Mountain Lakes District celebrates two new United Methodist faith communities
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord …
On Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, the familiar chorus of United Methodist voices affirming their Christian faith through the words of the Apostles’ Creed filled sanctuaries across North Alabama and the world. These historic words of faith also filled the air in Hammer’s Hall in Albertville and The Makers Studios and Gallery in Oneonta where two of North Alabama’s newest United Methodist communities gathered for worship.
Oneonta United Methodist Community
“It is nice to say the creed. It’s one of the things that connects you to Methodism and others for a long, long time,” Mitchell Hastings, one of the leaders of the new Oneonta United Methodist Community (UMC), told those gathered for worship. He added, “That is one of the things about being United Methodist – how connectional we are. And, you know, at 11 o'clock, we probably said [the creed] at the same time as some other church. And we are blessed to have so many good partners.”
The ministry partnership supporting this new faith community is evident throughout their worship space. The sound system used on Sunday mornings was donated by Asbury UMC (South Central District) and the monitors used to display lyrics and PowerPoint slides were donated by Saint Mark UMC (Central District). Each week a visiting United Methodist pastor has preached the sermon. On February 12, the preacher was Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett.
Their website introduces Oneonta UMC as “A community of believers have gathered to continue the legacy of the United Methodist Church in Oneonta, Alabama. Coming from all backgrounds and walks-of-life, this effort focuses on the genuine desire to make disciples in our community and spread the love, joy and word of Jesus Christ. With unfailing love, we are called to serve our Lord and his people.”
With a focus on making disciples of Jesus Christ, in addition to worship, each Sunday, Oneonta UMC offers Sunday School and Children’s Church. There are youth activities on Wednesday evenings and new adult small groups are starting in the next two weeks.
This multi-generational community first assembled in mid-December and gathered for worship for the first time on Christmas Eve 2022. Many of the participants are former members of congregations that disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church in December. However, these disciples have already welcomed new people who were not part of any church home.
The growth they have experienced is keeping them on the move. The Makers, located in downtown Oneonta, is the second worship space used by this rapidly growing group. The launch team, led by Hastings, Bob Bentley and Richard Phillips, is currently working on securing an even larger gathering space in the near future so more people can become a part of this welcoming faith community.
Abundant Grace in Albertville
Just 30 miles up Alabama Highway 75, another new United Methodist community of faith is also gathering weekly. This new group called Abundant Grace explains they “have come together to faithfully embody the welcoming Heart of God in the Heart of Sand Mountain.” They currently meet in Hammer’s Hall in the downtown MTN District of Albertville. Fittingly, this arts and entertainment district is described as “a place to enjoy community.”
Abundant Grace began in late November when 22 people from various United Methodist congregations seeking disaffiliation gathered for lunch. The luncheon was convened by Mountain Lakes District Developer Rev. Carol Gullatt, who has walked each step with the group since their first gathering. From the beginning, attendees found a supportive community of faithful disciples determined to remain United Methodist. They also began to dream together of planting a vibrant, new United Methodist presence to reach their communities with the good news of Jesus Christ.
Abundant Grace currently meets each Sunday for worship at 9 a.m. followed by Bible Study at 10 a.m. They also participate in a weekly online time of prayer and devotion. They see their current in-person gathering space, Hammer’s Hall, as one of God’s provisions in their venture of faith. When they approached the owner of the downtown reception hall about the possibility of securing it as a meeting place, she explained she had been looking for a way this property could glorify God and offered them use of the space rent-free for six months.
On Sunday, February 12, as they gathered for worship, the reception hall was filled with laughter, hugs and excitement. There was fresh coffee and homemade goodies. Bishop Wallace-Padgett was their special guest preacher.
Launch team member Andy Powell noted that the few dozen people faithfully gathering each week represent over 1000 years of United Methodism.
While regular attendees represent multiple generations, many on the launch team are retirees. When they speak of becoming church planters many say with wide-eyed wonder, “I never thought I would be doing this.” Yet, when the team is together their energy, excitement and gratefulness for how God is equipping them to plant a new United Methodist congregation are undeniable.
New and Renewing Communities of Faith and District Developers
Both of these new communities of faith are part of the Mountain Lakes District and are being resourced by District Developer Rev. Carol Gullatt.
In December 2022, the North Alabama Conference named and commissioned Developers for each District to work with congregations and groups of individuals to discover needs and provide resources to reach new people in new ways. These District Developers are trained by and work directly with the Conference’s Executive Director of New and Renewing Churches Rev. Suzanne Katschke.
Rev. Katschke explains, “New and Renewing Churches has made an investment in our conference’s efforts to do new things to reach new people. Our District Developers provide a ‘boots on the ground’ approach, which fosters a more contextual understanding of each faith community’s strengths, challenges and potential for the future.
“It is our hope to encourage, equip and resource our newest faith communities. Our goal is to help guide their respective launch teams with information that will increase their missional effectiveness, assist them through church planting phases, and ensure their sustainability and longevity.”
Oneonta United Methodist Community and Abundant Faith are two of five new communities of faith in North Alabama that have begun in the last few months. Other new groups are also being formed in different areas of the Conference.
As these new plants begin their ministry, Rev Katschke notes, “Some of the most important questions to consider at this juncture of their development include the following: What are the needs of the community they serve? How can the new faith community reach people outside its doors? What has God uniquely called this group of people to be?”
She adds, “These questions aren’t just for new communities of faith; they are for all of us. We must all work to do new things to reach new people if we are going to accomplish our mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world. If I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
During her visit to both Mountain Lakes groups, Bishop Wallace-Padgett preached from the story of Jesus calling his first disciples in Mark 1:16-20.
The theme of her sermons was courage. She reminded worshippers that we all face an unknown future, but Jesus is continually calling us to the next step and he accompanies us along the way.
She shared with both groups that it was encouraging and heartwarming to be with them and to experience their enthusiasm. She called them and other new United Methodist communities a boost to the entire North Alabama Conference.
Bishop Wallace-Padgett shared her reflections on spending the day with these new faith communities in her February 14 blog.