Wesley Chapel UMC celebrates 150 years of service

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

Katie Glenn of McDonough began attending services at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church more than half a century ago. Now in her eighties, she recalled various ways the church has reached out to area residents over the years.

Red balloons were released at Wesley Chapel UMC at their 2015 Ascension Sunday program. The church celebrates 150 years of service to the community next Tuesday. For more photos visit our website at www.henrycountytimes.com Special photo

“With the growth of the church, we have added so many ministries, so many programs that enhance our dealings with the community,” said Glenn, a member of the church’s History Archives Ministry. “It means everything not only because of the religious aspect of it, but it’s like a family – the kindness of the people there.”

The church, at 397 Racetrack Road in McDonough, will celebrate its 150th anniversary Sunday with a worship service at 9:45 a.m.

The theme of the service is “Daring to Live Our Divine Destiny,” explained Pastor William Bert Neal III.

Wesley Chapel UMC church members provide McDonough commuters with coffee and prayer. Special photo

“Wesley Chapel has been a beacon of light, hope and salvation to the McDonough community,” said Neal. “That’s our divine destiny, to live in that. That’s who Wesley Chapel has been for the last 150 years, and that’s who we’ll continue to be long after I’m gone, because that’s our charge.”

Bishop Jonathan Holston, of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, will be the featured speaker for the celebration. Neal noted that Holston’s mother-in-law, Ruby Brown, has attended Wesley Chapel for more than 70 years, and that she and other members for 50 years or more will be recognized at the anniversary celebration.

Neal said many church members have developed deep connections with each other.

“It’s the community of faith of Wesley Chapel that feels like family,” said Neal. “It’s warm. It’s inviting. People are connected. Some of them have gone to school with each other, they’ve been involved in civic groups, they’ve grown up in McDonough, and they’ve been a part of each other’s families and they’ve grown up together at Wesley Chapel.”

A Boys and Girls Conference held by the church in 1926. Special photo

Neal will mark four years in June as the pastor at Wesley Chapel, the first church he has led to reach its sesquicentennial. A major factor in its success over the years, he said, is its collective “servant’s heart,” as evidenced by a number of programs offered by the church.

“Once a month we’re delivering about 250 hot meals to people who are living on the margins of society, whether they are in low income housing or homeless,” said Neal. “Wesley Chapel has always been willing to serve and meet those kinds of needs.”

He also pointed to Wesley Chapel’s Smart Lunch Smart Kids program, which provides children with lunch for eight weeks during the summer. In April of 2016, the church launched its Drive-Thru Prayer and Coffee, in which passersby get their morning jolt while members pray for them on their way to work.

“This, once again, provides something for the community in the way of faith outreach, and it gives people in the church another way to serve,” said Neal.

Franklin Cochran, 69, of McDonough joined Wesley Chapel in the mid-1950s, and chaired its Trustee Board when the church moved from Macon Street to its current location in 2003. He said the church has played a significant role in his life, and the lives of others in the community.

“My parents carried me there, along with my sisters and brothers,” said Cochran. “At the old church, we had a stove and a refrigerator, and that was all we had, but we were able to serve a lot of people because we brought the food inside. Sometimes, we put up a tent, and sometimes we did not, but we always had enough food for everybody that came there.”

Cochran said his involvement with the church continues to point him to God daily.

“Without it, I don’t think I’d be as well as I am right now,” said Cochran. “He is the source of my strength, and He does deliver.”

Lauretta Annah, 52, of McDonough doesn’t have the longevity at Wesley Chapel that some of her fellow church members do, having joined in 2010. Still, she said Wesley Chapel stands as an example of a church that reaches out to others.

Wesley Chapel UMC's former location that served until recently as the McDonough Municipal Court. Special photo

“It is one thing to preach the Word, but it’s another thing to meet the needs of people,” said Annah. “One of the dictates that Christ gave was not just to make disciples, but also to recognize the needs of one another and meet those needs.”

Tonja Johnson, 47, of McDonough has attended services at Wesley Chapel all his life, describing it as a place filled with “affection and love.” He spoke fondly of his days at Vacation Bible School as a child, and said it has taken on a new meaning as an adult.

“As I’ve grown older to get married and have kids, it’s just been a blessing to see them go through the same things I went through at the church,” said Johnson.

He said although Wesley Chapel has had several pastors through the years, church leaders have been instrumental in sending a crucial message to their members.

“They really have taught us to stay focused because we make up the church,” said Johnson. “We should always keep our faith focused on God. It gives you the strength to know that whatever the situation is, God is in the midst of it, and He will see you through it.”