A church that almost didn’t have a home to start with will celebrate its 40th anniversary this weekend.
In July 1964, the Messiah United Methodist Church was founded by a group of 80 charter members. However, the founders did not have a building to conduct services.
“Our first meeting was held in a four-room schoolhouse owned by Elaine and Mac McConnell,” said the Rev. Ralph Rowley.
The McConnells spoke with then-pastor Robert Knox about possibly using a building they owned for the services, until a permanent home could be found.
“We were among the charter members of the church,” said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield). “My husband and I were trying to start the Accotink Academy in that building, but the former owner had a lien that he refused to drop," she said.
The McConnells were just about to give up hope of having a building for their new church, let alone their school.
“Then one day, the guy called back and said he couldn’t think of a reason not to drop the lien,” she said. “It was our little miracle.”
“The church was officially chartered on Dec. 13, 1964, with the charter members, and we’re now a congregation of about 2,400 people,” Rowley said.
MESSIAH UNITED METHODIST, which is located at 6215 Rolling Road in Springfield, is in the middle of a yearlong celebration of the anniversary, which began in February and will continue through December.
“This weekend’s activities are the third of four major events to celebrate the anniversary,” Rowley said. “There will be a golf tournament on Saturday to benefit our organ fund, and then a dinner followed by a concert Saturday night.”
Sunday’s sermons will feature Ray Chamberlain, a former pastor at the church, who went on to become bishop with the Holstein Conference, which serves Tennessee, Kentucky and parts of Southern Virginia.
“He was pastor here from 1983 until 1992, and the church really prospered during that time,” Rowley said.
JoAnne Barreca, chairwoman of the anniversary events, said that Sunday’s events are the biggest part of the year’s celebration.
“Renee Clausen was hired to write an anthem for the church,” Barreca said.
In honor of the church’s anniversary, a song has been commissioned that will be performed for the first time during Sunday’s service.
“There will also be a reunion of the former bell choir Sunday during service as well,” Barreca said. She volunteered to chair the anniversary events as something to do with her time since retiring and has found many ways to keep herself occupied.
“We decided to do a different display for every week that the church has been incorporated,” she said, adding that the current display is for 1990. “We started a 40-square granny afghan, and we now have three completed and another one almost done.”
Many of the projects that Barreca planned incorporate the number 40 as a theme.
“I wasn’t sure how people would react to it, but they really seem to be getting into the theme,” she said. A poll of the parish’s 40 favorite hymns has been complied, and a children’s group gave a 40-themed performance, she said, to list a few.
A family picnic will follow for the whole community on Sunday, at 12:30 p.m.
John Tressler is one of the people in charge of Sunday afternoon’s activities, which include a dunk tank, moon bounce, face painting and lots of ice cream.
“We don’t intend to put any of our pastors in the dunk tank,” Tressler said. “It’s mostly for our youth.
“We have a large congregation, and it’ll be a good chance for people to meet each other,” he said of the picnic.
Sunday's activities will also include a talent show, featuring “three or four musicians from the parish performing for us,” Tressler said.
“It’s a very exciting year for us,” Rowley said. “We hope to carry the excitement into the new year of the church.
“I hope we wouldn’t simply settle for celebrating the past, but also the future as God envisions it for us,” he said.