By Lindsay Peyton

A picturesque chapel standing on the grounds of Teaberry Farm in Jacksonville, Texas, has become a temporary home for a group of United Methodists in need of a refuge. The building belongs to Cindy and Ricky Richards, members of a nearby Episcopal Church. “They graciously offered it to us,” Rev. Bonnie Osteen said. “They didn’t charge us at all, just said, ‘Make it your own. Pretend you’ve been there for 50 years.”

Osteen, who was appointed pastor of the new faith group on April 1, remembers the first Sunday worship at The Chapel at Teaberry Farm on Nov. 13. The owners made signs reading “United Methodist Church” with arrows pointing the way. “It was amazing,” Osteen said.

Most of the people in the pews on Sundays came from the former FUMC Jacksonville. After it disaffiliated, Osteen said that those committed to staying United Methodists began to flock together. “We were orphaned without a home,” she explained.

The group met with Rev. Morris Matthis, the Texas Annual Conference’s Director of New Faith Communities. “We really had no idea where to start,” Osteen said.

She was interim pastor at FUMC Jacksonville in 2014, and as interim associate pastor in 2020. She currently serves as the Conference’s Coordinator of Interim Ministry, as well as the coordinator of the Ministry Specialist Initiative.

Matthis connected the group with the Episcopal church – and that’s how the Richards came forward with their chapel. Now the faith community often refers to themselves as “Teaberry” or “United Methodists of Jacksonville.” They hope to decide on an official church name soon.

Osteen said that the gatherings have been organic. A number of retired pastors in the group have taken turns preaching on Sundays. There are also rotating musicians, guitar players or a keyboardist. Sometimes, the members all sing a capella.

“Everyone has jumped in to do something,” Osteen said. “Everyone has really rallied together.”

Now, the group has celebrated Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Palm Sunday and Easter together. A Sunday school class has started. About 35 to 40 people are regularly in attendance for worship services.

Mission has always been at the forefront, Osteen said. The group focuses on a different cause each month, from collecting for emergency assistance and food for those in need to providing caps and gowns to an alternative high school for graduation. “That’s our heart, right there,” Osteen said.

She explained that members still grieve for their previous congregation. “You have the loss of not only the place but also the relationships. Your church family, you’re no longer with them. You miss being in ministry together.”

Particularly at the beginning, the group felt immense sorrow. “We were still hurting, finding ourselves at a complete loss and wondering what to do next,” Osteen said.

There has been much healing since then, and the community now sees a future filled with promise. “Our faith has been deepened through the process,” Osteen said.

Soon, the faith community will outgrow Teaberry Chapel. The group continues to grow – in discipleship, fellowship and mission.

“God is calling us to something new,” Osteen said. “It’s exciting to be together and see what God has in store for us next.”