Antonie Walker said his ministry and the ministries at his church, Grace Corner Church, might look different and like a less of a big deal than some church’s.
“When you ask about ministries, my first thought isn’t big organized stuff,” he said. “I think of days I’ll buy a box of chicken and take it to the guys down the street playing basketball. Talk to them. Or I’ll walk down to the convenience store, greet people and wave when others honk. I think of what our people are doing in the community and the group of 30-plus girls and women that got together to talk about rape after the service a couple of weeks ago. I think our strong point is we’re the most honest and healthy faith community in Middle Georgia. That’s bold to say, but I believe it. Connecting with people — that’s what we do best.”
Grace Corner Church is the result of a 2015 merger of Bloomfield United Methodist Church at its 5511 Bloomfield Road location with Grace Corner United Methodist Church. Grace Corner was meeting a few miles up Bloomfield and prior to that had been located downtown and known as a Vision of Jesus.
Bloomfield was a dwindling white congregation in its blight-rife neighborhood and about to close its doors. Walker had come to Macon in 2013 to pastor Vision of Jesus’ African-American congregation and had seen growth.
Grace Corner remains a United Methodist congregation that is largely, but not exclusively, black.
Mel and Margaret Creche joined Bloomfield UMC in 1967 when they said membership was 700. They stayed through the merger and today Margaret Creche teaches a Sunday Bible class.
“We knew Antonie before the congregations combined and there was what amounts to a transition from being a white to a black church,” Mel Crecch said. “We chose to stay. These are really fine people and Margaret and I agree we don’t know of any other church we’d go to. It’s been a real blessing.”
Fred and Lucretia Taylor said they’ve been at Christ Corner/Vision of Jesus “forever.” Fred is famous for sausage biscuits he cooks for the pre-service Grace Cafe. It’s Mel Creche who supplies the sausage patties.
The Taylors are pleased with what’s happening at Grace Corner, the church’s slow growth and their pastor’s efforts.
“I’ve grown spiritually since he’s been here and I’m not alone,” Lucrecia Taylor said while having Sunday breakfast in the Grace Cafe. “I love my pastor. He’s not your ordinary pastor and definitely isn’t your grandmother’s pastor. He’s a wonderful Bible teacher without the fluff. He’s willing to do things different because it’s a different world.”
Her husband agreed saying Walker would rather be effective than traditional.
Walker said about 90 come to Grace Corner on average Sundays. He said sometimes way more, sometimes way less. But even in that average, he said it’s rarely the same 90 week to week. There’s a core group, he said, but in today’s culture across generations it’s less and less likely to have people attend every single Sunday, every week. But, he said, with Grace Corner’s informal gatherings and ministries, its small groups (Grace Groups), social media reach and other means, the church touches around 300 people in non-traditional ways.
“Yeah,” he said, “I estimate there are 300 who might say Grace Corner was there church whether they show up regularly or not. But I don’t want the church to be about meetings or fluff. It’s about people loving and serving other people and growing in God.”
Walker said all church activities have roots in Acts 2:42.
“We have a simple pattern and everything comes out of that verse,” he said. “It includes teaching the Bible, fellowship, meals together — including taking the Lord’s Supper — and prayer.”
Walker said that attitude led Grace Corner to its motto: No Judgement, Just Jesus.
“I admit our model isn’t the most popular,” he said. “But we’re geared to reach out to people in love so they know we’re here for them. We get a lot of hurting people and the last thing hurting people need is me up there feeling my self-importance. They need me addressing real things in a loving but strong way. And we’re very accepting of sinning people without affirming sin. If you can’t be a Christian and share the message out of love versus hatred or self-righteousness then you’re in the wrong business. What’s the use if you’re not following the example of Jesus: concern for other people and not things or useless traditions? If church is about being prissy and proper, well that’s not right.”
Walker said truth can hurt before it heals but it does heal. He said Christians need transparency and honesty rather than self-righteousness and religious posturing.
And, he maintained, it can be scary.
“Like my sermon on rape,” he said. “I was jittery and ready to call an audible and change it right up to the last minute. It was the hardest sermon I’ve ever crafted because of the sensitivity. It was from the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 13, in the time of King David when Amnon raped Tamar. It hit deeper than I thought. One lady left the service crying. I addressed Tamar’s rape and the fact there were people around who knew about it but said nothing, did nothing. People could have stopped it but didn’t. Family members didn’t respond right. Can you imagine how that impacted Tamar? It’s a Bible story but one that’s replayed all the time today — more than we know. We don’t want to talk about it but seeing what God did in the meetings I know we’ve got to concern ourselves with these kinds of things rather than be ‘nice’ and do business as usual.”
Walker said the women’s meeting was an eye-opener. He said the honesty, the compassion and the sense of God’s presence was remarkable.
“I began it and a couple of older women shared their own rape experiences,” he said. “Then it went way beyond me and girls began opening up, sharing secrets, hurts and there was a lot of healing.”
Lucretia Taylor was there and said there wasn’t a dry eye anywhere. Women tentative about attending were glad they came and others who found the earlier message impossible to take found comfort and healing from God amid the fellowship.
It’s not that Grace Corner is strictly the rape-aware church, Walker said, or that they deal with these things every week. But it is that they’re committed to dealing with the good and bad realities of life and bringing people closer to God in both. Walker said its part of people finding out they’re part of a bigger, more loving family than they ever knew they had.
“We may have to go a little deeper,” he said. “We may have to be uncomfortable and do things differently but it’s worth it. All this may sound heavy but we’re just going through life day by day. The joy of it is way more than the hurt.”
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grace Corner Church
Address: 5511 Bloomfield Road, Macon
Leadership: Antonie Walker, senior pastor
Worship: 10:45 a.m. Sunday