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Cooperative parish being formed in Methodist community
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At the end of June, Antioch United Methodist Church and Gainesville First United Methodist will partner to form a cooperative parish in an effort to bring together the community the churches share. - photo by David Barnes

Two Methodist churches will be coming together to form a cooperative parish at the end of the month. Most things between Antioch United Methodist Church and Gainesville First United Methodist Church will remain the same, but the churches will make an effort to work closer in order to share resources.

The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church describes cooperative parishes like this: “Local churches, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may enhance their witness to one another and to the world by showing forth the love of Jesus Christ through forms of mutual cooperation.”

The two churches serve a similar population being five miles apart.

“It makes sense that if we’re going to try to reach as much of the community as possible, that we would work together to do that,” said Richard Chewning, Gainesville district superintendent for the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church. “So this gives the opportunity for each church to share their resources, both financial, but primarily people resources, in order to meet the needs of the community better.”

As the Rev. Michelle Strall leaves Antioch, Chewning said it seemed like a “natural transition.” He said cooperative parishes are common, especially with smaller churches like Antioch. 

The two churches have already worked together through Antioch’s Gainesville Aid Project, where members have served people in need in the community due to age or disability, for many years. Now it will be official.

“It’s a more intentional partnership together to focus on the community that we share,” said the Rev. Scott Hearn, pastor at Gainesville First.

David Lee, a member of Gainesville First, will become the part-time pastor at Antioch.

“I’m excited about the opportunity, and I’m just looking forward to what God’s got in mind for these two communities,” Lee said.

Antioch will be going from full-time appointment to part-time appointment, which means Lee will be preaching on Sundays and teaching on Wednesdays. He’ll also take part in the community events the congregation does outside of church.

Through the cooperative parish, Antioch will have the opportunity to do things it may not have been able to do on its own. Chewning said the church can have more of a variety of studies and events. There will be more people to help out at Antioch, and members from Antioch could even visit Gainesville First to take part in new studies or events not offered at Antioch.

“Both churches and leadership are very excited about what could become of this,” Hearn said.

Most things will remain the same at Antioch. Lee said he’s not trying to make any major changes, but members will feel like they have more of an option to visit Gainesville First if they want.

“I would think it could be where there’s some Bible studies going on at Gainesville First and we could take that on the road, so to speak,” Lee said. “And it could just as well be some Bible study classes going on at Gainesville First and it would just be an open invitation to Antioch to come and be a part of that.”

As Lee settles into his new role as part-time pastor, the one thing he is hoping to change is the youth involvement in the church. He said Antioch is “a great church,” but he plans to bring his own personal style there. That style includes reaching youth, especially since the church is sandwiched between Sardis Enrichment School and Chestatee High School. And a lot of that help will come from Gainesville First.

“To me, it seems like a big opportunity to build the youth program over there.”