Staffordsville Circuit
Tazewell District

Superintendent's comments: Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church has completed a new building, moving off a hidden spot on the ridge and on to a visible site. Their programming on the whole charge is good, with an emphasis on family life and Bible studies. It is in a position to grow... and it is still supportive of a combined ministry on the charge."

The story: The Rev. Brad Lewis insisted that not one church be featured, but all five churches comprising his circuit. The churches do ministry together, he explained, meeting for combined Bible study and youth groups and worshipping together every Sunday evening and every fifth Sunday morning.

"It took a while to get them to move in that direction," said Lewis, age 37, who has served Staffordsville, his first appointment, for seven and a half years. Before he arrived, the congregations lived within 20 miles but "didn't know each other." A former Food Lion manager, Lewis started combining the groups about eight months after his appointment. He started with Bible study.

"They are stronger together - more people, more support, with diverse gifts," he said.

The five churches - Eaton's Chapel, Pleasant Hill, Shady Grove, Sheffey Memorial, Thessalia - are each more than 100 years old and have worship attendances ranging from 15 to 70. When they get together for fifth Sunday worship in Pleasant Hill's new 180-seat sanctuary, they pack the house.

The original Pleasant Hill building was too small and in a "brutal" location for wintertime access, says Lewis, so a church member donated three prime acres alongside Highway 100 between Pearisburg and Dublin. The congregation moved into the new building in December 2004.

Pleasant Hill is currently paying for the $300,000 building, but occasionally a sister congregation will offer to pick up a payment, the pastor says.

Helping Lewis serve five churches is a strong ministry team, including two individuals who are considering entering the ministry.

Josh Stanley, age 20, helps with visitation. A goal is to visit all guests in the churches as well as people who don't attend any church at all.

Tracy Allen, in his mid-40s, has a strong calling for family ministry. He leads Sunday night book studies and "monthly movie reviews" and occasionally preaches on Sunday morning.

"God blessed us majorly," says Lewis.

On a fall Sunday in October, the five churches gathered for combined worship. The children gave a special drama presentation with recorded contemporary music. Tracy Allen preached that "men are spiritual leaders of the home."

Lewis served Holy Communion. Earlier in service, he told his congregation, "As you look back at your life, if Jesus has done anything great in your life, give a big hallelujah." His congregation responded enthusiastically.

It was unseasonably hot inside the crowded sanctuary, but few people seemed to notice. The service lasted 90 minutes, with multiple participants and a casualness that invited worshippers to speak out during the service and children to relax in or out of the pews.

When the service was over, Carol Grey of Pleasant Hill dabbed at the tears in her eyes. "I like it when we are all together. I love the fellowship," she said. "This reminds me of what church was like when I was a child."


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