By Kara Witherow, Editor
Hilton United Methodist Church, just three miles from the Alabama border, is a rural country church deep in Early County. A small congregation organized in the 1860s, the church regularly has eight people worshiping on Sunday mornings.
Earlier this year, the congregation discussed ways to reach out into the community and serve their neighbors. They decided to do what United Methodists do so well - host a covered dish meal and feed others.
What started as a small monthly lunch of just a few folks has grown into the Hilton Community Gathering which now attracts 30 or so diners when it meets the second Monday of each month.
Rev. Jonathan Fuller, pastor of Hilton UMC, says that this ministry resonates because it reaches people in the community who are looking for opportunities to socialize and build friendships.
“We all know that Methodists do meals well, and our congregation is situated well for that; I think that’s the main draw,” he said. “It’s been very encouraging to have a congregation that refuses to live in the status quo and just exist.”
The congregation has a heart for reaching the unchurched and for conveying God’s love, Rev. Fuller said, which helps because it’s literally all hands on deck to plan and execute the noonday meal.
Along with a couple of other women, Wynkie Smith plans the luncheon menu and makes sure there will be ample food and a good variety of vegetables, casseroles, and desserts.
One church member provides fried chicken for the meal, and when the congregation began offering the community lunch he would purchase two chickens. Now he has to purchase five chickens to feed the crowd, and Smith and church member Vera Kirkland supplement with ham, chicken and dressing, or another meat.
Hilton UMC is one of three churches that make up the Blakely Charge, and while members of Centerville United Methodist Church and Westview United Methodist Church attend the lunch, not all lunch attendees are church members. Most everyone brings a friend, and Smith says that while the food is good the fellowship is even better.
“It’s been a blessing to everybody,” Smith said. “We’re all like family.”
Rev. Fuller has seen the monthly luncheon do even more for the congregation than fill stomachs and hearts.
“This has given them an optimism, an enthusiasm about ways to be the church, to reach out to others, and to enhance worship,” he said. “There’s a renewed sense of purpose and energy for the congregation as a whole and optimism for the future.”