By Lindsay Peyton

The new sign out front of the former Redwater UMC reads “New Faith Community” in bold red letters with a large cross and flame logo on the left. Rev. Dr. Brant Graham and the launch team erected the placard on June 15 and announced that the first worship service would follow on Sunday morning, July 2.

The group has been hard at work readying the space. On June 19, Pastor Brant brought a load of donated furniture and materials to prepare an altar, set-up an office and ready the fellowship hall, where worship will be held until the sanctuary is renovated. 

The congregation will be called “New Faith Community in Redwater” until an official name is selected. The red brick building with its tall white steeple, located at 126 Church Street, sat vacant for about a year, after the congregation merged with Maud UMC. Then, the space was renovated to become a United Methodist Children’s Center last year.

District Superintendent Dick White explained that the facility closed, however, when Maud UMC disaffiliated.

Then, the Rev. Jill Daniel approached him with a whole new vision for the campus. She had served as pastor for the church from 2001 to 2003. “It was one of my first appointments, and we built great relationships there,” she recalled. “It was sad for me when it closed.”

Daniel later returned in her role as head of the We Love All God’s Children Initiative to transform the church into the day school.

After the center closed, Daniel felt a strong call to keep serving in Redwater. “There just began in me a fervent prayer for us to use the resources we have here to serve the children and families in this community,” she said.

Daniel was aware that many residents in the county might still be interested in a preschool located in Redwater – and that United Methodists remained in the area and would need a new church home. “This is strategically the best place where they could meet in this new UMC desert in the North District,” she said.

White agreed. “We lost quite a few churches in this area,” he said. And many members, who wanted to stay UMC, lost their community.

White saw great potential in Redwater. “I really believe there’s a bright future there,” he said.

And he knew just the pastor to lead the charge. He explained that Graham was already in the area, charged with revitalizing FUMC Texarkana. The church, however, recently voted to disaffiliate, leaving Graham without a post.

Texas Annual Conference leadership approached Graham with a new plan – to plant a church in a building primed for a new purpose, the former Redwater UMC.

Graham jumped at the opportunity. “God is always working,” he said. “You see His hand and know He is always with you.”

Graham explained that the building was practically ready to go, with just a bit of reconfiguring needed. The renovation on the day school side was so recent that the fresh paint smell remained.

Graham already identified a faithful group to launch the congregation, five former members of FUMC Texarkana who were active with mission work. “These people weren’t just going to church. They are the church,” he said.

Joe Elmore and his wife Gloria are on the team. They had already been through one disaffiliation, before coming to FUMC Texarkana and instantly connected with Graham. “We were intrigued by his ministry, his love and determination,” Elmore said.

When that church then voted to leave the denomination, Elmore and his wife were still steadfast in their desire to stay United Methodists. They also wanted to continue to follow Graham and were eager to join the launch team.

“We’re not church builders; we have no experience with that,” Elmore said. “This is where God is telling us we need to be. We’re going on faith.”

Carolyn deBie also joined the team, alongside her husband Rick and daughter Jennifer. She too had gone through the disaffiliation of her church before starting to worship at FUMC Texarkana.

Graham made a strong impression on the family. “We really liked him and liked his dedication to mission, his heart for outreach,” deBie said.

Now, she is looking forward to seeing what Graham will accomplish in Redwater. “There is need here, and there are opportunities here,” she said.

There will be Bible studies, Saturday morning pancakes and Thursday nights with hot dogs for youth, said deBie “We want to grow it organically, see what people need and want,” she said. “It’s a fresh start, and I think it will be good.”

Daniel and her husband Ken have also joined the launch team and will lead music during the church worship service.

Daniel knew Graham, because he served on the initial steering committee of We Love All God’s Children in 2018 and currently sits on the initiative’s advisory board.

Daniel explained that the New Faith Community in Redwater will be able to relaunch as a United Methodist Children’s Center as soon as the preschool is relicensed. “We’re ready to go,” she said.

Graham’s wife Donna has also joined the launch team. The pastor said that word of the congregation is spreading in the area. He has already received calls from those looking for a new church home. “It’s an opportunity to fill a void,” he said.

The vision and mission of the faith community will develop over time, Graham added. “It’s something God is going to reveal,” he said. “We know we want to celebrate and share a restorative Savior. And we know there’s a lot of restoration needed. We want to be joyful and create a community of folks who lift each other up.”