By Kara Witherow, Editor
“Without a doubt we know we shall be revived. Welcome home. Welcome home.”
After being displaced for two years, four months, and 11 days, the Colquitt United Methodist Church congregation had finally returned home.
In his Ash Wednesday sermon, Rev. Scott Stanfill welcomed the congregation to its renovated sanctuary and highlighted many of the challenges Colquitt UMC has faced in its 163-year history, including its most recent trial, the destruction wrought by Hurricane Michael. He also highlighted how the people of the church persevered, renewed their mission in the face of obstacles, and moved forward.
The Ash Wednesday service marked the first time the congregation worshiped together in the Colquitt UMC sanctuary since Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Hurricane Michael slammed into southwest Georgia as a Category 3 hurricane just three days later, destroying homes, businesses, churches, and crops.
The 28 months that followed were a challenge, Rev. Stanfill said.
While the journey included a 15-month insurance claim and resolution process, several months of architectural discussions and designs, and a 14-month construction effort, Colquitt UMC’s story goes beyond the fine print of an insurance policy or building plan and into the heart and soul of the church family.
“To say it is challenging ministering to a hurting church in a hurting community with damaged worship facilities is a significant understatement,” Rev. Stanfill said. “It has required an incredible amount of work into which many of the Colquitt UMC faithful have poured relational, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energy. Yet through all of this, God has opened doors for the Gospel to be proclaimed, and the mission of Christ has continued through our local United Methodist expression.”
During the past two years, the congregation continued meeting together, worshiping outdoors and in Colquitt First Baptist Church’s sanctuary. They’ve continued to serve the community through their monthly Food Bank and Agape Thrift Store. And despite their losses and pain, they’ve continued to share the love and joy of Christ with others, Rev. Stanfill said.
“The people of Colquitt UMC persevered in their commitment to follow and glorify Jesus in all things,” he said.
Dubbed “The Pastor of Disaster” by a church member several months after Hurricane Michael hit, Rev. Stanfill – with experience ministering through tornadic events in Albany, a Category 3 hurricane in Colquitt, and the subsequent aftermath – says the name fits.
“Many a day we have felt, like Paul, as ‘the very least of all the saints.’ Yet the church has persevered with the mindset of James 1:2-5. Some days are easier than others, as there have been numerous hurdles and pitfalls in recent years, personal reminders of our perpetual need of God’s grace. Yet we have sought to live into the power of Christ at work through the Holy Spirit. And as a result, I have witnessed how God continues to glorify His name in Colquitt. God has opened many doors for the Gospel to be proclaimed and lived out over the past three years, and the mission of Christ has continued through our local United Methodist expression.”
Worshiping in the renovated church sanctuary brings a flood of emotions and feelings, said church Lay Leader Vic Hill.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a bit of a damper on the homecoming, but the congregation is grateful and excited to be back in its home and looks forward to the day when all can safely gather to celebrate, he said.
“The excitement is back. We’re back together for worship again in our home and we’re looking forward to Sunday school. We miss coming together. I know we’re going to one day, we’re just not there yet.”
For Brandan McNease, the more-than-two-year ordeal was a dark and depressing time, trying and tumultuous.
But in the midst of it all, God was at work, he said.
“I know if ever a time in my life God used me, it was this time,” said McNease, who used his architectural drafting design degree and electrical/ industrial maintenance degree during the reconstruction.
McNease, who for three years served as chair of Colquitt UMC’s Trustees Committee and now serves as vice chair of the Church Council, praised Rev. Stanfill’s determination, adaptability, and flexibility and the congregation’s resiliency.
“This church is their life,” McNease said of many in the congregation. “So this isn’t just ‘getting back to church.’ This is getting back to life. Church is such a part of everyone’s life here.”
In Rev. Stanfill’s Ash Wednesday service, he called on the congregation to remember who they are, what they are called to do, to renew their mission, and forge ahead. His hope for the future is that they would not look back on the difficulties of the past few years and just see a new building, but recall all God has done.
“My prayer is that we would look back and say, ‘Remember that time when we recommitted to the Lord together? Remember the time we wove ourselves together again? Remember that time we recommitted to serving others? Has not God done incredible things?’ That is my prayer. And I hope it’s yours.”