Former Dog Kennel Transformed into New Church for Disaffiliated United Methodists

Photo: Pexels

In a plain industrial park that looks like a storage place, more than 40 people have created a new place of worship. 


The building used to be a dog kennel, as seen by a floor drain in the middle of where they pray. 

Now, it’s becoming a special place for United Methodists in Davie County, North Carolina, who left their previous churches.

Over the past few months, the transformation has been remarkable. Initially featuring two metal garage doors, one has been replaced by expansive glass windows ushering in natural light. The concrete floors have been meticulously refinished, the walls repainted, curtains delicately hung, and even the bathrooms have undergone a complete renovation.

Termed ‘Grace United Methodist Mission,’ this gathering, not formally classified as a church yet, consists of individuals who were unexpectedly thrown together. Former members of various United Methodist churches in Davie County found themselves unified by a shared grief – the loss of their familiar church homes. Their desire to retain their United Methodist affiliation and belief led them to this unique space.

Lois Steelman, a longstanding member from Bethlehem United Methodist Church, expressed the collective emotional turmoil they faced, emphasizing how broken they felt upon arriving at this new place. Bethlehem, steeped in history tracing back to John Wesley, stood as a spiritual anchor for Steelman and her husband for 50 years.

Under the guidance of Rev. Suzanne Michael, described as a resourceful and spirited leader reminiscent of Dolly Parton, this remnant of United Methodists is charting new territories. Their focus lies not in acquiring land or constructing a church but in refurbishing their current space, intending to include a children’s play area. Their ethos echoes the simplicity of early Methodism, emphasizing service over grandeur.

Their story is part of a broader trend within the United Methodist Church. Over 7,600 churches nationwide, constituting about a quarter of its 30,000 congregations, have severed ties in the last five years. The prime reasons often center on disagreements concerning LGBTQ inclusion and discontent with the denomination’s governing structures.

In Davie County, the process of leaving their churches was kept a secret, surprising and upsetting many members. Churches hired legal help to separate, often without telling their pastors.

People like Jim Wilson and his spouse, Tim Rose, who were part of their church for many years, felt really upset about the decision. Jim, a pianist for 45 years, was devastated.

But now, the new group they’ve formed is like a light of hope during this tough time. They want to connect with others, help their community, and look forward to a future that’s still unknown. Even though it’s hard to leave their old churches, many members feel positive about this new journey.

As they decorate their changed space for Christmas and light the Advent candle, there’s a feeling of excitement and new beginnings. Most of them are retired, and they know they need to welcome younger families who want a traditional and friendly service.

Their story shows strength, a strong will to do well when things are tough, and a deep belief in the possibilities of starting anew. Together, they’re growing and looking forward to what comes next, feeling that leaving their old churches unexpectedly brought them to a place they couldn’t have imagined.

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