Jesus is alive! We say that statement fairly easily at Easter, but just like Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of John, it is sometimes difficult to recognize the Risen Christ. This past Easter week, the folks at Fayette First UMC recognized that Jesus is alive and the Holy Spirit is still allowing Pentecost moments to happen.
Here is the story:
The neighboring church in Berry, Alabama, has been struggling for some time. It is in a mining community where the mine has been closed and businesses have moved out. There are very few businesses left and almost everyone works outside of the community. But in the heart of the main strip of Berry is a little United Methodist church. It is an absolutely beautiful church. But the church like the community has fallen on hard times and there have even been questions as to how they could survive. In fact, the rumor in the community was that Berry UMC was about to close!
Several people in the Fayette First church grew up in and around the Berry church. They went to Dr. Stephen Strange, the pastor at Fayette First UMC, and asked if there was anything the Fayette church could do to help Berry. At the same time, Southwest District Superintendent Rev. Roger Thompson was exploring how to provide the Berry church with a pastor. That is when the power of the Holy Spirit began to move.
The leadership of the Fayette First congregation decided to make Berry a mission venture of Fayette First. Following a meeting with the Berry leadership, the District Superintendent placed Berry on a Charge with Fayette First, and Dr. Strange officially became the pastor at Berry. Starting April 1, 2014, the staff at Fayette First UMC began to supply pastoral and programming leadership for Berry UMC. They met and prayed with the small leadership team at Berry. Rev. Kathy Griffith, Associate Pastor at Fayette First, immediately began to feel the tug at her heart that there was potential in the Berry church and that God was about to do amazing things.
The first church-wide endeavor of Fayette First with Berry was during Holy Week when the Fayette First choir decided to take the Easter Cantata performed on Palm Sunday to the Berry community. Dr. Strange said, “We were hoping that we would have around 50 people show up. We were amazed when we had over 125! And they did not just show up, they worshipped! You could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit moving throughout the congregation as well as the community. There was a resurrection feel, a feeling that Christ was alive.”
Then came Easter Sunday. Some families from Berry went to Fayette First to worship at the sunrise service. Then Rev. Griffith went over to Berry for morning worship, hoping for a crowd of 20 to 25 people. But God was moving the hearts of that community and 66 people came to worship. Just a month ago, the worship attendance at Berry averaged 9 to 11 people. On Easter Sunday, God multiplied that number by 6!
Dr. Strange adds, “Now, I don’t know where we go from here or what will happen in the next year but what I can tell you is that we have witnessed what a living Savior can do even in a congregation that was once thought to be dead. Jesus is alive!”