McFarland United Methodist Church opened its doors in Rossville in the 1920s, moving from its location just over the line in Tennessee, where it had been since the late 1800s, to land donated by the McFarland family.
“I’ve only been at this church for a short time,” says the church’s pastor, Rev. Wayne Cook, “but I’m proud of the way our members care about their community.”
Cook says the congregation of mostly retired people has gained 12 new members over the last 18 months and is deeply involved in the community through many outreach programs.
McFarland United Methodist Church, or MUMC, oversees the food box at Rossville Elementary School. The box, located outdoors and available at any time to those in need, is stocked with non-perishable foods. People are invited to take what they need and also to leave items for others. Church members monitor and make sure the box is stocked.
One member who keeps an eye on the box says that one day, shortly after the box was freshly stocked, its entire contents disappeared. Later in the day, many of the items were returned. He couldn’t explain it, but he says he was glad whoever took the food returned what they didn’t need so it would be available for others.
Another ministry of the church — which has grown to consume three rooms — is its monthly Common Grounds Free Store that provides free clothing, personal care items and some household goods. Cook says the church has been averaging 100 people a month at the free store, which is the third Saturday of each month except November.
Church members put in time sorting and stocking clothing by type and size and weeding out items that need to be discarded or used as rags. Shoppers and staff wear name tags so people can more easily get to know one another, because, says Cook, the ministry is about relationships in addition to helping with basic needs.
In December, free store day also includes a Christmas breakfast. This past December, says Cook, 200 people attended the event.
Cook came to MUMC in mid-2018 after spending 10 years pastoring a church in Sand Mountain. He says he feels there are more mental health issues in an urban setting like Rossville than in the rural area he came from, and he would like people to have help with those issues, as well as with substance addiction problems and the many other challenges faced by people today.
“I often refer to our current adult generation as the lost generation,” says Cook, “because so many parents cannot provide for or raise their children due to their own problems. Grandparents are raising their grandchildren, and schools, social service groups and churches are struggling to meet the needs of children whose parents are lost to addiction and the problems that come out of it.”
“Rossville residents are faced with some serious challenges finding help,” says Cook. “The only health clinic in the city was closed down, so people have to go to Catoosa County or Chattanooga for health care.
“The closest location for AA meetings is Newnan Springs UMC, but too many people have no transportation and there are no sidewalks to get to NUMC on foot safely,” he explains.
Cook says his church is working with other churches and with social services and community groups to establish programs and resources to help those who are struggling to change and stabilize their lives.
McFarland UMC reaches out to children in numerous ways.
♦ The church helps provide food backpacks for students.
♦ The congregation recently sponsored a scholarship for an 8th grade student to go on a class field trip to Washington, D.C., in the spring and has helped students afford accessories they need to participate in school programs.
♦ MUMC supports the Rossville Reads program that brings books into poorer communities in the summer.
♦ They also participate in Engage Rossville, a coalition of service providers, churches and others who meet monthly to discuss issues and maintains a mailing list to alert the community of urgent needs.
♦ Members of MUMC help with home repair projects where needed and have worked with P52, a group that helps residents get their property cleaned up and code-compliant, and they have helped build numerous wheelchair ramps.
♦ Camp Lookout, which provides outdoor and spiritual experiences for children, and Holston Home for Children are two more ministries supported by the church.
At home in Rossville, Cook says he would like to see cosmetic changes, too.
“People need to be able to take pride in their community,” he says. “When they see that others care enough to make things look nice, they feel better about themselves and are more motivated to contribute to change. It’s one more thing that can create momentum toward a better Rossville.”
“Change can be glacially slow,” says Cook, “but there can be no upward trend if the community does not work together for it.”
Cook says the public is welcome with open arms to visit McFarland United Methodist Church at 101 E. Gordon Ave., Rossville.
Visit the church’s website at https://mcfarlandumc.org.