12 Churches to Watch
Part Nine in a Series
Lebanon Memorial UMC
Superintendent's comments: "Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God and neighbor. John Wesley called Methodists to holiness of heart (love of God) and life (love of others). Lebanon Memorial cultivates deep and meaningful personal relationships with Jesus Christ that are lived out in ministries and outreach to the local community and into the world. This congregation embodies the heart of the Gospel and our Methodist heritage."
The story: Some churches you never hear about. Some you hear about a lot, and Lebanon Memorial United Methodist is one of those.
Lebanon Memorial is the church home of war hero Lt. Ryan McGlothlin, Elizabeth "Granny G" Gillespie, and other memorable Holston members who have appeared in The Call over the years.
It was the first congregation to subscribe to The Call's bulk plan, so that every member receives a personal copy to take home. ("We thought our people should be informed," says Mike Altizer, who instigated the bulk subscription.)
But after a visit to this town of 3,300 on a recent Sunday morning, it's clear the church is even more important in the community it serves. The list of missions and ministries supported by the church is so long, parishioners seemed embarrassed when they can't recall them all.
"We have a hand in most ministries in the township," says the Rev. Michael Carter, age 50. "We actually struggle to find needs that aren't currently being met."
Yet, Carter and several others do mention the Carpenter's Club, a group of 15 men who do repair work, build ramps, replace roofs, and even change lightbulbs for the needy and disabled.
The church also contributes to the local Christian Center, gives financial assistance to about 50 needy families per year, provides an after-school ministry, helps the Russell County Women's Shelter, and participates in jail and prison ministries as well as the Young Life Ministry for non-churched youth.
The congregation seems especially proud of its support of church member and physician Brian Easton, who twice took his family on medical missions to Kenya. Last year, the congregation raised $54,000 to help support Easton's ministry for nine months.
"For the last two years, more than 50 percent of the budget has gone for mission and ministry," says Carter.
The budget has also increased from $133,000 in 2000 to $260,000 in 2006, while average worship attendance increased from 145 to 200 during the same time period. That's significant, considering this farming and coal-mining community has experienced an unemployment rate almost twice as high as the rest of Virginia, Carter said.
The decline is soon expected to be reversed, as government contractors CGI-AMS Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. are currently building multimillion-dollar technology centers in Russell County, according to the Washington Post. The companies are expected to hire hundreds of software engineers at salaries far above the region's average.
When they do, Lebanon Memorial wants to be ready to welcome newcomers as well as to find new ways to minister to the forgotten, according to Evangelism Chair Nancy Burkett.
Last year, the congregation engaged in a "40 Days of Purpose" study by the Rev. Rick Warren. On Oct. 8, the church kicked off Warren's followup study, "40 Days of Community." "This study will lead us to become better servants for God - to use in his work within our church community, but also in the community around us," Burkett said.
The congregation has already chosen "helping the poor with food, clothing, and financial assistance" as an emphasized mission. Throughout the study, the congregation will identify the means to carry out their mission, Burkett said.
"It's not enough to be involved in doing things for ourselves, but for others," Carter said. "We feel that's what we're called to do."