By Jessica Brodie
GILBERT—It took building new walls for one church to realize tearing down walls is really what God’s church is all about.
On Oct. 27, Shiloh United Methodist Church held a homecoming that celebrated both its 182nd anniversary and the consecration and dedication of its newly expanded building, making space to accommodate new families in the rapidly growing rural area. The expansion features new classrooms, new children’s spaces, an elevator, handicap-accessible bathrooms, new offices, a choral suite and a welcome center and entry space complete with signage and gathering spots.
“It’s very exciting,” said Shiloh’s pastor, Dr. Christopher Greene, who has helped the church envision this project and the rest of a growth- and outreach-focused master plan since he came to lead the church in 2014.
While the area surrounding Shiloh is largely rural, the community is changing. New businesses and homes are being constructed nearby, including a brand-new development with 300 single-family homes very close to the church.
“It’s a growing area, and well positioned for the growth,” Greene said. “We not only dedicated the building, but also ourselves to the work of God and to breaking down barriers and building community, and that’s what excites me the most.”
Indeed, Greene said, he and his congregation have embraced the notion that their community is no longer a church-centric society. That means the church has an obligation not to sit back and wait for people to come to them but to do what Jesus said to do—go out and be in relationship with people.
“We’ve built walls, but we’ve realized that what we do within the walls of the church is preparing us for what God needs us to do in the world beyond our walls,” Greene said.
That includes eliminating barriers, whether barriers because of lack of space or accessibility, or emotional barriers.
Mary Eaddy Baker, church council chair, said Shiloh even has its barrier-breaking purpose inscribed in the Scripture at its entrance: “A house of worship for all peoples,” from Isaiah 56:7.
“Shiloh has been and continues to be a community church embracing all who may enter,” Baker said, noting Shiloh’s dedication and anniversary homecoming was a tremendous celebration of the old and new in one, with many current and past members of the church gathering for the grand event. “One of our former ministers, the Rev. Allen Wolfe, stated that he could feel the life in our church. He said many churches are not full of life—basically dead—nowadays, but he could feel the excitement and life in Shiloh.”
Longtime Shiloh member Dee Dee Chewning said while Shiloh is a family-oriented, Spirit-filled church where members love and nurture each other at all times, especially times of need, the church felt for many years as if it were stuck in a status quo.
“We seemed to be bogged down,” said Chewning, who is also chair of the church pastor-parish relations committee. “Our members were aging, and there were very few young people and children in our membership. We realized we were becoming stagnant, and we knew the consequences of a stagnant church.”
Yet they knew the mission field was ripe, Chewning said.
They entered a time of much prayer and hard work, some with the help of outside consultants.
“Still, we felt we were not moving forward. Were we mired in complacency, were we not praying right, were we not working hard enough? We knew God had a plan for us—were we just not listening to Him?” Chewning said.
But God heard their prayers, Chewning said, as He always does.
Now, she said, “We are seeing growth. … We now have younger families coming into our church, and we needed them so desperately. As our pastor has said, when we hear ‘children noises’ during our worship services, it is a blessing.
“Five or six years ago we had one or two children come up for a word for young disciples. We now may have as many as 12 or 13. What joy this brings us! And we now have classrooms to better serve them.”
Greene said having that space for the community to learn and hold prayer groups and other gatherings is incredibly exciting. He especially loves that the whole building is fully handicap accessible. Before, people would have to leave the main building to use the handicap restroom.
“Now no one will be physically unable to go anywhere within the church because of mobility issues,” Greene said. “And it’s a safety thing, too. Now the nursery and everything is right outside the sanctuary, not down in the basement and down a dark hallway. It’s friendly, and parents are more comfortable having their children so close.”
The homecoming and dedication service was led by Greene along with Columbia District Superintendent Cathy Jamieson, who preached on “A Dwelling Place for God.”
The service also included Holy Communion, with the bread made by one church member and the wine provided by another from his vineyard, a special touch Greene appreciates. He also noted they used a flagon for communion that they had found in an old, unused display case in the fellowship hall. The case had not been used in decades, and all the silver was tarnished, but when they realized the now-black flagon had been made in the 1850s and was worth thousands of dollars, a member had it cleaned, and it was used for Holy Communion that Sunday.
“We are well positioned for the growth that’s coming,” Greene said. “Seeing all this happen motivates me and motivates the congregation to keep on finding new ways to do ministry in our context.”