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A place to call home
Five years after its formation, The Highlands moves into its permanent building
Jeff Coleman, pastor at Highlands United Methodist Church in North Hall County, stands in front of the new church building. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan


The Rev. Jeff Coleman leads a tour of the new church building.

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GAINESVILLE — The Highlands Church has waited five years to move into a permanent facility.

The church has met on Saturday nights for the past two years at Autumn Hills Assembly of God and, for two years before then, at Mount Vernon Elementary School.

But this Easter Sunday the waiting is over and the Rev. Jeff Coleman and The Highlands congregation will celebrate moving into their permanent church building in North Hall County.

"We were able to buy this property with the assistance of the United Methodist Church, the larger denomination," said Coleman, a Chattanooga, Tenn., native who moved to Gainesville in 2002. "So Easter Sunday will be our return to regular Sunday worship.

"I would say it (the church) is pretty centrally located ... the vast majority of people probably live in a five-mile radius."

Coleman, the father of two and married to wife Gay, has been a pastor at two other small churches in Kentucky. But The Highlands is all his own and was started from scratch.

"The Methodist church appoints you to a church," he said. "My real calling was to be a church planter."

In January 2007, The Highlands Church purchased six acres on Cleveland Highway to build a permanent space.

"The United Methodist Church, the denomination, owns the other 18," Coleman said. "Basically it lays in an ‘L’ so we are not land locked. They will sell the land to us, we just need the resources to get it."

Members like David Greenway have been an important part of the move to the new church facility. Greenway, a Gainesville resident, said "Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do. It’s the best church in Hall County."

On Friday, the church’s staff and members were still unpacking chairs — rather than the typical church pews — and other equipment to fill the space by Easter Sunday.

"We had chairs when we were meeting at the school; Mount Vernon was gracious enough to let us use their chairs," Coleman said. "That is what you do when you are a church in a box and we got accustomed to that. Based on the DNA of our congregation it is a little more contemporary."

Coleman said the average age of the 130 members at The Highlands is mid-30s.

"We are a casual, come-as-you-are congregation," he added.

The casual-style of the services also include the laid back children’s worship.

"Every Sunday the kids start out with a craft or a game, and we have a main Bible story lesson for each week. And all of our games, crafts and activities center around that," said Loren Miller, the children’s ministries coordinator for kindergarten through fifth-grade. "The kids will start out with that, and the kids worship at the same time as the parents do. And they have their own area for praise and worship.

"Our No. 1 goal is that we bring kids into a relationship with Jesus Christ, and however many kids we can do that for is our goal. We want to offer ministries and opportunities to children in the community."

Miller added that murals will soon be added to the children’s worship area that go along with the theme of the ministry called Pathfinders.

Along with the children’s worship facility, the building includes a student ministry area, classrooms, administrative offices and, of course, the sanctuary.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still plans to grow, even at this early stage.

"It is built to expand on," Coleman said. "The stone (outside) will be all the way around and we’ll stucco the rest when the resources are available."

The building was constructed to allow the south and east walls to push out, expanding the building. The church can also expand up, putting another 7,000 to 8,000 square feet on a second floor, he said.

On Sunday, Coleman will begin a new three-week sermon series called "Life with Eeyore: How to Live with Negative People" with a sermon titled "Dealing with Doubters."

"Elizabeth Baker wrote a book, ‘Living With Eeyore: How to Positively Love the Negative People in Your Life,’ and I saw that book one day and I thought that would be a great series to do," he said. "How do you get along with negative people because everyone has an Eeyore or two or more — or a family full.

"I’m just extracting some stuff from it and building on it."

Coleman said he would tie the sermon into Easter by adding the disciple Thomas to the topic.

"I thought about the disciple Thomas who was not there when Jesus was resurrected and showed up and said, ‘Unless I see it, believe it and I can touch it, I’m not going to believe,’" Coleman said. "So I will tie in that Eeyore-ish personality in with Thomas."