By Barby Bowser
It was not long ago that Magnolia Avenue Church in Knoxville, Tenn., closed its doors. Rev. Rusty Taylor, director of Congregational Development and Revitalization for the Holston Conference of the UMC, struggled with whether to try and save this church with dwindling membership, a condemned building, in an economically challenged neighborhood. When COVID arrived, the building was shuttered and the few remaining members went elsewhere.
Thankfully, that’s not the end of this story. Rev. Taylor and others in the Holston Conference convinced Pastor Tim Jackson to take on the task of resurrecting the church about a year ago. “They were asking me to resurrect the Titanic from the bottom of the Atlantic with a hand-crank!” he jokingly said.
When Pastor Tim arrived, there was no church to speak of, but the surrounding community was desperate to hear God’s message of acceptance and hope. He knew he had to stay true to the mission of building disciples “by building relationships, pouring over them prayer, the Word and the sacraments. When you do that, radical things, transformation, is going to happen.”
He mentioned that Jay and Tammy, who live at the motel next door, weren’t connected to a local church when he knocked on their door one Sunday before the 5pm service (something he does every week). The two now attend three days a week. Jay always has a smile on his face – radiating the Joy of the Lord! Pastor Tim talks about others in the neighborhood – prostitutes, drug addicts, the lonely, the homeless – who have found a home at Magnolia Avenue Church. More than that, they’ve found a loving, forgiving God.
“The stories, they’re messy, but they’re beautiful stories. Everyone is welcome.”
At the weekly meal on Mondays, Pastor Tim shares a brief Bible Study and visits and prays with the 50-60 people who show up. His goal is to help people to really KNOW Jesus – to hear God’s word, study it, challenge them to apply it, and then share it. “We aren’t a ‘membership church.’ We are a covenant community”.
On a recent Sunday evening, Pastor Tim joyfully placed the Equipping the Local Church Grant check from The Foundation for Evangelism with gifts from two local donors in the offering plate, along with contributions from the service attendees. It’s rare that those attending the service can give much – and when they do, “it tends to be all that they have. They are truly ‘less fortunate’ because of the poverty that’s here.” He was excited by what God had provided.
“Thank you for being partners in this ministry,” Pastor Tim said at the close of our conversation. For the people serving and being served by Magnolia Avenue Church, the Equipping the Local Church Grant is a boost that will help them address the physical needs of the community while also introducing people to God’s love and inviting them to join the journey of faith in Jesus Christ.