An era ends at Verona UMC

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Church services have been held since 1881 at the Verona United Methodist Church, but that ends on Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of a 2 p.m. celebration of the congregation's long-term service of developing discipleship.

VERONA -- The true nature of a church is the congregation, not the building, and so after Sunday the Verona United Methodist Church lives on in the hearts of several families who've accepted practical facts of life for the historic building here.

"We've been facing this for a long time," June Daniel said while seated in the front row pew on Friday last week when she and almost all other members of the congregation recalled what's happened in their sanctuary, Sunday school, and their community of faith.

Changing times and the financial facts of life are closing the church. It costs $125 to heat or cool the building that has poor insulation and it takes nearly 24 hours for the central unit to make it right inside. The congregation's annual obligations are $15,000 annually. The few remaining members can't afford it.

"Our church got down to the point where we had 6-7 people there on Sunday," long-time member Sandy Wakham said. "We struggled to keep the doors open. We've prayed on it for years, but it's a sad day. We've had our last service, but we're going to have an event."

The Service of Celebration is at 2 p.m. Sunday at the church on Verona Caney Road at John Lunn Road.

"It's a beautiful little church back in the trees," Sandy Wakham said.

The church is where Buford Ellington worshiped before moving to Nashville where he served two terms as governor. His position and continued friendship were recalled Friday, but the little church influenced the lives of everyday people.

When Edward Hunter was a student at the Verona School next to the church, he wouldn't sit still, or even sit, according to one of the stories told Friday. So, they got one of those little red chairs from the Sunday school room and took it to the school and he sat in that chair because he'd been taught to do so at the church.

After she started attending First Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, Myrta Virginia Perry still had a key to the church and she explained to her friends that she'd simply sit in the sanctuary where her mother and father used to sit. And she would pray.

Doors to the church were replaced a decade ago. There are two. Many years ago, women entered through one. Men came in the other. The doors were never locked until the doors were replaced because of age. All members, and some former members had a key.

Ellington taught Sunday school at the church and his wife played the piano. It was when he ran the country store in Verona. He was just one of the neighbors.

"My family lived right next to him," Sandy Wakham said. "My daddy borrowed Buford Ellington's car to take my mother to the hospital to have my brother."

Ruth Wiggins remembers the governor's daughter, Ann Ellington Wagner, when she was a child, before moving to Nashville at age 13.

"The first night I stayed away from home ... was at their farm house," Ruth Wiggins said.

It was a sleep ver.

Some years later a visitor didn't believe she and her friends knew the governor so they went to Nashville, pestered the officer at the governor's residence so much that Ellington heard it, came down some of the spiral staircase steps asking "What's all the noise about?" Told of his Verona visitors, he replied, "Y'all, come on up here."

It was a different time when Ellington was governor and state agriculture commissioner during the 1960s. But amid the turmoil of the time, Verona folk drove with the governor's daughter in an open convertible without security through Nashville.

In the close community of Verona, "We walked to the church," Sandy Wakham said.

And she still can.

Membership was up to 275 in the horse and buggy days.

It's been part of a UMC circuit for pastors with the Rev. Steven J. Christopher being the current circuit rider. Christopher was appointed as the pastor over the Berlin Circuit by the bishop of the Nashville area. He's served here since June 2008.

Circuit pastors are appointed at a regional conference. The next for this area is at Brentwood United Methodist Church.

Under the polity and the book of discipline, local churches can't hold a church building; local trustees hold title, Christopher explained.

The Verona congregation held a church conference to make a recommendation to the district superintendent, the Rev. Willie Burchfield of Columbia. In turn, he makes a recommendation to the bishop and that's forwarded to the conference that's to consider the issue in June.

"It's the conference that will discontinue the local church and then the conference and district trustee would take over local assets and make whatever disposition they thought was appropriate," Christopher said.

"It's anticipated that this matter will be voted upon in June, but it's not known that it will," Christopher said, noting the future is always unknown.

Churches exist to make Disciples of Christ and "Pragmatically, we questioned why there should be a third United Methodist Church in the circuit," he said. "This is happening all over. One hundred years ago, there would be a United Methodist Church every few miles... It would be needed if you were traveling by horse."

The conclusion was reached that there's a better way to serve the purpose and so the Verona United Methodist Church members are being assimilated into the congregations at Caney Spring and Berlin.

"Remarkable things have happened there, such as the spiritual shaping of the individuals there," Christopher said.

"Discipleship goes on and the Holy Spirit goes on."