Grace UMC celebrates successful SBC21 program, church sesquicentennial


By Kara Witherow, Editor

On Sunday, Nov. 11, Grace United Methodist Church in Brunswick will celebrate its sesquicentennial with the theme, “Rooted in the past with a vision for our future.”

They will celebrate with an anniversary banquet Friday, Nov. 9 and with a church anniversary worship hour Sunday, Nov. 11, with retired Coastal District Superintendent Dr. Wayne Moseley preaching.

The church, which began Nov. 18, 1868, also has much to celebrate as they conclude their two-year involvement with the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century initiative.

The SBC21 program is designed to strengthen African-American congregations of The United Methodist Church and help them become more effective in mission and ministry. As one of six South Georgia churches currently in partnership with SBC21, Grace UMC is focusing on evangelism, discipleship, community service, and outreach.

A two-year-long program, the SBC21 initiative is lay and clergy led. The participating congregations engage in a rigorous application process during which they develop goals and objectives and analyze and reflect on their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

During the two years, the congregations and pastors are paired with trained coaches who walk alongside them and provide leadership and support. Monthly coaching sessions help keep them focused and on track.

Grace UMC’s coach, Dr. Yvonne Wallace-Penn, is senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hyattsville. Md. With her help, church leaders and the congregation looked at the church’s ministries, evaluated their goals, and began working toward them. Their goals included reaching out into the community to increase youth involvement and renovating a building to serve as a functioning fellowship hall.

“Historically Grace has been dedicated to celebrating God in song, in prayer, and in discourse, so it was paramount for us to get a fellowship hall,” said Rev. Cleo Gilchrist, pastor of Grace UMC. “We need a kitchen and a place to minister out of to our community.”

The project was launched with a mission grant from the Coastal District, a scholarship from SBC21, and generous giving beyond their tithes from each Grace UMC member.

“We are slowly walking in God’s steps to get this multi-purpose fellowship hall off the ground,” Rev. Gilchrist said.

Grace UMC also celebrates the four new members they’ve added this year and the 13 lay servants who have completed a lay servant training class.

“The hope and the learning they received have given them such joy and inspired them,” Rev. Gilchrist said. “The people who went to that class came back so encouraged and excited and inspired.”

Being part of the SBC21 program encouraged Rev. Gilchrist and the entire Grace UMC congregation and made them feel more a part of the United Methodist connection than they had in the past, Rev. Gilchrist said. With encouragement and support from Dr. Moseley and the Connectional Ministries team, they joined SBC21 and are thankful for the experience.

“SBC21 was an encourager for Grace. We have been Methodist all our lives, but there was a point … that we felt separated,” she said. “SBC encouraged us by being part of the greater church, and the people became encouraged and stayed encouraged. And they have stayed active.

“SBC helped us in more ways than I can really begin to say. They helped us by giving us a desire to want to know more and do better.”

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