Religion

Vineville Methodist connects past to present

Vineville United Methodist Church’s Jimmy Asbell Jr., senior pastor, and Grace Guyton, associate pastor, continue a tradition of neighborhood ministry at the church.
Vineville United Methodist Church’s Jimmy Asbell Jr., senior pastor, and Grace Guyton, associate pastor, continue a tradition of neighborhood ministry at the church. For The Telegraph

Vineville United Methodist Church was created in 1846 by what’s now Macon’s Mulberry Street United Methodist Church.

Vineville’s historical documents say it was Mulberry’s “first daughter” and was started to provide worship for wealthy planters in the nearby village of Vineville.

“As Macon grew from the center out, the Methodist church planted new congregations every four or five miles,” said the Rev. Jimmy Asbell Jr., senior pastor at Vineville since 2013. “At Vineville, we’ve had a part in starting four daughter churches ourselves: Bass, Riverside, Ingleside and Shurlington UMCs.”

With such a lengthy history, Asbell said he feels a clear connection to those who’ve gone before in serving the Vineville community. But he has an added connection as well — one that’s unusual for Methodist pastors who are frequently moved from one congregation to another.

“This is my home church,” he said. “My parents, Jimmy and Alice Asbell, went here and I grew up here. I definitely have a sense of history. A lot of the retired pastors whose pictures are on the wall were my pastors. Some still attend, and programs they started when I was 6 or 7, I’m (now) overseeing. I was nurtured in this church but I didn’t feel called to ministry until college. I was planning to be a doctor.”

When he was in junior high, Asbell said Sam Rodgers asked him if he was called to ministry. He told him no. Rodgers said, “You know, the church needs smart people, too.”

Asbell wanted to be an emergency room doctor but God changed that plan. The 1984 Stratford Academy honor graduate went on to Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, then gained a master of divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and a doctor of ministry degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur.

Along the way, he also became a certified firefighter.

Asbell has served as pastor at First UMC of Warner Robins, Wesley UMC in Macon and Glenwood and Landsburg UMCs in Glenwood.

Regardless of where in Middle Georgia Vineville UMC’s modern congregants live, Asbell said the church remains as committed to serving its immediate neighbors as did its forebearers — even though much of the surrounding economic climate has declined from 100-plus years ago.

“We have 30 members who volunteer in the local elementary school,” he said. “For the last several years we’ve run its art program by providing supplies and teachers. We give reading help and math tutors and 100 backpacks filled with weekend lunches for kids every weekend.”

Asbell’s list of neighborhood involvement is expansive and impressive in that he said the church doesn’t feel the need to always “re-invent the wheel” by duplicating ministries or “be the owner and have our name in the title” of every area program.

They’re happy to cooperate.

“We partner with Strong Tower Fellowship and others to do housing ministry, making above-standard housing available at below-standard prices,” he said. “We’ve invested time, money and effort in 10 houses. We have a member who’s running a bike ministry teaching bike maintenance while mentoring kids, plus they get a free bike after 10 hours in the program. We have outreach events like our fall festival.”

Among other activities are involvement with a Campus Club Tower, helping sponsor kids’ soccer and golf clubs and partnering in redevelopment of a Culver Street neighborhood with a large recreational park called Field of Dreams.

“We could have relocated, but I think staying here is an expression of the idea to love your neighbor,” Asbell said. “That’s who the church is. We call local missions in the Pleasant Hill community PleasanVille projects.”

Vineville UMC keeps its large, columned facility open and busy during the week rather than locking up. Activities are both church and community related and include things like ongoing Bible studies for members and community ministries, Thursday morning prayer since 1971, Al-Anon and other support group meetings, Boy Scouts, a Tuesday Lunch and Learn program, blood drives, a Lion’s Club, activities in the gym and more.

Vineville is also involved internationally.

“We’ve supported missionaries in China, Korea, Japan and Africa since 1892,” Asbell said. “Vineville has also sent missions teams to Russia, Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, the Bahamas and Ghana. Involvement in missions and getting out of our comfort zones is a good way to experience spiritual growth as well as serve others. It’s valuable whether it’s across the world or at the Methodist Children’s Home or at Magnolia Manor or Wesley Glen with the elderly.”

Then there’s various worship services, arts programs and other communitywide events where all are always welcome.

“I think the heart of Vineville is for missions and worship,” Asbell said. “And I guess another thing is there’s a commit to excellence. We aim for that in missions as well as in the 12 free concerts in our music and arts series.”

The first of this season’s performances is at 4 p.m. Sunday with the Celtic Company from Atlanta.

Vineville associate pastor Grace Guyton said most would be surprised at what they find at Vineville.

“I’d say we’re a very eclectic church,” she said. “There’s more than meets the eye. It’s possible Vineville once had a reputation of not being terribly welcoming, but it’s actually an incredibly friendly and welcoming church. Some people might be very, very surprised at the diversity here.”

Asbell said there’s a good reason for what’s done at the church.

“I think everything we do is out of response to God’s love and grace,” he said. “That flavors my preaching and all our activities. We don’t do things to prove we’re Christian. We’re Christians, so we do things out of a response to what Christ freely did for us.”

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

Vineville United Methodist Church

Address: 2045 Vineville Avenue, Macon

Phone: 478-745-3331

Leadership: the Rev. Jimmy Asbell Jr., senior pastor

Worship: Sunday School 10 a.m., traditional worship 8:45 a.m., contemporary 9 a.m., traditional 11 a.m.

Website: vinevillemethodist.com

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