Religion

Old church—young pastor: Wesley UMC

The Rev. Greg Harrison has been pastor for four months at the 175-year-old Wesley United Methodist Church, now located on Hartley Bridge Road.
The Rev. Greg Harrison has been pastor for four months at the 175-year-old Wesley United Methodist Church, now located on Hartley Bridge Road. Special to The Telegraph

The Rev. Greg Harrison, new head pastor at Wesley United Methodist Church, said at 27 he’s the youngest pastor in the United Methodist Church’s South Georgia Conference.

Harrison said he won the title over his wife by a month.

His wife, the Rev. Alaina Harrison who also serves Wesley UMC as associate pastor, is one month older than her husband. Though young and thus far holding provisional ordinations, they serve one of Macon’s older churches.

“I’ve been here all of four months and — if I’m not forgetting someone — I’m the youngest in the conference,” Harrison said. “Before coming to Wesley, Alaina and I were in ministry together with the Wesley Foundation which is the UMC’s campus ministry. We served the campuses at Mercer, Wesleyan and Middle Georgia State.”

According to Harrison and church documents, Wesley UMC began in 1842 when a group from what’s now Mulberry Street United Methodist Church began a Sunday school mission not far away in a house in the Pumpkin Hollow area. That was 175 years ago. The Methodist faithful believed it was needed to better minister to Native Americans, traders, hunters, fishermen and their families. In 1887, a building was built that served the congregation under the name Jones Chapel until 1904 when a move was made and the church became Second Street Methodist Church.

A hand-carved pulpit from the Jones Chapel days is still at the church in a side prayer room.

2-Greg Harrison carved pulpit
The Rev. Greg Harrison by a hand-carved pulpit from the days when Wesley United Methodist Church was known as Jones Chapel, from 1887 to 1904. Michael W. Pannell Special to The Telegraph

The church grew at its Second Street location until 1976 when members believed they could serve others better by relocating to Hartley Bridge Road just off Interstate 475.

“For me,” Harrison said, “the reason they moved was to go and reach more people and serve those not being served. In that way it’s a continuation of the tradition. We’re not a downtown, “first church,” we’re a blue collar, rough around the edges sort of church that’s made up of all kinds of people. People who’ve been in jail, people who’ve done right and worked hard all their lives, people who might be looked at funny in some churches and people who’ve loved and served others all their lives. I’m finding the beautiful thing about this church is that not only is everyone allowed to come, but they’re actually welcomed. In the four months I’ve been here I’ve never seen anyone walk through the doors and not be spoken too. I think it’s who we are, going all the way back to when the church struck out to serve trappers and Native Americans when that might have been a controversial thing to do.”

Harrison said he was recently in a service with the Rev. David Carter who pastored Wesley UMC for six years and led the move to South Bibb. Harrison said Carter was in his 30s at the time of the move, barely older than he is now.

“One of the congregation’s members came up to us and said to Carter, ‘Hey, we’ve got another young one like you were back in the day.’ It made me think how this church has had its ups and downs, its young pastors, old pastors and middle age pastors. It reminded me of the — I wouldn’t say burden — but it reminded me of the responsibility and honor of leading something that has done so much for so many for such a long time. Whatever we do as a staff here there’s the thought in the back of our minds that there’s a legacy to live up to.”

3-Greg Harrison flood buckets
The Rev. Greg Harrison goes through a flood bucket of cleaning supplies and materials ready for delivery and use in hurricane damaged homes in Texas. Wesley United Methodist Church is a collection point for the UMC project. Michael W. Pannell Special to The Telegraph

At Wesley, part of that legacy is change.

Harrison said one recent change has been worship style. He said they now have both a modern worship band and a choir. They use modern choruses and songs as well as traditional hymns. And he said he wears no robe or tie on Sunday mornings.

The switch from campus ministry to local church ministry has brought changes to the Harrison family, too.

“I grew up and graduated high school in Dublin, Georgia, and came to Macon for school,” he said. “Alaina was already in school at Wesleyan but we had met before through working at summer camp at Epworth By The Sea. We have two children now and it’s good for us to move from the rhythm of college ministry where events are always at night. Here, it’s family-friendly routines and flow.”

And Harrison said there are infant baptisms and funeral services to perform now, of which he’s done two and four respectively, in his four months at the church.

“But whatever the season or role, it’s part of answering God’s call,” he said. “I felt called to ministry my junior year of high school but never as senior pastor. I was thinking youth or college ministry. On the other hand, church leadership is what Alaina envisioned. But as they say, God had other plans. I began feeling more called to local church ministry and Alaina has pursued ordination as a deacon and work with social justice. She’s found that more life giving. From day one as a married couple we worked together in ministry so we don’t find it unusual it worked out for us to work together at Wesley.”

Harrison said the church has a staff of six with himself full time and the others, including his wife, part time.

He said he’s currently presenting a sermon series on “The Sermon on the Mount.” He said through it and the Beatitudes within, Jesus gives a powerful new way of living.

“I don’t see his statements like ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ as commands,” he said,” I see them as Jesus flipping the power dynamic of the world. Instead of thinking I need more food, I need more shelter, I need more money we should focus on I need a more humble spirit, I need to be more merciful, I need to be more of a peacemaker. Jesus said the material things will never satisfy. That’s something we miss in the western church. And we miss that it’s not a command but a journey. What we call faith in Christ is a continuous act of seeking God. As 21st century Americans, we like our owner’s manual and checklist with rules, but I’m not sure that’s the right way to look at it. As a pastor, I want to know I’ve encouraged others to continually draw near to God, not that I’ve berated them about how they haven’t been doing this or that or giving enough.”

Ministries at Wesley UMC are wide and varied, and include its men’s group performing car maintenance checks for the public at the church Oct. 14 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The church will conduct a Fall Festival Oct. 21 from 4 to 6 p.m., with trunk-or-treats, face painting, food and other activities for area families to enjoy.

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

Wesley United Methodist Church

Address: 4256 Hartley Bridge Rd., Macon, Ga. 31216

Phone: 478-781-0332

Leadership: Rev. Greg Harrison, head pastor

Worship: Sunday school 10 a.m., worship 11 a.m.

Website: www.wesleyumcmacon.org

  Comments