In the midst of disaffiliations across the nation, Pastor Kimberly Carney told her congregation that this was their chance to claim their United Methodist roots and to be a witness for the United Methodist Church and Jesus Christ.
“We had an open and honest conversation – and there was a unanimous vote to not enter discernment,” Carney said.
Little did she know how great the need was. Her phone started ringing nonstop, right after Fairwood UMC became a member of the Oasis Network. The initiative was created by District Superintendent Rev. Charles Anderson to offer safe haven to those who have lost their church homes.
Carney said that people were gutted, concerned and upset. A church member later told her “You are called for such a time as this.”
Fairwood too seemed called, the pastor said. The congregation were prepared – with open, welcoming arms – on the last Sunday of September, when several other area churches took their votes to disaffiliate.
Carney calls members the “Fairwood Faithful” and clearly recalls how they stood in the parking lot and manned the doors to greet new faces. They even waited to take their seats in the pews until everyone else found a spot.
“Fairwood has always been a place for them to call home,” Carney said. “They wanted that to be the case for others as well.”
Instead of the usual 29 people in the pews, that Sunday, there were 64. The number has steadily increased ever since.
Carney said there are officially 112 new members, with about 40 who show up but have not yet moved their membership to the congregation. In all, they are coming from 17 different churches.
Online services are watched by another 40 to 50 a week. Easter Sunday had 141 people in attendance.
Carney has been told by the new members, “We felt welcome. We felt wanted. We felt loved.”
Rev. Susan Smith joined as Associate Pastor and witnessed the influx of new members. She explained that Fairwood is the product of a merger between Walter Fair UMC and Glenwood UMC. “These people are experienced when it comes to congregations coming together,” she said.
Smith said Fairwood has been filled with a new sense of joy. “Worship is amazing,” she said.
These days, the church prints 100 bulletins each week. A new parking lot is in the works to accommodate the increase in attendance. Carney worries now that the congregation will soon outgrow the sanctuary, which can only hold 125 people – or 150 if they fill the choir loft.
There are growing pains, Carney explained, but the challenges are greatly outweighed by the outpouring of faith. “It has been incredible,” she said. “It’s exciting to see what’s happening. It’s truly been a reflection of the Kingdom of God.”
Fairwood is not the same church it was a year ago, Carney added. “It’s the faithfulness, committedness, hopefulness and passion that I think have sustained and breathed new life into this congregation,” she said. “This is truly a new beginning.”
The pastor said that a new church family is forming. Members are sharing ideas. Outreach and discipleship continue.
Carney’s late father told her, “Kim, you have an opportunity– whether people come to you for an hour, for a day, for a year or for a lifetime. You have an opportunity to show them who you are and whose you are through the UMC. This is what you have been called to do – and what you have prepared your whole life to do.”
More than anything, she wants the new faces who walk through Fairwood’s door to know “you are loved, you belong and you are called to action.”
Around Smith County, Carney has watched a number of cross and flame signs come down from the side of buildings. The sign stands strong, like a beacon of hope, over Fairwood UMC.
“It’s still here,” Carney said. “If we are called to be that light. We’ll do it.”
She continued, “Beauty always comes from the ashes. We serve a savior who makes all things new. And that’s what makes us march forward.”
Our deepest apologies for the mistake in the first story that was issued today,“Only full time pastor staying UMC in Tyler.” This story has been rewritten and was in no way excluding any of our wonderful United Methodist Churches, their pastors or members in Tyler, Texas.