SHANNON • Shannon United Methodist Church (SUMC), on North Street in downtown Shannon, will celebrate its 150th anniversary at 11 a.m., Sunday, Sept. 29.
With a total of 17 members, the fledgling congregation was organized in 1869 – the same year workers drove the last spike for the first transcontinental railroad.
Betty Homan moved to Shannon with her family when she was 8 years old, and has been a member at SUMC ever since.
“Let’s see,” Homan said, “I’m 83 now, so I guess I’ve been a member for about 75 years.”
Homan said Shannon was once a bustling farming community, well-known for one product in particular.
“At one time, Shannon was known for raising strawberries,” she said. “They’d haul them out by the boxcar-load on the train.”
She said like many Southern towns, Shannon has seen its share of transitions.
“Shannon has changed,” she said. “Like so many communities, there’s not that closeness that we used to have. And the church used to be sort of the center. Now there’s so many things calling out to people, and they let them call louder.”
Homan explained that, like many smaller Methodist congregations, SUMC has always been part of a “charge” – a group of churches sharing one “circuit-riding” minister.
“Back in time, the charge included five churches,” she said. “Later it was just our church and Brewer. We only had services every other week, and on the off Sundays we’d go to the Baptist church.”
Homan said while the march of time has brought many changes, both within the church and in the communities to which they minister, SUMC has remained committed to a traditional style of worship.
“I think we’re all traditional and that’s what we want to be,” she said. “The contemporary-style churches draw in lots of people, but that’s a whole other ball game. That’s not for me; I like what we’ve got.”
Annetta Jones is another longtime member of SUMC. The 61-year-old retired postmaster said her family’s roots in the church go all the way back to its founding.
“My grandfather’s brother, Oscar Vaughn, was one of the founding members,” she said. “The Vaughns have been actively involved in this church for five generations.”
Like Homan, Jones said she sees SUMC’s traditional worship style as a source of spiritual stability in a culture always on the move.
“The people who come here come because this is what they’re comfortable with,” she said. “It’s what they enjoy, and it brings them a closeness to God. I think that’s part of what’s kept us alive as a congregation.”
Jones said while SUMC’s membership is not what it once was, the congregation maintains a robust presence in the community through its outreach.
“I’d say in the last 10 years we’ve become more mission-minded,” she said. “We reach out to a lot of local missions, like the Nettleton food bank, God’s House of Hope, and an assisted living facility. These are local, tangible things people can see, and they’ve become really important to our church life.”
The Rev. Edwin Temple has been at SUMC for only a few months, but he said he has been a United Methodist minister all his adult life, even before earning his Master of Divinity degree at Emory University in Atlanta.
“I preached my first sermon in June of 1975,” he said. “I was serving four rural churches. I was a 19-year-old sophomore at Ole Miss at the time.”
Temple said in spite of cultural shifts away from church, and challenges within his own denomination, his own sense of identity and calling remain unchanged.
I’m a United Methodist Wesleyan,” he said. “I could not be anything else with integrity. That’s who I am at the core of my being. I think of the answer a United Methodist bishop gave when someone asked him what he’d be if he weren’t a United Methodist. His answer was, ‘Ashamed.’”