Over the next couple of weeks, we will be sharing a number of stories of churches whose life together embodies some facet of Slow Church. We hope these stories will stretch your imagination about what a Slow Church looks like.
Previous Story: Salem Alliance Church
Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church
Johnson City, TN
[ This story was told by our friend Phil Kenneson in a pamphlet on Slow Church that he wrote for the Ekklesia Project, entitled Praticing Ecclesial Patience, which can be read in full online here. We tell an abbreviated version of this story in the Slow Church book]
I think of the congregation of which I am a part, a United Methodist church nestled in the heart of downtown Johnson City, Tennessee. About 15 years ago the congregation was in the midst of intense discussions among its membership. The subject was whether to expand our existing, aging facilities at their current rather land-locked location in downtown Johnson City, or to build a new campus out in the suburbs north of town where nearly all of the city’s growth was taking place. You can imagine what consultants recommended. But the congregations decided not to move and we had some very specific reasons to stay.
The main reason was bound up with an event that had taken place nearly a half dozen years before on Christmas Eve, 1989. As church members were gathering early that evening for candlelight services, they were horrified to discover that the former John Sevier Hotel, a 10-story building that sat right across the street from the church, was on fire. The city’s tallest building was no longer a hotel, but had been converted to apartments for nearly 150 elderly and disabled residents. The church immediately canceled it services and became the hub of operations, including the gather ing and disseminating of information about missing residents, as hundreds of firefighters and paramedics converged on the scene. Before the bitterly cold night was over, the church also became a triage center and temporary morgue, with 16 residents losing their lives that night.