.

After I went to college and got married, I attended several different types of churches with my in-laws, including Baptist, Church of Christ, and nondenominational. I finally returned to Stevens Creek, because United Methodism is where I have experienced the most spiritual growth. You could say it is the religion of my heart; our faith is ingrained in the way we live.

Even before the 2019 General Conference, there was a movement from two leaders in our six-point circuit who wanted the churches to go independent. The focus that our circuit had on disaffiliation for so long was almost like a ministry to some church members. It was so good to see God do a mighty work in our church in spite of us. I never thought they would get any momentum for people to agree with them.

Then the General Conference established Paragraph 2553, which I believe allows people who do not want to be United Methodist to kick people who want to be United Methodist out of their buildings. When the churches in the Fries Circuit began the discernment process toward disaffiliation, I made it clear I disagreed. I even wrote a six-page letter: “Our forefathers put us here, and they lived out their faith," I said. "We need to stay United Methodist. Why don’t you want to be part of a connectional church?” 

Apparently, my comments didn’t go over. On Saturday, December 10, 2022, all six churches in the circuit voted to leave the denomination. I was devastated. Usually on Saturday nights, I bring my four grandchildren over to my house to spend the night, and the next morning, we all go to church. No one stayed that night. I was just devastated.

But the next morning I woke up and said, “Satan is not going to win. I’m staying focused on going to church and serving God.” So I got up and went to Rural Retreat United Methodist Church, which is actually closer to where I live.

Now, I’ve always been a small-church kind of person, and Rural Retreat is bigger than Stevens Creek. They have a lot going on, a lot to be involved in. My grandchildren love it. They wouldn’t go back even if I wanted to.

I love Rural Retreat, too, but it’s like somebody has physically died and you miss them. After May 29, when the disaffiliation process is finally over, I plan to go over and just sit in the church for a while and say goodbye. I think my grandfather would approve of what I am doing. 

God is bigger than that building, and this is about serving Him.

Other stories in this series:
Part 1: Vickie Rogers - "I took my membership vows seriously"
Part 2: Rev. Sam Dzobo - "I experienced amazing, amazing love"
Part 3: Tracy Gormley - "I don't think we should be excluding anybody"
Part 5: Eli Bray - "I believe God is calling me to serve here"
Part 6: Rev. Jason Mullins - "I am proud of our effort to be a community"

If you are a member of a disaffiliating congregation who wishes to stay in the UMC, please visit the Invitation Team's web page for resources designed for you.

If you wish to share your "Why I Stayed" story, please email thecall@holston.org. Holston Conference includes member churches in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia, with main offices in Alcoa, Tennessee. Sign up for a free email subscription to The Call.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.