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Knoxville church banks on outreach (UM News)

March 28, 2022

When Paul Jones drove to Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church for the first time, he was scared to get out of his car.

“I drove to the front door and then left,” said Jones, now worship leader for Magnolia. “It took me two or three times to actually put the key in the lock. I was shaking.”

East Knoxville has issues with gun violence. A local high school has suffered a spate of shootings in the past year or so.

“I was wrong,” Jones said. “There’s great people over there. They’re struggling, they’re hurting, and all we need to do is reach out.”

Magnolia sits across from the Regency Inn on East Magnolia Avenue. Both have seen better days, with the Regency often teeming with activity in the parking lot. Online comments about the motel complain about bedbugs, roaches and walls with holes.

Pastor Tim Jackson strode into Magnolia about eight months ago with the mission of resurrecting the church, which had shut down for nearly a year after the building was condemned. 

“The flat roof was rotted, leaking, destroyed,” Jackson said. “I mean, it was junk.”

Also, the building didn’t have heat or air conditioning. Its large pipe organ sort of operates, if the musician can work around the keys that don’t. 

There was a temptation to shut it down, sell the real estate and use the money for something else, said Rusty Taylor, director of congregational development for the Holston Conference. 

“Do we just leave? Do we just say, ‘We give up?’” Taylor said. “I think annual conferences are going to have to make a decision that there are strategic places where we can’t leave. Because it will be a long time before we get enough people with the resources to keep this going through their offerings.”

Before the pandemic, about 30 people attended worship at Magnolia each week. 

Bulldozing the church would have cost about $750,000, said retired Bishop Dindy Taylor, who is married to Rusty Taylor.

“How about if we put that $750,000 into trying to restore it, rather than tear it down?” she added. 

“I think people are interested in hands-on ministry,” she said.