WARNER ROBINS -- In the early 1940s, all there was of Warner Robins First United Methodist Church was a young seminarian from Atlanta riding around on his bicycle meeting community folks and visiting the barracks of the new airfield nearby.
Methodists from Elko, a thriving agricultural hub, urged the young man to work in the north end of Houston County.
Numbers grew along with the town and Methodists and Baptists began meeting in a community center near Ga. 247. The Methodists soon purchased property a block north of Watson Boulevard on North Davis Drive and put a Quonset hut there -- a natural in the military town.
The site is still the churchs home but soon they built a sanctuary, then other buildings as they grew and added other parcels of land.
Weve stayed here and are committed to this location, the Rev. Jimmy Asbell, the churchs senior pastor, said. There was a conscious determination to minister where we are. I think its part of our DNA that we feel attached here and want to serve the neighbors around us. Were in a good location for outreach and a good location to serve (Robins Air Force Base) families who use our Cheerful Cherubs preschool, which was started in 1950.
Asbell said the church may be best known for ministries reflecting the neighborhoods transition from growing and prosperous to declining and needy.
We operate a soup kitchen that averages feeding a hot meal to 75 people on Mondays and Fridays, he said. Our food pantry distributed a weeks worth of groceries to 10,660 last year. It has been in operation for 20-plus years and has been led by Brev Hunt since he retired as principal from Lindsey Elementary School. We have other related ministries, including a clothes closet and a Snax Pax program that provides weekend food for 150 at-risk children from Lindsey Elementary.
Asbell believes the churchs commitment to having a positive impact in peoples lives locally and around the world has kept the church from seeing the sort of decline most downtown churches eventually experience.
I think the strength of our music program held some people and we have a very strong youth ministry, but really, the fact people can see the results of what were doing to help others and our members long-term commitment to that end has made a big difference. Our people are generous.
Part of that increase has been in the area of housing. The church bought a neighboring home, fixed it up and made it available to a family living in sub-standard housing. Partnering with Habitat for Humanity, the church helped the family qualify for a Habitat home. The churchs house will now be available to help another family in the same way.
Also, Warner Robins First UMC was able to buy and restore another neighboring house used for offices and as a day center for Houston Countys Family Promise ministry, a collaboration of churches that allow homeless families to stay in their facilities in the evenings while during the day children go to school and adults look for work or go to the day center to learn life and work skills. Laundry and other practical matters are also handled there.
Were happy when we can partner with other churches, Asbell said. We work with Mount Calvary Lutheran who use our facilities to provide an annual Christmas Day meal. A lot of food we give away comes not just from us but from other groups in the community and at Robins Air Force Base. Its often a true community effort.
Warner Robins First UMC has been instrumental in starting other UMC congregations, including Northview, Trinity and Centerville United Methodist churches.
Asbell is in his 10th year as pastor in Warner Robins. Growing up in Macon, Asbell said he was on track to become a doctor like his father when he felt called to ministry as a pre-med student at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. He later attended seminary at Emory University in Atlanta and earned a doctor of ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary.
He has served churches in Glenwood and Macon.
Asbell said he believes a commitment to the Gospel and meeting the practical needs of others in Jesus name is important to any church and he was glad First UMC was already engaged in such ministry.
Asbell said ongoing Hispanic ministry is an important part of the church. It is led by Mauricio Orozco, Costa Rican by birth, who leads a Spanish-speaking service each Sunday at 2 p.m. and related ministries.
Asbell said at the heart of Warner Robins First UMC is spiritual formation that reflects the life and teachings of Jesus.
I always wonder what a congregation would look like when it follows his teaching and preaching, he said. Its about the spiritual formation of individuals and a community that shape their lives around acting as he did and doing what he said. I suppose a lot of what we do reflects what Jesus said in Matthew 25: if youve done it for one of the least youve done it for me. We want to answer that call.
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.