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Antioch UMC reminisces over its history
Church marks 200th anniversary with visits from old pastors
0920ANTIOCH7799
Founded in 1814, Antioch United Methodist Church in Gainesville is celebrating its bicentennial throughout the year. Former pastors are returning to the church once a month to reminisce. - photo by CHARLIE WILLIAMS

Antioch United Methodist Church

When: 10 a.m. Sunday school and 11 a.m. Sunday services; 6:30 p.m. dinner and 7:15 p.m. service Wednesdays

Where: 2922 Antioch Church Road, Gainesville

More info: www.antiochunitedmethodistchurch.com

“Loving, gracious, faithful and generous,” is the reputation Antioch United Methodist Church in Gainesville has created during the past 200 years, according to its members, pastor and former pastors.

Exemplifying that motto is the church’s program, Gainesville Aid Project.

The project seeks locals who have a construction, home repair or lawn care need. Then Antioch UMC brings 200 children and teens to the Antioch Church Campgrounds and has them rebuild the community for two weeks in the summer.

“It’s cool to be 200 years old, but wow, that’s a serious legacy,” the Rev. Michelle Rawdin said. “It’s cool to be doing this right in your own backyard, helping people. That’s something I’ve been excited to be part of.”

Greg Burgner, former Antioch United Methodist pastor, said the Gainesville Aid Project is the “greatest thing” the church does.

“I got to have an experience with that in the last few years,” he said. “(I got) to come back with the church that I’m serving now, and just to see the faithfulness of the people and the continued ministry, the faithfulness through good times and bad, that’s what I’ve really seen in that project.”

For church member Sue Cook, the people who make up Antioch United Methodist are the real legacy built by the church for 200 years.

“If we hear of a need in the community, we’re going to try to do what we need to help out,” the 56-year-old said. “Even in our congregation, we’re just one big family, so if this family is having a crisis, we’re going to do what we can.”

Burgner said he believes there are hundreds of ways the church leaves a legacy every day through its charitable work.

“It’s the people who can get into their house now because we built them a wheelchair ramp,” he said. “It’s the folks whose life is more manageable because of the generosity that went through the Gainesville Aid Project. And that’s a big, honking legacy.”

Before the legacy began, the church had to cement its foundation in the community first.

Estimated to have been founded near 1814, the church’s first name was King’s Chapel in the early 1800s, Rawdin said. In the 1820s, the church moved to its current property and erected a log structure on the back of the property, where a cemetery now lies.

“I remember what we call now ‘the old church,’” Cook said. “I don’t remember way, way back, but I remember that church and I can remember us getting up the funds to build. The Sunday school building was built first and then in later years, as the congregation grew, the sanctuary we’re currently in was built.”

Cook said members of the congregation did much of the work on the current site themselves, aside from the licensed construction work.

“It’s always been a very welcoming, loving church,” she said.

As part of its 200th anniversary, Antioch United Methodist Church is welcoming back former pastors one Sunday every month since May.

“We’ve had someone come almost every month, with the exception of June and July because summer gets busy,” Rawdin said. “ ... We’ve had one come back since I’ve been here, and I just kind of step back and let him do his thing.”

Rawdin, who took over in June, said bringing back former pastors has been a way for the congregation to share and reminisce in the church’s history.

On Sunday, Burgner will return to celebrate with the congregation, many of whom he said are “lifelong friends.”

While Cook said the church has changed over the years, Burgner said he was always struck by the church’s stability.

“My experience there has been the grace of good friends,” he said. “Like any good friendship, there is just the stability of commitment in the relationship.”

Burgner said he hopes to share with them how he believes they have embodied love in his life and in the community around them.

“Christianity is all about relationships,” he said. “I think that little church has gotten it right in terms of faithful, forgiving and consistent commitments to God and to one another.”