Small country church sees big future ahead

By Lynn R. Parks

Several years ago, when the parking lot at Wesley United Methodist Church was put in, members grumbled that it was twice as large as what was needed. "Now we need two times what is here," said the Rev. Alan Jones, minister at the church since 1995. The church is in the process of doubling its parking lot.
Seven years ago, member Ronnie Messick, Seaford, worried that if something was not done, "we would have to close the doors," said his wife, Ellen. "We were not growing. There was no reason even to use the Sunday school rooms that we had." Today, the church is considering adding more rooms to accommodate its Sunday school classes.
Wesley Church is growing. That is because its members are "open to the holy spirit and to making Jesus Christ the focus of their lives," said Jones.
And that, said Messick, is because of Jones.
"He has lit a spark that has changed a lot of us who were ho-hum Christians into active Christians," she said. "I have always attended and I have always been active, but I look at [church] differently now. Before, I did things because I knew I should. Now, I want to serve God."
Six years ago, average attendance at the small country church was between 35 and 40. Today, it is 75. A Wednesday-evening supper and prayer meet-
ing attracts up to 50.
"We are doing things we never thought of before," said Pam Good, 53, a member since 1976. For example, the congregation now participates in the community food closet and contributes to the Seaford Mission by preparing one meal a month. It is helping to support a missionary family in Russia, participates in the Angel Tree Project to help provide Christmas gifts to children of prison inmates, maintains a cabin at Camp Pecometh, a Methodist camp, and helps buy blankets for the needy.

"Whatever we give out, we get back," said Good. "Even though we are small, we are not poor. The money comes from someplace; where? God provides."
"We give because God calls us to give," said Jones, added that in the last five years, the church's income has allowed its budget to be doubled. "We are giving because we are trying to be faithful to what God is calling us to do."
The Wesley congregation was founded in 1861 and started holding services in the local school house. The church was constructed in 1882 after land was donated by William Dashiell and Henry Little. Dedication was held Sept. 23, 1883.
The choir section was added in 1912 and remodeling, including the installation of bathrooms, was done in 1952 and 1955.
The nearby school house was sold to the church by the Seaford School District for $1 in 1930, on the condition that it be used for community events. It now serves as the fellowship hall. In addition, the Blocksom School on Briarhook Road was moved to the church in 1964 and became Sunday school rooms, the nursery and a meeting hall.
Jones, 45, was a student minister when he was sent to the three-church charge that included Wesley. He was also responsible for Concord United Methodist, Concord, and Bethel United Methodist, Oak Grove.
Shortly thereafter, a board of church members that was formed to look at the future of the church recommended that Wesley be allowed to become a "station" church, separate from the other two. "The majority always wanted to be a separate church," said Messick, 55. "We felt that to grow, we needed a full-time minister."
The request to separate from the charge was sent to the district superintendent, who forwarded it to the bishop. The request was granted and in July, Wesley became a station church.
"All three churches benefit from that because they all get additional attention," said Jones. Concord and Bethel are still on the same charge.
Jones said that he is pleased to be a part of Wesley's growth. "It is important that we share the good news of Jesus Christ to as many as possible," he said. "The purpose of the church is to make that happen."
As for the future, Messick believes that the church will continue to grow and that someday, a new sanctuary will be needed. Good agrees. "It might not be here for me," she said. "But I have grandchildren who attend this church. It will be for them. As long as the church is here, they will know that it is home."
And she feels that the church's growth will continue even if Jones is moved by the conference to a different church. "We have enough people here who can lead," she said. "We will keep the spirit going."