OAK GROVE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Where everyone has a place at the table
by Rob Lauer
Oak Grove United Methodist Church might be one of Chesapeakeâ€™s historic churches,
but its congregation is firmly planted in the present and dedicated to serving the community.
Oak Grove United Methodist Church has been standing at the busy intersection of Battlefield Boulevard and Kempsville Road for so long that the thousands of drivers who pass it daily probably take it for granted. Its picturesque white sanctuary with dark shutters looks like something from another age- which indeed it is, having been built nearly a decade before the Civil War.
"During the Civil War, the Union Army took control of the church and used it as a hospital," Lay Leader Bette Price explains as she strolls through the building's sanctuary. "The pews were torn out to make way for hospital beds, and then they were burned in the center of the room to warm the building. If you look up, you can still see the lines where they cut a hole in the ceiling for the smoke from the fire to rise through." Sure enough, a glance upward reveals a circular outline in the sanctuary's ceiling.
"Oak Grove is one of Chesapeake's great historic churches," Pastor Frank Holley points out. "It predates the American Revolution and began meeting in 1770 in the Cutherell home in Great Bridge."
At that time, Methodism- one of the newer religious movements of the day- was beginning to make its way from its birthplace in England to Virginia. Daniel Cutherell's small frame house was less than a mile from Oak Grove's present location, and worshippers met there to sing and pray "in the Methodist manner." Over thirty years later, they built a small meeting house near the Cutherell property. Nearly 40 years after that, the meeting house was moved by mules, on rollers made of logs, to its present site. When the current church was built in 1852, it was christened Oak Grove because of the handsome oak trees surrounding it.
As interesting and colorful as Oak Grove's long history might be, this United Methodist congregation refuses to live in the past. It has its feet planted firmly in the present; its heart is open to the needs of the surrounding community, and its vision is focused on the future of its people.
"Our mission statement as a church is pretty simple," Pastor Holley says. "It is "Connect, Grow, and Serve.' It's simple because our focus is to be a simple church promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our focus is doing ministry. In doing ministry, we desire that people connect with God and to connect with others, in the church, and in the community."
Central to Oak Grove's mission to foster these connections and serve the needs of the community is its Wednesday night dinners.
"Every Wednesday night from 6:00 until 7:00, we serve dinner to anyone in the community," Pastor Holley explains. "We've been hosting these dinners for going on ten years. Many of the people who come to our support groups come to these dinners before their meetings, but the general public is invited to come enjoy a free meal, make new friends, and meet some of their neighbors. Many of the people who come to these dinners never attend worship services on Sunday mornings, but they still think of Oak Grove as their church, and we think of them as one of us."
Those who do attend Oak Grove on Sundays will find Sunday school classes for all ages and two very different worship services. Traditional United Methodist services are held every Sunday at 8:30 in the historic sanctuary, while contemporary worship services are held at 11:00 in Oak Grove Hall- the expansive building opened in 2007, which now houses most of the congregation's programs, activities, and ministries.
"Our mission statement as a church
is pretty simple.
It is "Connect, Grow, and Serve.'"
is pretty simple.
It is "Connect, Grow, and Serve.'"
- Pastor Frank Holley
"I think that worship is an important part of a church's life," Pastor Holley says, "but we're not living in the 1950s when Sunday morning services were a regular part of American life. Society has changed, and the spiritual needs of a growing number of people aren't going to be met by trying to return to the way things used to be."
Even though more people than ever are "connected" online through social media, a growing number admit to feeling lonely and disconnected from others. Recent surveys indicate that many Americans, particularly young adults, are feeling a desire for community, a hunger to be part of something bigger. To meet this need, Oak Grove sponsors Connection Groups.
Servers at one of Oak Groveâ€™s weekly Wednesday night dinners
"We have several Connection Groups that meet throughout the week for all ages, from youth to young adults to adults," Pastor Holley explains. "We also offer opportunities for people to serve others- from mission repair work on homes locally and across Virginia, to international mission trips, to serving food at our Wednesday night dinners."
The Wednesday night dinners have led to Oak Grove expanding its community service in some unexpected ways. When the dinners first began, some of those coming to be fed were migrant workers who spoke little English and had school-age children. To help those children, Oak Grove started a ministry to provide them with backpacks and much-needed school supplies. Through its Vacation Bible School programs, the congregation involved its own children in this program, making them aware of those in the local community who need things that many take for granted.
An awareness of things taken for granted is evident in one aspect of Oak Grove's Wednesday night dinners. "When we began the dinners, we decided never to serve food on paper plates," Bette Price says with a smile. "We always use real plates, cups, and silverware. Many of our homeless guests are surprised by this. They comment on how long it's been since they've eaten off of anything that wasn't disposable. Well, we have real plates, bowls and such right here- so why shouldn't we use them? Those who come to our dinners are our guests- no matter who they are, and we want them to feel welcomed."
Feeling welcomed is something that is often in short supply in today's world.
"As a society, we seem intent on picking sides and dividing ourselves from one another because we have differences of opinions," Pastor Holley observes. "But as United Methodists, we are a more progressive, diverse church. Do we withhold grace from people just because we might have disagreements? Of course not. We're here to share the good news that God's grace extends to all."
Oak Grove UMC
472 North Battlefield Blvd.
Chesapeake, VA 23320