New sanctuary to be ‘surrounded in prayer’

by Joe Dennis

ATHENS — Nearly two years after a fire gutted Oconee Street UMC, church members concluded their Jan. 11 service in their new sanctuary, slated for completion in spring. Before sheet rock and insulation is installed, church attendees wrote prayers on the outer sanctuary walls and concluded the service with singing and prayer. “In a couple of weeks these walls will be closed up, but our prayers will be there, surrounding our congregation and congregations to follow us as we worship God together in the years to come,” said Pastor Lisa Caine.

The dedication of the new sanctuary at 595 Oconee Street will be held June 14, 2014.

The return to Oconee Street

Oconee Street UMC returned ‘home’ on Sunday, April 13, holding its first worship at its Oconee Street location since a fire destroyed the church’s sanctuary nearly one year earlier. The congregation is temporarily meeting in its recently renovated education building while the sanctuary is being built.

Update: December Building Committee Report

We will be posting occasional updates here about the rebuilding process of Oconee Street UMC here. Last month a Building Committee was established and charged with the massive responsibility of planning and overseeing the rebuilding process.

The Oconee Street UMC Building Committee met Dec. 5, Dec. 17 and Dec. 31. The following information was reported about the rebuilding process:

  • Committee met with contractors to sign off on plans for the interior design of the education building.
  • The committee discussed inventory and creating a mechanism to ensure all new items are accounted for insurance purposes.
  • Committee toured the education building and expressed excitement about the progress being made.
  • Committee received a final insurance estimate for items lost or damaged due to the fire: $38,890.

Update: November Building Committee Report

We will be posting occasional updates here about the rebuilding process of Oconee Street UMC here. Last month a Building Committee was established and charged with the massive responsibility of planning and overseeing the rebuilding process.

The Oconee Street UMC Building Committee met Nov. 5 and Nov. 19. The following information was reported about the rebuilding process:

  • The committee and architect David Matheny met with the insurance agent to discuss replacement costs, upgrades, code and scope of loss.
  • The committee met with UGA landscape architect professor Catherine Melcher about working with her class to design a landscape plan for the church property. The committee agreed to work with her class as they design a community project for the church.
  • The committee discussed various ways the wood from destroyed trees on the church property can be used in meaningful ways, among them creating chalice and platen, a cross and flame, and other decorative elements for the church.
  • The United States flag was “rescued” from the old sanctuary and cleaned free of charge by Sunshine Cleaners.
  • A bridge loan was finalized in case additional funds are needed for construction. Local attorney Michael Morris provided pro bono legal assistance with the loan.
  • A decision was made to apply for the Interfaith Power and Light grant next year, as information needed for the grant application is not yet available at this stage in the rebuilding process.

 

Oconee Street UMC breaks ‘historic ground’

Lucille Hancock, a member of Oconee Street UMC for nearly 90 years, breaks ground on the new sanctuary.

by Joe Dennis

Exactly five months after a fire destroyed their historic sanctuary, members of Oconee Street United Methodist Church gathered yesterday on church grounds at Oconee and Poplar Streets in Athens to celebrate a new beginning.

“There’s something about this spot,” said the Rev. Lisa Caine in a brief sermon at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new church sanctuary. “There are roots here, memories here, a cloud of witnesses that surrounds us even as we come together in this moment. This is holy ground for this church, past and present.”

Approximately 100 church members, friends and dignitaries attended the ceremony, filling spaces from a small patch of grass outside the fenced-off construction zone to across Poplar Street up a hill to the church’s parsonage. With two flutists providing music, the choir sang hymns focused on faithfulness and service, a common theme of Oconee Street UMC in its 143-year history.

“When the mortar is poured and the bricks are laid here — it will not be the foundation of this church,” said Athens Mayor Nancy Denson. “You are the foundation of this church. The resilience of this faith community is absolutely amazing.”

Church members recounted the past, present and future of the church in “A Litany of Remembrance and Hope,” written for the groundbreaking service.

“From its beginnings, our church has always been committed to social justice, advocating for people who experience discrimination of all kinds,” said longtime church member Steve Williams. “Oconee Street United Methodist Church has stood as a beacon of life and hope for members, visitors, neighbors and especially those with no home of their own.”

Music director and building committee chair Maxine Easom expressed optimism for the future of the church.

“Today we are ready. We have shed our final tears; our eyes are clear; our minds and hearts are set,” she said. “We will rebuild. Today a new chapter begins. New memories created. New spaces become sacred.”

Church members were then invited to grab a shovel and participate in the groundbreaking, led by Lucille Hancock, a church member for nearly 90 years. Attendees were also given a piece of stone from the former sanctuary and were asked to place the stones in a bin, which will be used to form concrete for the new sanctuary. The new church is expected to take 18 months to build.

“Part of the old will be carried on into the new,” Caine said. “Our new church will soon be rising out of the ashes … and we will all be watching, waiting, wondering and anticipating how these new walls will once again surround and serve all of God’s people with love and grace.”

Groundbreaking Celebration

Join us Sunday for the groundbreaking of the brand new Oconee Street UMC!

The celebration begins at 3 p.m. at the corner of Poplar and Oconee Street, followed by a reception at The Flats.

Get a chance to “turn the earth” and be a part of this historic moment in our church’s history.

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A Bittersweet Day

The demolition progressed quickly today.  One wall came down causing others to fall quickly behind it.

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The back wall of the church.

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Another view of the back wall as it came down.

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Look closely beyond the tree and you can see the original wood that framed the building.

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The Education Building is also being renovated.