Historical Sketch of Gray United Methodist Church (updated 2007)
On August 31, 1872, Mr. Robert H.J. Hecker deeded to the trustees of Mount Zion Methodist Episcopal Church a piece of land to be used as a place to build a church and school. The deed states that Mr. Hecker gave the property for “the good will of the M.E. church and the cause of Christianity”. Those trustees were: Henry A. Martin, Robert E. Hunt, John Maden, G.M. Archer and Charles Cox. However, the first Methodist meeting place in this area was at Victory School on Buffalo Ridge, about three miles south of the present site of Gray, Tennessee. According to Mrs. M. Lou Shipley, the church was organized the year before the severe snowstorm of 1836 and met in Victory School.
According to the best records, the church was organized in 1885 as the outgrowth of a revival. In 1886, a severe snowstorm destroyed this small school building. A one-room church was then built only a short distance from the school site. Coordinates of that location are 36° 23.510’ North, 82° 28.411’ West. This church, called Mount Zion, became widely known in the area and was served by preachers known as circuit riders.
Mr. Henry Martin, Roy Martin’s father, gave the lumber for building the church. Mr. Dewey Barnes, Joe Barnes’ father did most of the sawing of the lumber at Chamberland Hale’s.
Mount Zion was for years on the Sulphur Springs Circuit along with Sulphur Springs, Fairview, Pleasant Grove and Douglas Shed.
In 1926, when E.G. Gillespie was pastor, the church congregation decided to move to the present location at Gray Station, Tennessee. The new property was purchased for $400 from Mr. W.E. Weems. The original building was torn to the ground. Some of the lumber from the original building and the bell were used to build a new one room brick structure located just south of the present annex building. During construction, the congregation met with the Buffalo Ridge Baptists. The church was still part of the Sulphur Springs Circuit, with preaching services held only once a month. The membership grew in the early 1930’s when Reverend W.H. Johnson held a successful revival. The roll book noted 85 members as of April 22, 1931.
The first Women’s Society with 12 members was organized in 1942 with Mrs. Niles Gray as president. In the 1940’s, the church membership increased and the small one-room church became inadequate. Gray was then a three-point circuit with Fairview and Sulphur Springs.
In 1951, Sulphur Springs became a station church. As the parsonage was there, it became necessary for Gray to build a parsonage. In late 1951, a five-room brick parsonage was built on the grounds near the church office when the new parsonage was purchased in 1974. Plans were made for a larger church. Through the dedicated efforts of Jack Isenberg and many volunteers this became a reality in 1953. The old church was moved to a residential section of Gray and remodeled into a lovely home. Also, in that same year, Gray became a station church.
In the following years, many improvements were made on the church and grounds. A very active young adult group, through their determined efforts, erected a lovely steeple in 1954. Also, the first Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF) was organized in 1954. New members continued to add to the church and on May 1, 1960, the old sanctuary building (The chapel) was dedicated, with Reverend Frank Porter, district superintendent, in charge of the service.
In 1967, plans were drawn for an educational building. This was completed in 1969, adding nine large classrooms, a kitchen, and fellowship hall. The 2-story brick structure is 7,000 square feet in total area. The building committee was composed of Niles Gray, chairman; Roy Adams, Ivan Barnes, Roy Cornwell, Ed Gage, Carl Hall, John Neeley, J.W. Self, and J.H. Shadden. Consecration services were held on May 18, 1969, while Reverend Carl Calloway was pastor.
From June 1971, to June 1972, fifty-five members were added to the church. A Lay Witness Mission was the highlight of the year. The newly re-organized MYF became an active unit again. In September of 1972, the Andrew Fitzgerald property, directly in back of the church, was purchased for $15,000. In the summer of 1974, the Rogers’ house (Mr. Rogers was principal of Gray Elementary) on Liberty Church Road, about 7 miles from the church, was purchased to serve as a large and better parsonage. In September 1974, Reverend Darris K. Doyal became pastor. He and his family were the first to occupy the new parsonage.
On May 18, 1975, a Dedication Service for the educational building was held with Bishop L. Scott Allen conducting the service. January 1, 1977, the membership of Gray United Methodist Church was 338, with a proposed budget for 1977 of $49,844.
Following Easter 1978, the old sanctuary was completely remodeled and a new organ was purchased for a grand total of $17,000. An additional bedroom was build at the parsonage during the summer.
In 1979, the United Methodist Youth Fellowship completely remodeled and furnished the old fellowship hall and it then became known as the Youth Center at a cost of $2,300. The church made additional repairs on various parts of the church totaling over $12,000.
In 1981, the construction of the handicap entrance ramp to the old sanctuary was done at the cost of $8,170.
On Sunday, November 26, 1983, Reverend Mike Sluder, present pastor of St. Mark UMC, in Knoxville, preached his first sermon during Youth Sunday worship service, since accepting his call to ordained ministry. He was the second person called in to the ordained ministry from Gray UMC. Reverend Stanley Harrison, retired, was the first. Since that time, a third, Reverend Mark Fleenor, presently associate pastor at Munsey UMC was ordained.
The centennial anniversary of the church was celebrated in 1985 with Reverend E.G. (Buddy) Miller as pastor. As part of the festivities, a historical marker was erected near the site of the original Mt. Zion church on Buffalo Ridge. The marker was dedicated by the Archives and History committee, which was chaired by Jim King. Thirteen members who had attended the original church were among those present for the marker dedication. On September 29th a Heritage Day celebration was held with Bishop R. Kern Eutsler and District Superintendent Ted Baker participating in the service. Other centennial highlights of the year included the purchase of a church van with funds raised by the youth, a Heritage Day celebration, and the year ended with a church conference approving plans for a three-phase building program. Plans called for building the Family Life Center, a new sanctuary, and renovation of the present sanctuary for classrooms and offices
On April 1, 1990 we celebrated the opening of our Family Life Center. The 9,100 square foot addition consisted of a gymnasium, stage, nursery, toddler’s classroom and kitchen. The Reverend Mike Hubble wrote at that time:
“This is a great moment of accomplishment that challenges us all to a greater depth of stewardship. It also opens many new doors for service of our Lord. May we all work together under the guidance of God’s Spirit to move forward, and accomplish his purpose for our church.”
The journey to completion of the Family Life Center began on June 21, 1984 with the first meeting of the building committee. The purpose of the meeting was to explore the need for facility expansion and to begin to formulate recommendations for expansions. The committee members were as follows: chairman; Dwight Barnes, John Baker, David Frost, Niles Gray, Beth Hall, Kelly Johnston, Shirley Shadden, Bill Sluder, Rick Storey, and Wanda Thurmond.
The Building Committee and architect Frank Knisley of Johnson City, met numerous times to come up with a suitable plan for a building to meet the needs of the congregation and community. They decided on the three-phase program with the congregation to decide later the order in which construction was to occur.
In May 1986, a capital funds campaign to raise $150,000 toward construction was initiated. By June 15, 1986, $135,000 had been pledged. On May 31, 1987, there was a called Church Conference to give guidance to the Building Committee as to which phase of the building should be first. The congregation voted to build the Family Life Center first.
On April 10, 1988, the Building Committee presented plans for the Family Life Center to the Administrative Board. The plans were accepted and a target date of March 1, 1989 was set for beginning construction. On April 23, 1989, a Church Conference was convened in which the congregation accepted the bid of $429,250 from J.I. Cornett Construction Company and gave approval to begin construction. On May 21, 1989, a groundbreaking ceremony was held.
The need to raise money for the expansion of facilities was the driver to initiate two annual fundraisers for the building fund. IN 1988 we had the first Fall-Fest led by Marie Longfellow and Mary Cassell. This annual event included selling crafts, canned goods, baked goods, quilts, rummage items and meals such as barbequed pork. Some year’s special events such as a 56K road-race were held. In conjunction with the Fall-Fest, the “apple butter gang” started making apple butter each fall under the leadership of Linda Hall. By the end of the 90’s they were making over 1,600 quarts per year to sell at $5 each for the building fund.
With the addition of the Family Life Center and energetic leadership of the Reverend Mike Hubble for nine years (1989-1998), the decade of the 1990’s was a time of significant growth in attendance and programs. The multi-use Family Center was used for Bib le School. Senior’s programs, special Christmas and Easter programs by the choir and children, and regular fellowship meals. From 1989 to 1999, the average morning worship attendance grew from 207 to 298. In 1990 we reached out to area seniors through the Amanda Barnes Senior Citizens program, which is a monthly gathering of 50 to 100 area seniors for devotions, food and entertainment. In 1998 we extended our ministry to feeding homeless people two days per month at the Melting Pot facility at Munsey UMC in Johnson City.
Growth in the 1990’s led to the expansion of our staff by four positions. In 1993 Linda Thoma was hired as Director of Christian Education and children’s programs. In 1997 we established a paid organist position and hired a part-time youth director. A paid nursery worker was hired in 1998.
Grown in the 1990’s also led to the need to expand our parking facilities. The lot, which was purchased from Andrew Fitzgerald in 1972, was graded and paved in 1996 by Summers-Taylor Construction. In 1988 we entered into an agreement with the Washington County Board of Education to develop a wooded lot between Gray Elementary and Chapel Street into paved parking. Clear ownership of this property had been a question for years with both the county and church having some claim to ownership. With both the school and the church needing parking, an amicable agreement was entered for joint use. The county agreed to pave and maintain the lot and in turn get to use it during the week and for special school functions. The church uses the lot for parking on Sundays and during the Appalachian Fair for youth fundraiser parking.
During the 1990’s three adjacent parcels of property were purchased for future expansion. In 1995 the Asbury lot and home on Oak Street was purchased for $38,000. The Asbury home was torn down shortly after the purchase so the lot could be used for parking. In 1999 the Nave property on Ford Street was purchased for $90,000 and the Franklin property and house trailer on Ford Street was purchased for
$65,000. The Nave and Franklin properties are currently being rented.
With the Family Life Center debt paid off and worship attendance exceeding comfortable capacity of the existing sanctuary, plans for phase two of the building program began with initiation of another building committee led by Danny Harper. On November 8, 1998, a church conference was held, where the congregation voted to accept plans for a new sanctuary with a capacity of 600 people and ten more classrooms at an estimated cost of just under $2 million. A fundraiser was initiated with initial pledges of $321,185. In order to allow continued growth as funds are raised, a second Sunday morning worship service was added in January 1999.
During 2000, the original fellowship hall in the basement of the old sanctuary building, which was remodeled into the Youth Center in 1979, was remodeled for third purpose, three new Sunday school classrooms at a cost of $4,138. The Church Council dedicated these rooms to the memory of Gene Mottern. The sign in front of the church was replaced in 2000 with a new one donated in memory of Amanda Barnes. Also, during this year, much of the annex building was remodeled to allow for improved staff offices. The cost of this remodeling was $11,158.
An Associate Pastor’s position was added in June of 2003. Rev. Amy Cook was appointed as our first Associate Pastor, as well as our first female pastor. In June of 2006 the Rev. Samuel Siebo was appointed as our Associate Pastor, serving as our first minority pastor. Samuel and his wife are from Liberia.
In the fall of 2003 construction began on the new addition. The current sanctuary was completed in October, 2004. Rev. Ramon Torres led our first worship service in the new sanctuary, which was held on October 23, 2004. The old sanctuary, which has been renamed The Chapel, is used for Children’s church and for Sunday Evening Praise & Worship Services.
The year 2007 budget is $601,657. The current membership is 635, with an average morning worship attendance for 2006 being 340.
Gray United Methodist Church is a warm and caring Church. It has a great heritage and a great future. We pray that God will continue to guide us to service and reach out to all people and to share the “good news of Jesus Christ” to all. We praise God for this church.