This chapter deals with the history and context of the various moves of God at Chapel Hill UMC that led to the development of a Hispanic ministry at that church, giving special attention to the interplay between institution and movement. Chapter Four will deal with the development of the Hispanic ministry itself, but it is necessary set the stage in some detail for the reader to have an adequate understanding of how Hispanic ministry developed. To fail to do so would be like trying to explain farming without reference to plowing. Chapel Hill is a small rural church in Tennessee that has developed self-sustaining multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-national ministries. From this churches’ story, it is possible to get a sense of how God can open a church for ministry through “circumstances” including: leadership, demographics, history, fellowship, mistakes, misunderstandings, and blind luck along with institutional patterns and general and specific movements in culture and of the Holy Spirit. Further, the story of Chapel Hill UMC also shows how God uses movements and institutions to drive one another forward. Providence cannot be explained, for it is mysterious, sometimes to the most extreme degree. But stories of God’s providence can be shared. And though those who share the stories cannot finally and fully know God’s intent or purpose, not even truly


knowing if what has come to pass was God’s providential plan, a diminished or corrupted version of that plan, or whether God has an overarching plan at all and instead is simply working with what is at hand, we can have some understanding of what indeed has transpired. Thus, whatever the nature of providence, occasionally stories come along that seem to reflect the actions of providence. The story of the movement of God at Chapel Hill is one such story. A story of beginnings emerging from what looked like ends. The story begins on August 28th, 1833. August 28th, 1833 to October 3rd, 1999 The main artery across the Tennessee wilderness in the very early 1800s was known as the Avery Trace, running from Knoxville to Nashville. For the most part, it ran parallel to the Cumberland River, just to the river’s north. Riddleton TN began as a stop along the Avery Trace at the intersection of the Trace and a trail that came from a ford of the Cumberland River then known as Rome Ford and now called Rome Ferry, though the ferry itself is long gone. Most pioneers who traveled west to Nashville would have passed through Riddleton’s streets a few days before reaching Nashville. It quickly became an established farming community, drawing what wealth it had from travelers, timber and the rich bottomlands near the river. The area around Riddleton is known as Beasley’s Bend. By the 1810’s, Methodist class meetings had been established in the area, and by the 1830s these had grown into a church, for which, in 1833, land was donated on the top of a little hill about a mile from the Trace.1 The family that donated that land still has descendants in the congregation, the Brimms.


By the 1930’s an argument at Chapel Hill had arisen as to whether or not the church had ever been on the other side of the road, whether the road had been moved, whether the building had been moved or whether any of the above had happened. For whatever reason, this argument was intense enough that members of the church attempted to settle it by going to the county courthouse and looking at the deed. It was not helpful. It did not refer to the building at all, and referred to the plot of land as being “north of the old road.” This old road, old in 1833, had disappeared from both the landscape and the memory of the church by the 1930s. The conflict over the building’s origins continues to some extent to this day. One reason such a seemingly minor question has nagged at the mind of a church for at least seventy five years is that it makes for a funny story the church likes to tell on itself. “We think we used to be over there, but maybe not.” However, it also is a question about the beginnings of the church. Only one real fact is known about the early days of the church: that the Brimm’s ancestors gave the land. The enduring question about the building itself may be an attempt to claim historical precedent for those not related to those who gave the land, “but maybe not.” At any rate, the church passed the first 130 years of its existence as a simple community church, part of a three, four or five church charge, depending on the year and the needs and availabilities of pastors over the years. By the 1960s, the farm economy was quickly changing. Fewer folks were needed to do the same amount of work, and families began to move off the land. By 1965, attendance at Chapel Hill UMC had fallen noticeably.2 Riddleton itself was much diminished, but held on while other communities in the area disappeared. Churches of all denominations in the area closed, including all four of the churches with which Chapel


Hill had been yoked over the past 130 years. The charge was reduced to the point where Chapel Hill was yoked to the nearest First Methodist Church, which is in the town of Carthage TN, six miles to the east. But Chapel Hill persevered. In the 1970’s, it added a kitchen to better compete with churches in Carthage. The 1980’s brought a renovation of the sanctuary. Both the kitchen and the sanctuary were designed to help bring back the church, and though both were considered failures by at least some members of the church,3 Chapel Hill did hold on while other churches in similar situations did not. A pastoral change at First UMC Carthage in 1974 resulted in a shuffling of pastoral responsibilities, and Chapel Hill was added to the responsibilities of the pastor of First UMC in Hartsville, 4 which the author would eventually pastor. Hartsville is eleven miles to the west of Riddleton. This was an interesting move, not only because Hartsville is further away from Riddleton than Carthage, but because it is also in another district. In 1994, three additional Methodist churches in the area between Hartsville and Carthage were closed.5 Thus in the twenty nine years between 1965 and 1994, seven small rural United Methodist churches in a seventeen mile stretch of the Historic Avery Trace, now known as Highway 25, closed. But God was not finished with Chapel Hill. By 1997, the demographics of the area had changed some. The exodus from Beasley’s Bend ended and a few people started to trickle back in. Some who moved to Riddleton had family or other ties to the area; others were encouraged by low land prices. The vast majority were driving to Carthage and its environs to work. Over the next ten years, this trend would continue. But while the population stabilized and even grew a little, the church was moribund, seemingly unable to attract new members, though an


informal network developed around the church of occasional attendees and the extended family of the members. During the early 1990’s, the constituent roll of the church crept up, but the actual roll did not and the average attendance remained stable at about five persons per Sunday. A new pastor, Norman Weber, came to Hartsville in 1996. He was known as a ‘builder’ and gave attention to the long-term future of the parish, including Chapel Hill, in a far more aggressive way than previous pastors. He pushed the little congregation to become more involved in the community, to do short-term Bible studies, and to lengthen the worship service from thirty to forty five minutes.6 However, the church, particularly one member, Mary Elmore, was very resistant. She insisted that all Rev. Weber was to do was to preach and visit the sick. He tried hard for a year or so to develop the congregation at Chapel Hill, but came to feel his work at Chapel Hill had been for naught. He eventually believed that Elmore indeed spoke for the church and that Chapel Hill was satisfied with its current though declining status and not ready for or interested in change.7 The 1997 Pastor’s Report captures Rev. Weber’s understanding of the spirit of the church in these words, “The congregation is faithful in its obligations, little that they are.”8 Weber, reflecting on the apparent futility of his work at Chapel Hill, entered into discussions with his District Superintendent to drop Chapel Hill from his responsibilities through either closing the church or having services there only once a month and add the pastorate of Key UMC, a small African-American church in Hartsville, to his duties at Hartsville First.9 While this would have been a cross-racial appointment and thus there would have been some specific cross-cultural issues to deal with, especially in worship, this realignment seemed to be logical in several other ways. It seemed far more


reasonable for the Hartsville charge to include Key rather than Chapel Hill: the steeple of First Hartsville is visible from the front porch at Key while Chapel Hill is eleven miles away. Additionally, Key and First already enjoyed a strong relationship, including pastoral exchanges and personal and working relationships of the leaders at Key and First, mainly rooted in the local school system. Further, Key was looking at a pastoral change in the coming year, no African-American candidates for the job were readily available, and the church seemed to need the strong leadership that Weber would have likely been able to provide. However, the historic nature of the African-American church as sanctuary was judged to be an overriding consideration,10 and Rev. Weber’s idea did not come to fruition. While his missional concern and openness would eventually infuse Chapel Hill, in 1997 the possible closing of Chapel Hill, not its mission, was much on Rev. Weber’s mind. The 1997 Year End Report listed Chapel Hill as having 9 members, with 5 of these being inactive, and 6 constituent members.11 The view from the other side of the pew was not as grim as it appeared to Rev. Weber. The church was far from active as an institution, but it was, as the Body of Christ, according to those who were then members or constituent members, still active enough in the community and solidly based in the church. The church, according to those who were then constituents and would become members, was a vital part of the community. The only real problem with the church was that worship services were weak. The general opinion in the church was that the church was in fact active, but did not “toot its own horn.”12 Thus the good that it did was not reported or understood by Rev. Weber and thus the denomination. Perhaps there is some truth in this, but it is worth noting that there had been no Sunday School or other Bible study since about 1985, no Vacation Bible School


since about 1985, no youth activities, no fellowship meals, no (organized) outreach of any kind since about the same time. When precisely these activities ceased is difficult to tell, but they seemed to fall away beginning in about 1970. Objectively, it seemed merely a matter of time until worship services would cease as well. During 1998, there were a few signs of life, but overall, little changed. Attendance increased by a small amount, but the budget and membership of the church were both frozen. Pastor Weber saw little chance of change or growth and began to talk with the District Superintendent in more detail about how to make the decision and what it meant to close the church. The DS, Dr. Lynn Hill, told Rev. Weber that the Bishop, Cabinet and he himself trusted Weber’s judgment about the closing of the church and that if Weber filed the papers, “I will sign them.”13 A letter from Weber to Hill, dated January 13th 1998 makes plain that this conversation was ongoing, though stalled, urging that “Discussions about closing the church not proceed at this time” due to several illnesses in the congregation.14 And at the 1998 Charge Conference, that November, Chapel Hill was told by Hill that if it were not able to move forward, especially in light of some growth in the community, the church might be closed.15 Herman Henry, a dedicated long-time member who had taken on several leadership roles at the church, decided and began at that time, at the urging of Hill, to get others involved in leading the church, though these others were not members of the church but rather constituents. Henry later reflected that “spreading the leadership around” was a key allowing the church to strengthen.16 The 1998 Year End Report lists nine members, with five of these being inactive, and eleven constituent members, an increase of five, though three of these five could have been considered constituents the prior year.17


On June 15th 1999, Mary Elmore passed away after a long illness and just two days later, on June 17th, another member, Sam McDonald, died somewhat unexpectedly. Both died of cancer. Of the two remaining resident members, one was experiencing the onset of dementia. Chapel Hill was in jeopardy. At about that time, Weber received notice of the scheduling of the 1999 Charge Conference. He responded in a letter to Hill: A Charge Conference seems superfluous since we are talking about two members.… (Chapel Hill) cannot be considered a church as we would define it, guided by the Discipline and Scripture, i.e. Matthew 25. In short, as I recommended two years ago, I am asking that the decision is (sic) made to discontinue Chapel Hill. If not, then that “worship” be conducted only once a month.18 At this point, a meeting was called between Hill, Weber, and Henry. The meeting was held at the Hartsville church and the three participants remembered it in very different ways. Hill remembered it as a casual meeting, an informal chat with Weber and Henry.19 Weber remembered the meeting as “going smoothly” and he walked out of the meeting assuming that the church would be closed.20 Henry, however, left the meeting, where he said “the D.S. laid down the law,” 21 convinced that the church had to get serious about its future or be closed. The three participants did agree that at this meeting, Henry asked for the church to be kept open for one more year22 and that Henry said if Chapel Hill didn’t rebound, the church would close itself.23 Rev. Weber, having finally moved forward his case for closing the church, had a change of heart after the meeting and decided to be more active in helping the church try to rebound over the next year. He began a round of visits to the members and constituents. He visited every household with ties to the church and found that most of


the constituents had not been baptized, typically because they “never had been asked or never got around to it.”24 Weber urged them to be baptized, join the church, and to become more active. Many accepted his urging. Henry and a few concerned constituents “beat the bushes” to revitalize the church as well.25 The constituents, pastor, and members came together and decided that they would indeed be more serious about the church, attend services regularly, establish a Sunday School and become more active as a church in the community. A dinner was organized for the community and every person in Beasley’s bend was invited without any strings attached. Quite a few came. A new spirit was in evidence at Chapel Hill and God continued to move to set the church on the right path. Over the next few months Weber continued to visit, the church continued to think about its future, there was much work and prayer, and on October 3rd, a date that Weber would come to call “Holy Sunday,” the church would have seven baptisms and three other persons join the church. Three days later, Weber would write in a letter to the congregation: “I cannot think of a greater day than we experienced last Sunday.”26 The church continued to grow in attendance and service throughout the year, beginning to have both children’s and adult Sunday School, and the 1999 Year End Report listed the membership as 14, with 7 of those persons joining in that year.27 The Pastor’s Report for 1999 reads, in part: The past year… has been trying for the small congregation. Two of its most active members struggled with and succumbed to cancer… The membership struggled with the possibility of closing the church. With serious discussions, the membership allowed the Holy Spirit free will reign and with the blessing and encouragement of our district superintendent and the pastor, a new beginning, if you will, has been made. Every member made a personal decision to be born again as we have learned from Nicodemus in the New Testament. Last October 3, 1999, was a most holy day, I dare say. Five adults made a public profession of faith and received God’s gift of holy baptism, two transferred their membership to


the church, one became an affiliate member, and two children received Holy Baptism, with the others expressing a recommitment to being a disciple of Jesus Christ… This is a most significant beginning.28 And indeed, 1999 would prove to be a year of significant beginnings of the mighty works of God at Chapel Hill UMC. The revival at Chapel Hill began in 1999 and Weber emphasized to the congregation that openness to God’s future, purpose and mission in Riddleton was absolutely essential to maintaining what had been begun. He emphasized, as those he lead as pastor told the author time and time again, that the church did not simply exist to be a place for worship on occasional Sundays, but was a family that God had expectations of and that God had saved for the purpose of parish ministry. Conclusions: August 28th, 1833 to October 3rd, 1999 Perhaps the clearest and most relevant conclusion which can be drawn from this part of the story of Chapel Hill, given the current condition of United Methodism, is that the revival of a declining institution is possible. Chapel Hill rallied both when it absolutely had to and when it seemed least likely to do so. Worthy efforts at renewal had been attempted in the 1970's, with the upgrading of the facilities including the addition of a kitchen, and again in the 1980's, with a renovation of the sanctuary. These were serious, institutional investments of time and money. But revival eluded the church. Then, in the late 1990's, the church was reborn when it seemed to have failed in its mission. Why? Clearly, the church's situation was different in 1999 than in 1985. And while it is true that the revival happened only after God changed the situation within the church by allowing the death of half its resident membership in three days, it is also the case that the Rev. Weber had been preparing the church for revival since the beginning of his


pastorate, though without apparent impact. In the wake of this apparent failure, compounded by deaths in the congregation that seemed to be the end of all possibility of revival, though in fact they were just the opposite, Weber and the District Superintendent Lynn Hill brought to the church's attention not just the possibility, but the high probability of closure. Would there have been revival without these actions? Perhaps, but it seems more likely that without the guidance of Hill and Weber, without the guidance of the institutional church, the deaths of Mary Elmore and Sam McDonald would have simply further dimmed the church's lights, not lead to revival. However, it is crucial to understand that revival did not occur through the initiative of the church itself, but through its openness both to God and to the institutional reforms that the pastor had been urging for several years. Revival did not occur because of the church's proud heritage, but rather when the church was confronted with the end of its heritage. Revival was not built on the past strengths of the church, though it certainly incorporated them. Rather, it was built by looking honestly at the current situation of the church, the desperateness of which, if nothing else, created openness to what God held for the future. When Chapel Hill turned to God, relying not on its own abilities, phoenix arose from the ashes. Perhaps contemporary United Methodism should ask itself “Are we trying to renew, prop up, and rebuild when we need to rely on God for revival?” The revival of a church, any church, even a church with as little to build on as Chapel Hill, is possible through the work of the Holy Spirit. A second conclusion from this situation is that leadership is critical. The lay leadership of Mary Elmore seemed to create difficulties for the growth of the church. The


lay leadership provided by Herman Henry, especially in passing around that leadership, led to strengthening, though not directly to growth. Rev. Weber was not willing to be a caretaker for the church and thus pushed it to grow. Human hands carry forward the work of every movement of God. Likewise, human action can fail to move forward a movement or even retard it. While Elmore's leadership may well have been good for the church in the 1980's, it hampered the church in the 1990's. Further, it seems quite likely to the author that if Henry had not let constituent (non)members of the church have real leadership positions after the 1998 Charge Conference but prior to the near catastrophe in June of 1999, the institution of the church might not have survived those three days in June. Though having non-members lead the church was a reason Rev. Weber gave for closing the church in July of 1999,29 and is a situation that is far from standard, it was the right thing to do in this situation. Further, if Rev. Weber had not been determined to lead the Hartsville/Chapel Hill Charge into the future to the best of his abilities, if a "caretaker" rather than a “builder” had been the pastor, the church likely would have foundered. Further, if Dr. Hill had not put the matter into Rev. Weber's hands, Weber might not have had the same change of heart that led him to give the church that one last shot after the meeting with Henry and Hill. Having the right leaders in the right places is of tremendous importance to the success of any movement or organization. A final conclusion that can be drawn from this part of the story is that revival can come both from nurturing and from loss. Old and destructive patterns have to end for new ones to emerge. Pruning is essential, but likewise, leaders must establish new patterns and


these patterns must be nourished; the ground must be plowed, planted, watered and weeded. Disturbance and discontinuity may be necessary to usher in change, but by themselves they are not enough to create positive institutional change. Instead there must also be careful planning, hard work, and solid relationships. The Williams (sic) Chapel Chapter

Growth continued after Holy Sunday (October 3rd, 1999) at Chapel Hill. At the end of the year, the church had grown in both membership and attendance. Having had as few as two persons in worship several times in early 1999, it was running about fifteen in attendance by the final quarter, including three to six children. One additional person joining the church by transfer of letter after Holy Sunday in 1999, thus the church ended the year with a total of fourteen total and nine resident members, up from nine and four. Perhaps more importantly, the church had clearly heard that they needed to be involved in their community.30 That chance would soon come in a big way, but several initial steps into a more expansive ministry were being made, including supporting the “Hope for the Children of Africa” initiative of the Tennessee and Memphis Annual Conferences and “support by Lily Hill,”31 an African-American Missionary Baptist Church about one third of a mile from Chapel Hill. This support principally consisted of beginning a bi-monthly Bible study with Lily Hill. The life of the church continued to progress and in June of 2000, Stephen Sanders was appointed as the new pastor of the Hartsville / Chapel Hill charge. Three months into his tenure, on Friday, September 29th, 2000, he got a call early one morning from Martha


Dawson, a member of the Hartsville church who lives about three miles from Chapel Hill. She told him the church at Chapel Hill had burned to the ground in the night. He recalled the moment saying that his “whole heart shuddered.” He put on his coat and his “pastor’s hat” expecting to have to work through significant theological issues (“Why would God save our church just to have it burned down?”) and headed to the scene. However, before he got there he discovered that Dawson had been mistaken. As he drove to Chapel Hill, he saw smoke, dirt, ash and embers where Williams Chapel, a small AME church, had been. Members of the church were milling around, the embers still hot, the smoke still rising. The building had burned down due to an electrical short. Sanders immediately, without really thinking about it, offered to let Williams Chapel worship together with Chapel Hill that Sunday. The pastor (James Seay) and members of Williams Chapel agreed and only then did Sanders get in touch with Herman Henry. Sanders was nervous as he broached the subject, but Henry was enthusiastic about what would instantly become an important mission of the church, saying: “It’s what we’ve got to do. It is what God saved us for.”32 The offer quickly grew into worshipping together as long as it took for rebuilding. Beginning that Sunday, and continuing for eleven months, the two churches began to share not just space, but began to grow together as congregations. They experienced Desmond Tutu’s ubuntu – a deeper understanding of themselves and a deeper openness to one another through cultural exchange. The Chapel Hill congregation continued its practice of worshiping at 9:00am, the two churches had a joint Sunday School at 10:00am (Sunday School classes at Chapel Hill being restarted for less than a year) and Williams Chapel would worship at 11:00am, as had been its practice. A new set of keys was made


and given to the leadership of Williams Chapel, lay and clergy, so that the building could be accessed as needed. While no rent was charged, the congregation of Williams Chapel volunteered to pay for the utilities. The two churches celebrated Christmas and Easter as one and had a joint Vacation Bible School in the summer, the first at Chapel Hill in twenty years. The VBS included children from not only Chapel Hill and Williams Chapel but also Lily Hill MBC and others folks in the neighborhood. Both churches grew not just spiritually but numerically in this period. Three members were added at Chapel Hill and attendance grew from an average of fifteen for the last quarter of 1999 to twenty for 2000.33 Two of the three members who joined Chapel Hill during this year, George and Wilma Draper, did so specifically because the church had opened its doors to another ethnic group.34 Only one member of the church showed any resistance to the inclusion of the neighboring church, the member who was experiencing dementia and was thus unable to understand that Williams Chapel had burned.35 Williams Chapel also grew, though not until moving into their new space. In October 2004, when the author met with Pastor Seay at Williams Chapel, he credited the time that Williams Chapel spent gathered with Chapel Hill as the catalyst for that churches doubling in attendance between 2000 and 2002.36 Interestingly, during this time period at Chapel Hill, there were no committee or community meetings, no long or short range plans and no official guidance at all. Sanders said that rather than elaborate planning and long-term committee meetings, “things just happened.”37 Rev. Weber had planted a vision within the people for growth, especially outreach, and Sanders was able to harvest that work.


During this time, the demographics of the area continued to transition. The Riddleton area had seen the loss of a great number of families due to the increased mechanization and globalization of farming from 1960 to 1990. The 1990’s saw some families moving out but some moving in and the population was essentially unchanged. By about 2000, Beasley’s Bend was starting to see a small increase in population. Some were returning after retirement to land that they (or their family) had owned all along but were unable to make a living by farming. Others were moving to Riddleton attracted by the low cost of living. Others were using Riddleton as a bedroom community for the bedroom communities that surround Nashville while still others were setting up small businesses that could be run from anywhere. A final group was settling down in the area with their families after coming initially as transient agricultural workers from Mexico and Guatemala. Persons from all of these groups became a part of the church at Chapel Hill during the time the two churches worshipped together.

Conclusions: The Williams Chapel Chapter At least six lessons can be drawn from this section of the Chapel Hill story. First, God uses human inconsistency and error for good. The fire at Williams Chapel could have been prevented with a bit more care by the churches’ trustees. Martha Dawson would not have called Pastor Sanders, and he would not have gotten so quickly involved, had she known that Williams Chapel rather than Chapel Hill had burned. Had the Chapel Hill church not been almost closed due to its moribund state, it would not have been as likely to experience revival and would not have been ready to welcome Williams Chapel


and certainly not ready to share Sunday School time: less than a year before it did not even have a Sunday School. Take away any one of these elements, all occurring because of human frailty, and neither Williams Chapel nor Chapel Hill would have experienced ubuntu or continued revival. God’s providential hand was at work. A second conclusion is that the underlying demographics determine what can develop. This story may have been very different had the fire occurred when there was no growth in the population in the area. Had the timing been different, people might not have been available to fill the leadership roles when Herman Henry decided that Dr. Hill was right and he should share the load. Had the area not seen some growth, there would not have been growth in the constituent membership of the church and thus no Holy Sunday. And when Williams Chapel burned, perhaps Chapel Hill’s building would have been sold to the Williams Chapel congregation rather than being shared. And even if the two churches had started worshipping together, if the demographics had not been favorable there would have been no one else in the community who was interested in joining either church. A third conclusion is that revival begets revival. The Holy Sunday revival at Chapel Hill positioned the church for further revival when the fuel of cultural interaction with Williams Chapel met with the spark of the Holy Sunday revival. The released movement energy that resulted from spark meeting fuel helped create the critical mass needed to do further work of the Spirit. It often seems that the spark of revival is wasted when there is no fuel for the fire, and even more often it seems that there are ample resources, plenty of fuel, but no spark. Chapel Hill was blessed by both.


A fourth conclusion from this section of the story is that it seems fairly easy for a church to commit to a short-term ministry, or at least one with an ending date in sight. Chapel Hill did a good work in opening its doors to others, but it is worth noting that Chapel Hill welcomed its neighbors not forever, but while the neighbors were rebuilding. Had the situation been changed so that Williams Chapel was invited to move into Chapel Hill’s space forever, would Chapel Hill’s arms been as wide open? The inter-ethnic work with Williams Chapel was critical in preparation for the development of the Hispanic ministry in the next few years. The second work would have been far less likely without the first. The Hispanic ministry would be a long-term, open ended welcome for people with cultural differences that seem to be more daunting than those between whites and blacks, though this may not actually be the case. It needed something to prepare the way. Though welcoming Williams Chapel was simply responding to the needs of the people in the community, it was also a step into the future for Chapel Hill. Without these 11 months, the church would have been far less open to other missional activities. A fifth conclusion is that churches that never before showed an interest can become involved in cross-racial work. In 170 years, Chapel Hill had never developed significant cross-racial relationships as a church, though it is just down the road from two AfricanAmerican churches. Rev Weber began to open the church to such possibilities when he helped connect Chapel Hill with Lily Hill. This limited interaction helped lay the foundation for the work of welcoming Williams Chapel. While persons were able to opt out of the work with Lily Hill, opting out of the work with Williams Chapel was


equivalent to opting out of Chapel Hill; for every person attending worship at Chapel Hill was rubbing elbows with the members of Williams Chapel. Thus the church was fully and wholly integrated, if only for eleven months. This was not a token presence. It was a full presence. This was not a paternalistic relationship. It was an equal relationship. This was not an antagonistic relationship. It was a loving relationship. The two churches, one black and one white, experienced real Christian community and were deepened and strengthened by their time together. A final conclusion is that cross-racial work changes a church. Community is built by loving and equitable interaction among adults. When loving interaction among equals is across the color line, as it was at Chapel Hill, entirely new communities are built, ones that had not existed before. A new people are created, those who can see the possibility of racial reconciliation and who long for justice and peace in times and places where those things had not even been considered beforehand. This is the experience of ubuntu: learning to see with other’s eyes. Learning to see yourself, your community and to see others. Equality is a critical element in the ubuntu equation. Without equality, Williams Chapel and Chapel Hill might have descended into two institutions tensely sharing space. With equality between the individuals and the churches as a whole, movement energy was released. While it could be argued that since the group from the dominant culture was also the group with a building, there was no equality. There is truth in this; however, this was mitigated by at least two factors. First, Williams Chapel picked up the entire utility bill, not just half, of their own volition. This showed their strength. Secondly, the


sense of neighbor helping neighbor in a crisis, an important factor in this experience, naturally includes the sense that it could just as easily have been Chapel Hill that burned, and that if that had been the case, Williams Chapel would have opened its arms to Chapel Hill. When the two churches met under one roof, something special happened, something that can only be described as Christian community. The people of these churches had lived in the same area, gone to the same schools, done the same work and known each other all their lives. But it took something terrible to bring them together in church so that they could see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. But, brought together by disaster, they found that, indeed, they were Christian brothers and sisters regardless of what the larger culture might say and believe. Eleven months later, when Williams Chapel finished their reconstruction, there was great celebration at Chapel Hill, but there was also a greater sadness. The Williams Chapel folks were gaining a new place to serve God, a worthy cause for celebration. But the Chapel Hill folks were losing, losing far more than someone to pay the utility bill, they were loosing family, losing family that a year prior they did not know they had. And while Chapel Hill mourned, it also began to ask “What Next?” It was the right question. Having set the historical context of the emergence of the Hispanic Ministry at Chapel Hill, we turn now to movements in the general culture that also influenced the growth of the Hispanic Ministry.


The Latinization of Dixie

There is little doubt that the Hispanic population of the United States is growing dramatically. The Census Bureau reports that the Hispanic population increased by 57.9 percent from 1990 to 2000 (from 22.4 to 35.3 million persons) while the total U.S. population increased 13.2 percent.38 Hispanics in the US have historically been highly concentrated in the western states. This has begun to change, but is still true. In the year 2000, Hispanics accounted for 24.3 percent of the population in the west, the only region in which Hispanics exceeded the national level of 12.5 percent. In fact, in that year, half of all Hispanics in the USA lived in only two states: California and Texas. The state with the greatest number of Hispanics per capita was New Mexico.39 Hispanics accounted for 11.6 percent of the population in the South, 9.8 percent in the Northeast, and 4.9 percent in the Midwest.40 While the largest numbers of Hispanics live in the west, the south, which began and ended the fifteen-year period between 1990 and 2005 with the second highest total numbers of Hispanics, also had the fastest growth of its Hispanic population of any region in that fifteen-year period.41 Between 1990 and 2000, seven southern states (North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky) were among the ten states with the highest rates of growth in their Hispanic population. Six of those same states would make the same list for 2000 – 2005, with Kentucky dropping out but with Mississippi taking its place. 42 The ten States with fastest growing Hispanic populations 2000 – 2005 are listed as follows:


Table 1: The Ten States with the Fastest Growing Hispanic Populations 1990-200043 State % Growth North Carolina 393.9 Arkansas 337 Georgia 299.6 Tennessee 278.2 Nevada 216.6 South Carolina 211.2 Alabama 207.9 Kentucky 172.6 Minnesota 166.1 Nebraska 155.4 2000-200544 State % Growth North Dakota 62.1 Arkansas 58.6 South Carolina 51.4 Tennessee 51.3 North Carolina 48.2 Georgia 47 Nevada 43.2 Mississippi 41.3 Alabama 40.3 Nebraska 37

Tennessee, which had the fourth fastest growth from both 1990 to 2000 and also from 2000 to 2005, has been dramatically affected by these trends. Three areas in particular in the state have seen a dramatic rise in the Hispanic population: Memphis, Nashville and the “Nursery Belt” stretching north to south across the eastern mid-state, an area in need of intense agricultural labor. Though Riddleton is not in any of these areas, it does have significant agricultural and forestry work that has drawn immigrants for both short and long term employment. The following chart, drawn from several sources, shows these trends. Table 2: Growth of the Hispanic Population in Tennessee 1990 Hispanics in Tennessee Hispanics in Tennessee46 Hispanics in Smith County 47 Foreign-born residents of Smith County 48

32,741 75

2000 113,610 123,838 200 151

2005 171,890 175,159 282

2010 228,846 359

The numbers in Smith county are not particularly dramatic at first glance, but they do represent at least a doubling, perhaps a tripling, of the Hispanic population over the 102

fifteen years in question. The reason for the vast majority of this growth can be seen in the story of one of the immigrant families at Chapel Hill: Pablo and Paula Amor.

The Latinization of Chapel Hill

Pablo Amor was a small farmer in Vera Cruz, Mexico. He had no desire to immigrate to the United States. He and his family were deeply rooted where they were. However, he had to split the acreage he had inherited with several brothers and, though initially things went well, after several years of farming, the land proved to be insufficient to support his wife and child. As financial pressures rose, tied to fluctuations in the value of the Peso, and NAFTA related changes49, he realized that his wife and daughter did not have enough to eat, had not had enough to eat for several weeks and that the long term prospects were even bleaker. Thus he crossed the border clandestinely and migrated to Hartsville TN, a farming community where a cousin already lived. He was able to make a few dollars here and there, but it took him months to find steady work. He learned that he could not trust the local farmers to pay him all that he was owed for his work. He was very lonely and unhappy, as are many young men who come here without their family. However, he was both a hard worker and quite skilled as a farm hand and persevered. He eventually found a farmer, George McDonald, whom he was able to trust. Significantly, McDonald found that he was able to trust Amor as well. This mutual trust and respect developed through a series of very small jobs that Hernandez did for McDonald for which Amor refused to accept pay because he had not been asked to do them. He had seen that they needed to be done and took care of them while visiting with a friend, who


was working for McDonald. This helped McDonald see Amor as more than just another unskilled worker but instead as both skilled and trustworthy. Another incident that built their relationship occurred within the context of the custom in the area for farm owner’s to provide meals for their workers. Following this tradition, McDonald took Amor and two other (Anglo) farm hands to breakfast for a few days in a row. On the fourth day, Amor offered to pick up the bill, would not be denied, and indeed paid for the for all four men’s breakfast. From little incidents like these, the relationship between McDonald and Amor would blossom. McDonald would soon offer, and Pablo would accept, a job as a farm hand. The job came with a house, one directly across the street from Linda McDonald, George’s mother-in-law. It would result in steady work for Amor, and in not too long a time, the ability to bring his wife and child to live with him in Riddleton. Amor moved into the house in August of 2002. Eventually, Amor would become a backbone of both the Anglo and Hispanic congregation at Chapel Hill. Another backbone of the church, Francisco Bienvenido, and his family (wife Francesca and children Felix, Frank and Felicita) also came from Mexico, but for vastly different reasons. They had been “El pastor y la pastora” in Mexico for many years. Though both have a very limited education, Francisco only finishing the first grade and Francesca the third, Francisco had also studied under a Columbian pastor named George Animable. Francisco and Francesca were a very effective team and had helped plant about fifty churches in Mexico. The Bienvenido’s felt a calling of God to come to the USA in about 1997 to minister to the many Hispanics in the States. They made the very difficult decision to leave their children with their grandparents in Mexico and went McAllen Texas, just across the border from Reynosa, Mexico, where they were to meet


with a minister who was going to take them further north. There was some confusion in McAllen and they missed the connection. After a few days, they found out that the minister had returned to Mexico. They were stranded. Not knowing quite what to do, they returned to Reynosa and took temporary refuge in an orphanage. Temporary refuge evolved into longer-term work as they tried to reorganize their mission north, but being around the children in the orphanage was very difficult, having left their own children with grandparents. Through this God showed them that they should take their children with them. Bienvenido received a scripture from God that “even the birds care for their children” and so they revised their plans and brought their children to Reynosa. However, they were able to carve out an acceptable living at the orphanage and began to discuss staying there. However God continued to call the Bienvenido’s to come to the United States. Thus they made plans, greatly complicated by the presence of three young children, to do so. They had connections in and set out for North Carolina. The trip began with paying a smuggler to bring them across the Rio Grande at a deserted area west of Reynosa. The smugglers separated the parents and the children, between the ages of four and ten, who were understandably very nervous. That night they had to trudge across a reedy swampland known to be full of snakes. It was very scary but without incident. When they reached the river, the children were tied to a large tractor tire inner tube and were floated across. The parents swam across at a different point. Once parents and children got across the river and out of the patrolled zone near the border, they were reunited in the back of a van on a dusty road in the middle of (another) night.


They had planned to go to North Carolina, making a connection in Lafayette, Tennessee. However this connection also failed and so they again took up a temporary residence where they found themselves, now in Lafayette, TN. Eventually they settled there, about twelve miles from Chapel Hill. Having settled in Lafayette, they began to attend a charismatic African-American church, New Day Christian Ministry, in Gallatin, TN, about fifteen miles away, which was pastored by Rev. Ben Vance. When the Bienvenido children enrolled in school, they were the first Hispanic children in their elementary school and the only Spanish speakers in the whole school. They would learn English very quickly. One of the fundamental realities of Hispanic ministry in the US today, especially in areas where the Hispanic population is growing quickly, is that many of the persons in the congregations, even pastors, came to the United States exactly as both the Amor and Bienvenido families did: without proper documentation. It may be surprising to some people that many folks would be in the US illegally and yet congregate at churches. It may seem even more surprising that a pastor would feel God was calling him or her to make an illegal crossing in order to spread God’s Word. However, this is a common reality. Just as Christian missionaries have crossed borders illegally into countries where Christianity is forbidden, Christian pastors cross into the United States illegally to preach the Gospel here. Immigration and citizenship issues are difficulties that have a major impact on much Hispanic ministry. Churches that are unable to deal with these tensions will have great difficulty establishing or moving forward with such ministries. Additionally, churches that become involved in Hispanic ministry quickly realize the transnational nature of the Gospel and learn in a very tangible way that the Gospel is


greater than any nation. This itself has proved to be a difficult but profound realization for many, including several pastors that have discussed this with me personally. The Chapel Hill Story: Setting the Stage Before going on to tell the story of Chapel Hill’s involvement with Hispanic ministry, we need to spend a little more time setting the stage by getting to know a few more of the main characters. Most of the members at Chapel Hill in the year 2000 had deep roots in the agricultural community. Herman Henry and George McDonald were two very active farmers, each with several thousand acres under cultivation. Both had a good understanding of what life was really like for the Hispanic workers who did a great deal of work for them and were concerned about the moral and spiritual lives of the immigrants. Both also had, at various times, Hispanics who were not migrants but had instead moved to the area permanently living on their land. While McDonald was not a member at Chapel Hill, he was a member at First Carthage and his mother-in-law, Linda McDonald was a member at Chapel Hill who joined on Holy Sunday. George was well thought of by folks in the church. Had he not gone through a messy divorce not long before, I suspect he would have been at Chapel Hill. Both Henry and McDonald supported the development of some type of Hispanic ministry by the church because they could see the need for it in their fields. Henry’s wife, Elaine Adair, was a strong advocate for the Hispanic ministry in its early stages, encouraging classes in English and Spanish. Their support was not wholly altruistic. Both thought that their farms would probably be


more efficient if their workers had better English skills, spiritual support, and the fraternal support that is available at church. Linda McDonald, George’s mother-in-law, was frightened of Hispanic workers when they first started harvesting the crops near her house in the mid-nineties. She would tell me that she was as frightened of the Hispanics pickers in the fields near her house as she would have been of bears. When Hispanic workers came to plant, harvest or otherwise work on the farm, she would go into her house, lock the doors and stay indoors. But she would eventually come to be a strong supporter of the Hispanic work at Chapel Hill and virtually adopt two of the Hispanic children. Much of that transition was related to the relationship that George developed with Pablo Amor, but it began when she was driving a tractor on the farm near the highway and tipped it over, a very dangerous occurrence. A passing truck pulled over and a group of Hispanic men got out, made sure she was OK, turned the tractor back over, and when she offered to pay them, refused to accept payment. Neighborliness. Two other members at Chapel Hill, George and Wilma Draper, had moved to the area in 1997. George was from the area and his family had owned a farm there dating back to a Revolutionary War land grant in 1786. George and Wilma had lived in Kentucky for many years but decided to move back to Riddleton after they retired. They built a new house and moved in, but did not begin to attend church. However, when Chapel Hill began to host Williams Chapel, they heard about how exciting things were and decided to check it out. They became members in 2001, joining the church specifically because of


its openness to African-Americans, though they themselves are white. When the possibility of Hispanic ministry came on the scene, they were strong supporters. Linda Hensley was one of the folks who joined the church on Holy Sunday. She was a long time Riddleton resident and had first become acquainted with the church by canvassing (and occasionally attending Chapel Hill) as a part of her volunteer work for the Democratic Party. While her initial contact with the church may not have had the holiest of motives, as her relationship with the church developed, it deepened and she and her family are now strong supporters of the church. Hensley works in public health for the state of Tennessee and this work brings her into contact with needy folks of every race. This helped open her heart to Hispanic ministry, because one of the great needs for Hispanics in the area is health care. Chapel Hill has been able to help with this need in several formal and informal partnerships over the years. Linda’s son Randy would develop many friendships with the Hispanic youth. Perhaps the most interesting group of Anglos at Chapel Hill in relation to the Hispanic ministry were those in the church who were neither for nor against involvement in Hispanic ministry. This group of three or four families, some with deep ties with the church, some new folks, was never disruptive of the Hispanic ministry, though it took huge amounts of resources in a small church. Time after time, as I met with pastors and others involved in Hispanic ministry in Tennessee and across the South, I hear stories of laypersons and pastors destroying Hispanic ministry in their own churches, usually unintentionally but occasionally with malice. To the great credit of those persons at Chapel Hill who did not support the Hispanic ministry, they also did not allow it to


become a sore spot for them and push back inappropriately against it. Instead they continued to support the overall mission and work of the church and were very tolerant of the changes in the life of the church that Hispanic ministry brought about. In fact, there were several occasions during my pastorate that those who were not too interested in the Hispanic ministry helped the program immensely by honestly sharing their concerns. This honest sharing is important for the overall life of the church. No church can long sustain any ministry if those in the church do not feel that their concerns about that ministry are listened to and addressed. This is of particular importance in Hispanic ministry with a high percentage of undocumented persons, which is basically Hispanic ministry everywhere in the USA outside of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and the major urban areas. The undocumented individual’s situation is very tenuous because at any time he or she could be deported and lose everything they have been working for, incurring not just jail time but also putting both their families in Mexico and in the United States in jeopardy. Thus even the slightest amount of conflict between citizen and non-citizen can and has caused whole congregations to disappear, an experience that often baffles the non-Hispanics involved. Conflict is, of course, not unusual in any church, and while there has been tension at Chapel Hill from time to time, this group, the basically uninvolved, has been extremely tolerant and helpful. The opportunity for Hispanic ministry is present in many churches and communities. However, support within a church for Hispanic ministry has to be broadly based within a local church because, unlike the Boy Scouts or a food pantry, Hispanic


ministry tends to take on a life of its own when it is well done and very often this creates tension with the larger church. If the lay leadership and the pastoral leadership in a church are not both committed to Hispanic ministry, it will very likely either never bear significant fruit or, if it does bear fruit, be choked out by the concerns of the whole church. Further, if the perceived economic interests of the members of a church that is considering Hispanic ministry run counter to the perceived economic interests of Hispanics in the community, trouble is brewing within the church. Chapel Hill was greatly blessed in that the great majority of persons in the church, Hispanic and Anglo, saw themselves as being in the same general rural economic boat, though some were captains and some were deckhands.

Geography and Layout of Chapel Hill United Methodist Church Figure 2: Map of Tennessee


Riddleton is a rural area that is just outside greater Nashville. Nashville has a large Hispanic population. It also lies near the Nursery Belt, an area of intense agricultural work which is largely staffed by Hispanic laborers.

Figure 3: Schematic of Chapel Hill UMC

The church was originally built in the 1850s. Its most renovations include the addition of the hall, bath, kitchen and dining area in the 1970s and a renovation of the sanctuary in the 1980s. The church building is plain but functional. The building is set on seven acres of land, with a long circular drive wide enough to play soccer in front and a big tree to one side that is perfect for climbing and hanging piñatas from.




"Report Of Pastor, Charge Conference" (Riddleton TN: Chapel Hill MEC, undated, handwritten).

Herman Henry, interview by author, June 1, 2007, transcript. Ibid. Norman Weber, interview by author, June 6, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN. Lynn Hill, interview by author, April 26, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN. Norman Weber, Interview. Ibid.






Norman F. Weber, "Hartsville/Chapel Hill UMC Charge, Pastor's Report" (Riddleton TN: Chapel Hill UMC, 1997, typewritten).


Norman Weber, interview by author, June 6, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN. Dr. Lynn Hill, interview by author, April 26, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN.


Norman Weber, "1997 Year End Report" (Hartsville TN: Chapel Hill UMC, 1998, typewritten). Linda Hensley and Linda McDonald, interview by author, June 6, 2007, typewritten, Hartsville, TN.
13 12


Dr. Lynn Hill, interview by author, April 26, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN. Norman Weber, Hartsville, TN, to Dr. Lyn Hill, January 13, 1998. Dr. Lynn Hill, interview by author, April 26, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN. Herman Henry, interview by author, May 30, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN.




Norman Weber, "1998 Year End Report" (Hartsville TN: Chapel Hill UMC, 1999, typewritten).


Norman Weber, Hartsville, TN, to Dr. A. Lynn Hill, July 6, 1999, Hartsville, TN.


Dr. Lynn Hill, interview by author, April 26, 2007. Norman Weber, interview by author, June 6, 2007. Herman Henry, interview by author, May 30, 2007. Ibid. Lynn Hill, interview by author, April 26, 2007. Norman Weber, interview by author, June 6, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN. Herman Henry, interview by author, May 30, 2007.







Norman Weber, Hartsville, TN, to All Members of the Chapel Hill United Methodist Church, October 6, 1999, Hartsville, TN. Norman Weber, "1999 Year End Report" (Hartsville, TN: Chapel Hill UMC, 2000, typewritten).
28 27


Norman Weber, "1999 Pastor's Report" Norman Weber, Hartsville, TN, to Dr. A. Lynn Hill, July 6, 1999, Hartsville, TN. Norman Weber, "1999 Year End Report." Ibid. Rev. Stephen Sanders, interview by author, August 15, 2006, transcript, Hartsville, TN.





Stephen Sanders, "2000 Year End Report" (Hartsville, TN: Chapel Hill UMC, 2001, typewritten).


George & Wilma Draper, interview by author, March 27, 2007, transcript, Hartsville, TN. Rev. Stephen Sanders, interview by author, August 15, 2006, transcript, Hartsville, TN. See also 2005 Charge Conference Report of Pastor. Rev. Stephen Sanders, interview by author, August 15, 2006, transcript, Hartsville, TN.




Betsy Guzman, The Hispanic Population: Census Brief 2000 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, 2001), 1, U.S. Census Bureau.



Ibid., 3. Ibid., 4,5.


Andrew Hernandez, "Mexican Immigration and Mexican-American Immigration to the Eastern and Southern United States" (San Antonio, TX: St. Mary's University, 2006), 17.


Ibid,. 19. Guzman, 3.


“Hispanic Population by State: 2000 and 2005,” table 10. Hispanics at Mid Decade [Database on-line] (Washington DC: Pew Hispanic Center, accessed Dec 19, 2007), table 10. “Persons by Household Type by Race and Ethnicity: 2005,” table 14. “Hispanic Population by State: 2000 and 2005,” table 10. Hispanics at Mid Decade [Database on-line] (Washington DC: Pew Hispanic Center, accessed Dec 19, 2007), table 10.
46 45


Guzman, 4,6.

Office of Health Statistics, Tennessee Hispanic Population Projections (Nashville, TN: Bureau of Health Statistics, 2003), 6, 81.


“Citydata; Smith County” Foreign Born Residents of American Counties. Citydata, 2006, (accessed December 11, 2007)

Antonio Yunez-Naude, Lessons from NAFTA: The Case of Mexico’s Agricultural Sector. The World Bank, 2002, (accessed December 13th, 2007)


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