By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
Pastors often say the church is not a building, it is a congregation. If you asked members of Oak Hill United Methodist Church in Saltillo, they would say their 109-year-old church was more than a building, it is home. They would say their congregation is more than just fellow churchgoers, it is a family.
Since its erection in 1903, the church has been adjusted, modernized, and added onto countless times, but Sunday will be the last service in the old building before its demolition next week. A new building will be constructed to make room for the growing congregation.
Church member Pat Yant said her grandfather helped found Oak Hill UMC, and she has attended for the past 73 years.
“I remember when I was a little girl, I took a branch from the limb of that tree outside to keep flies off the Memorial Day lunch we ate outside,” she said. “This was a long time ago, when kids went last in line.”
Yant also recalled riding to church in a wagon, and how hymns resounded in the wooden chapel.
“I’m not going to weep. It’s got to go,” she said.
About the original members, Yant described them as hard-working men who weren’t shy to invest their time and skills in the success of the church. Church member Ed Houston can testify this trend still continues. Houston is responsible for the design of the new structure and said instead of contracting outside workers, the church called on the skills of its members.
“If we need something painted or need electrical work done or anything, there’s someone in the congregation that knows how. Plenty of people show up just to help,” he said.
Houston’s plan will allow seats for 225 attendants and additional much-needed Sunday school rooms.
Pastor Donny Riley said the church made the decision for a new building together. He said he listened to his congregation’s input and made sure everyone understood the change was about growth, rather than control.
“We’ve grown as much as we can in this building,” he said. “A new space will equip us to do better ministry.”
Oak Hill’s choir director, Susie Duvall, attends the church with her children and grandchildren. She has been a member for over 55 years, and is proud of how the church engages her grandsons, Peyton Pigott and Jack Cobb. Both boys report constantly going on trips and camps, and that their church friends are who they turn to for fun.
“I think it’s just such a great thing for our youth,” Duvall said. “They are the future of the church.”
Many members agree Oak Hill’s congregation has remained thriving in today’s age of attendance drop-off because of the tight-knit family atmosphere that can be found there.
“I’ve made some of my best friends here,” said Georgia Owens, a “new” member of 17 years. “When I first came, I felt so welcome and at home. It was like slipping into your most comfortable pair of shoes.”