Growth on the table at Powersville United Methodist

Sun News correspondentMay 8, 2013 

Richard Lanning is the pastor at Powersville United Methodist Church.

  • Powersville United Methodist Church

    Address: 145 Lakeview Road, Byron 31008
    Phone: 956-5689
    Leadership: Richard E. Lanning, pastor
    Worship: Sunday school 10 a.m., worship 11 a.m.

POWERSVILLE -- Nestled off Ga. 49 between Byron and Fort Valley, Powersville United Methodist Church meets in the sort of old, white, steepled church building that would look right at home on the front of a classic Christmas card.

“It is an idyllic setting,” said Richard Lanning, the church’s pastor since 2007. “It’s the sort of place people drive by and say, ‘I’d like to get married there.’ It’s not only pretty from the outside, but it’s beautiful inside as well.”

Lanning said the main sanctuary was built in 1909, two years after the church was established. He said though small, the facility is plenty big for the 65 or so of the church’s members who gather Sunday mornings and who cherish the building over thoughts of tearing it down for something more modern.

“It would take tearing it down to do anything larger,” Lanning said. “It’s something we’ve talked about. Do we want to grow beyond the building or remain who we are? The consensus has been we have strengths here that don’t necessitate outgrowing the building.”

And what are some of those strengths?

Lanning said first and foremost is that Powersville UMC is a very friendly, caring church.

“Old, young, rich or poor, anyone who walks in is made to feel at home and welcome and invited to return,” he said. “It’s a very caring church. There’s a communication network where people know about one another’s lives and are constantly there to do anything they can for one another. We have a Good Samaritan fund from which many inside the church have been helped through a lost job or helped over the hump in some way. That help has extended outside the church to people our members know who needed a hand.”

Lanning said another strength is in the church’s music program. He said he believes the congregation has the best small-church choir to be found anywhere. As minister, he said he jokes that personally, he doesn’t come to hear the preaching but to enjoy the singing.

“I don’t say that lightly,” Lanning said. “Dick and Margie Sietsema came here in the early 2000s before I was pastor, and are both very talented musically. Dick was dean of Mercer University’s education program and Margie was in the music department. The story I was told, the day they came the pianist was out sick and Margie said she could play organ or piano and ended up playing organ that day. Dick became choir director and grew the choir, challenged them musically and brought them to a really wonderfully place. Shay Usher, our pianist, is a wonderful, wonderful pianist. Our piano and organ work beautifully together.”

Though the church has never had an official history written, Lanning said he has compiled bits and pieces he has come across. He said the church was originally a Congregational church. He said it was originally called Allen’s Chapel Congregational Church of Powersville and met on Ga. 49 where Allen’s Chapel A.M.E. church now meets.

“As I understand it, they sold that property and moved where we are now,” Lanning said. “The Congregational denomination, based in New England, felt they couldn’t support this church down here. I want to say it was in 1922 that they organized as a Methodist church under a Rev. John Summers and the name was changed to Powersville Methodist Episcopal Church South. It stayed that until 1939 when two bodies representing north and south Methodists united and formed the Methodist church, and then in 1968 the Evangelical United Brethren united with the Methodist church to become the United Methodist Church.”

Lanning said he finds it interesting that the church has produced two ministers from among its ranks. He said J.C. Wilson became a minister in the early 1900s and Edwin Marshal “Buddy” Cooper, Jr. did the same in recent history. He said Cooper is now pastor of St. Paul’s UMC in Columbus, Ga. and superintendant of the Columbus District.

As for himself, Lanning is an Ohio native. After starting seminary, he spent a year studying at Wesley College in Bristol, England then spent a year as an intern pastoring four small congregations in western Ohio. After completing a Master of Divinity degree at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. he pastored again in western Ohio. It was then he felt a call to the chaplaincy and became an Army chaplain, starting at Fort Benning in Columbus serving as an airborne and officer candidate school chaplain. Other assignments followed, such as to Korea, New Jersey, Germany and lastly to Fort Gordon near Augusta, Ga. There he retired from the Army after 20 years.

Lanning remained in Georgia and served various pastoral and associate roles in Poulan, Moultire and then at Ingleside UMC in Macon. He said he officially retired as a Methodist minister in 2007 but was immediately called on to serve both Powersville UMC and Wesley UMC in Crawford County.

“I was retired for about a week,” he said. Lanning and his wife, Trisha, have two children.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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