New UMC congregations and Fresh Expressions are forming throughout North Alabama
Greetings from the office of New and Renewing Congregations!
As you recall, the North Alabama Conference commissioned District Developers in December to enhance our development of new faith communities. This was done in response to our need to do new things to reach new people and to respond to people impacted by disaffiliations. New and Renewing Congregations has worked diligently to train, resource and support our District Developers. It is exciting to note that in less than six months, we have 10 new congregations in formation and 10 Fresh Expressions in progress.
I am proud of the way the District Developers have “hit the ground running,” and I look forward to seeing the continued fruit of their efforts. I also think it is important to thank you for your support of their work. While each District Developer provides expertise in their respective district, it has been incredible to watch laity, clergy, district superintendents and district developers partner together to meet the spiritual, relational and economic needs of our communities. As it has been almost six months, I thought you might like to hear about the North Alabama Conference's progress from our District Developers. Please pray for each of them as you read about the new things happening all across our conference. We are committed to doing new things to reach new people. The best is yet to come!
Rev. Suzanne Katschke
New and Renewing Congregations
North Alabama Conference
Mary Beth Ashley —Southeast District:
In our district, we are excited for the new beginnings and fresh expressions that are happening! In Lanett, a church plant (Church of Jubilee) is underway. For Easter, they fed 200 neighbors for free and have already partnered with other local ministries and community leaders to help meet needs in the valley. Lineville UMC is introducing a Yoga for Moms ministry the first Saturday of every month. Mothers can come practice yoga while their children play and are taken care of! We are also talking with a number of churches about soccer ministries or other sport ministries for neighborhoods that we can host this summer for local kids.
Rev. Deb Epley —Cheaha District:
On Sunday, April 23 at 12:30 p.m. Trussville First UMC, the largest church to disaffiliate in the Cheaha District, held their Church Conference. While the church had the 2/3 votes needed to disaffiliate from the UMC, 84 members voted to remain United Methodists. Of course, the 84 who voted to remain UMC experienced the grief of separation of the church family. The remaining United Methodists have been meeting in members’ homes preparing for the possible scenarios of not having enough votes to remain United Methodists. The Remaining UMC met together the afternoon of the vote to investigate possible worship sites. The Church of the Holy Cross Episcopal Church has opened its doors to Trussville’s UMC members to have worship at 1 p.m. In addition, the Church of the Holy Cross has offered to share office space and resources, too. I assisted Trussville UMC with inviting prayers and people to the new service time at 1 p.m. through social media. At Trussville’s first worship service 75 people attended worship. I felt encouraged with the overwhelming response from the members. They are excited and passionate about the new possibilities for the Trussville community.
My faith in the United Methodist Connection was renewed as several clergy and laity across the connection pledged they would hold Trussville UMC’s first service in their hearts and prayers. Some churches have offered money, United Methodist Hymnals and other supplies to assist the new church. For now they will continue to use the worship space at Church of the Holy Cross for the weeks ahead.
Rev. Clay Farrington —Central and South Central Districts:
Identifying with the marginalized always brings the wrath of the mainstream. And yet this is exactly what I see from those dreaming and scraping to create new faith homes where all God’s children can find sanctuary. These are the most courageous people I know in our conference. Whether they’re doing their best to assimilate into another United Methodist Church (UMC) against all fears that it may too enter into discernment, or meeting in a living room or borrowed worship space, these groups are finding ways to be the church.
To those churches nearby who’ve shown Christlike-hospitality, giving space to mourn and grow, thank you. We’re fortunate in Central and South Central Districts to have a high concentration of churches staying United Methodist and several of them have opened their doors and tables just like Methodists always have.
In the places lacking nearby UMC’s, there are groups forming. There’s an active leadership group in the Pelham/ Helena area making plans for the summer and fall, a small group meeting in Gardendale and a brand new group already worshipping in Trussville. Glimpses of resurrection. I’m thankful for my opportunity to work with those finding ways without budgets or clergy or buildings (or any of the other things that the Church is not but we’ve made it into) to be Jesus’s witnesses in Pelham and Gardendale and the ends of the Conference.
Rev. Carol Gullatt —Mountain Lakes District:
New expressions of United Methodism are growing in vital discipleship in The Mountain Lakes District! Two new communities of faith are engaging in worship, small groups and missional outreach. The Oneonta United Methodist Community gathers for weekly worship at Calvary Episcopal Church. Joy is palpable in worship and the thriving youth group is preparing for a mission trip to the Appalachian Service Project. On Sand Mountain, the congregation of Abundant Grace UMC is growing in diversity and discovering new ways to partner with and serve alongside community agencies. Many more faithful United Methodists across the district are seeking ways to continue to serve God and be a visible witness of "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" in northeast Alabama.
Rev. Patrick Gunn —Southwest District:
In the Southwest District, the Mosaic United Methodist Community in Winfield, a new United Methodist congregation, has been reaching into the community by supporting "Buddy Ball," a baseball game for children with special needs. Fifteen members showed up to support this great event. They have a weekly Bible study and celebrated United Women of Faith Sunday with guest speaker Gina Bryant. They are living into their mission to be "United Methodist believers that accept, serve and love everyone." Rev. Woody Jones has pursued an innovative ‘South of the Border’ approach with Faith-n-Fajitas which meets on a weekly basis for food, fun and fellowship. Bobby and Joan Booth continue to grow their “Wonderful Wednesdays” ministry. They recently informed me that they are regularly welcoming close to 100 African American youth into a weekly love-filled environment. The ministry is not only growing, but they are hopeful to continue this trend well into the future. We are continuing to be open to new possibilities and help any and all displaced United Methodists find or start fresh expressions of church, as we all move forward together.
Lisa Keys-Mathews —Northwest District:
"New" is happening in the Northwest District. Rev Yohan Hong (North Wood UMC) has started a Bible study for 20+ Korean professors and students from the University of North Alabama. United Methodists in Athens are meeting together to pray and ponder "what is God calling them to during this season?" They are seeking God's direction as they move forward. Florence First UMC continues to host "Crafted Conversations" at Singin River Brewery. Crafted Conversations is a monthly event (third Thursday) hosted to meet folks where they are on their spiritual journey and to engage in guided conversations on topics ranging from kindness, honesty, connection and silence to empathy, gratitude, being stuck and the theme home. Crafted Conversations offers a musical guest each month intermixed with the thought-provoking discussions in a casual atmosphere.
Rev. Marian Royston —Northeast District:
The Northeast District currently has two new expressions of United Methodism growing. Fellowship United Methodist Church in Madison was organized in December 2022. The congregation worships weekly and currently shares space with Heritage UMC in Madison. Rev. Chuck Worley has been appointed as pastor of Fellowship beginning July 1. Arab First United Methodist Church has launched Park Church, a fresh expression that meets twice a month in the Arab Historic Village. Park Church is a multigenerational, family-friendly worship experience. Park Church has allowed the Arab to reach new families in the community with the love of Christ.