Old church still feels like home

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 4, 2013

Smiling, friendly faces greeted me as I stepped inside the Lillian United Methodist Church. Although no longer my church home since my late husband Claude’s retirement in 1994, I felt right at home. The same warmth and friendliness greeted us in June 1981 when he arrived to assume his duties as the first appointed full-time minister. Our daughter Amy and I returned April 28 to participate in Heritage Sunday.

During the program, several speakers and church historian Jane A. Harper reviewed the 33 years of church history, which included the service of the ministers who followed Claude: the late Rev. Cathy Allen, the Rev. Jim Batchelor (assistant to Rev. Allen), the Rev. Langdon Garrison, the Rev. Gene May, the Rev. Jim Belcher, and the current minister, the Rev. Daniel Randall.

The birth of the church was inspired by founder Bob Donnenwirth’s mother-in-law, Minnie Lee Pritchett. After an endorsement by the Rev. Henry Eddins, District Superintendent, the 47-member Methodist congregation met in the small St. Joseph’s Catholic Church chapel on U.S. 98.

On his very first Sunday, Claude received the church membership list with directions to each family’s home. Within two weeks, he had visited everyone. Then he soon became very involved in long-range plans—to build a church. His service at Lillian stretched into 13 years. During the first years, the sanctuary was constructed, accomplished through much prayer, a lot of hard work and financial support from the congregation, the Alabama-West Florida Conference, other United Methodist churches through the $10 Club, and friends of the church. Snowbird Don Waite volunteered his services as architect. After completing the sanctuary, the congregation plunged into another building program to construct a parsonage and several years later a fellowship/educational building.

In August 1983, the sanctuary was not quite finished, but progress was well enough along that we moved in for our first service. The church was dedicated to the glory of God during the Easter Sunday service on March 31, 1984. Construction of the beautiful parsonage was completed four years later.

When I heard about plans for Sunday’s heritage celebration, vivid images of the past began floating in my head: bi-annual yard sales; monthly fundraiser dinners; Pecan Festivals; Corn Boils; Sunday night campfires; bake sales; covered dish dinners; barbecues; youth Christmas pageants; Bible School; Bible Study classes; Christmas Eve candlelight services; Easter Sundays; and Maundy Thursday services. Easter Sunday 1983 stands out in my memory. We gathered for a service that morning on the building site, cold and shivering as we sang joyful Easter hymns and listened to Claude’s sermon. Our organist commented she’d never been so cold in her life.

I praise God that the goal to bring glory to God through reaching out with His love thrives today at the Lillian United Methodist Church. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for this church and its loving congregation. Claude and I were blessed and honored to have been among those who had a part in its history.