As the skies opened up, dropping buckets of torrential rain Sunday morning in Blount County, a congregation that had intended to worship outdoors decided to do so anyway.
Fairview United Methodist Church had previously pitched a tent opposite the church, which is located on Old Niles Ferry Road. Below were rows and rows of portable chairs as worshipers arrived for the 10 a.m. service. It was clear to all who came that May Day would now be written in the Fairview history books as a day of selfless giving and service.
This property at the intersection of Old Niles Ferry and Peterson Lane which was purchased by the church a few years ago will now house Fairview Community Park. The tent service also served as a pioneer for the ambitious project which took years to prepare.
Everyone will be welcome to use the green space, Senior Pastor Mickey Rainwater said. It will be a place where families can bring their children to enjoy slides and other play equipment, walking paths, an artificial lake and a pavilion, he explained.
And the church pays the bill, which is just under a million dollars. Church leaders stressed that it will be called Fairview Community Park, not Fairview United Methodist Park.
The Reverend Jerald Russell, a former pastor of the church, was brought in to help lead the fundraising campaign. He said he had a conversation with landowner Ethel Duff about the church acquiring the land from him.
“I literally said, ‘Are you just thinking about giving us this piece of property?’ Russell told the congregation gathered in the tent on that same lot. “She said, ‘I heard about you,'” Russell continued.
Duff told Russell she was a Lutheran, not a Methodist. “I said you would sell us this property to use for the community,” he said. And she did.
Fairview was able to purchase a total of 12 acres and the house; the house and 5 acres were sold, leaving 7 acres for park development. The church has owned the property for approximately 10 years.
The park will be built in phases as funds are raised; no loans but a cash-only approach, church leaders said. The first phase will be the pavilion. It will accommodate 200 to 300 people and will include a catering kitchen and bathrooms, Russell said.
Jerald Russell’s son Jeremy also spoke to the crowd that day. He was one of the first members of the committee that worked on the plans for the park. There were 12 committee members, Jeremy said.
This team began by interviewing their staff and congregation about possible plans. Jeremy said it wasn’t until he was vacationing in Michigan that the ideas started to come to fruition.
“My wife said we were going to Michigan and God was waiting for me there,” Jeremy said. It was the summer of 2019 as he sat in a park far from home.
“There were smiles on everyone’s faces,” he said. “There were grandparents, people from all cultures and no one was denied access. All of a sudden, it was clear. »
Jeremy said he called Roger Murphy, now a member of the Fairview Community Park Building Committee. He told Jeremy it might be crazy enough to work.
Murphy was present at the Sunday celebration. When asked what other ideas had been considered prior to the creation of a park, he replied that ball diamonds and a seniors’ residence had been mooted over the years.
“Being here on this property, are you starting to see the vision now?” he asked the congregation. He said the kids wouldn’t know where to start. The park will have an inclusive playground accessible to the disabled, including a carousel, he said.
Jeremy explained that the inspiration for this project comes from the Old Testament, in Zechariah 8 verses 4 and 5 where there is talk of old people with canes and children playing.
Russell said the church brought in landscape architects from the University of Tennessee who showed them the best types of trees and flowers to plant. The entrance to the park will be via Peterson Lane so as to no longer clutter Old Niles Ferry.
Jeremy grew up in this church. He said that since he has been here – 32 years – this ground has been fruitful. It produced corn, soybeans and wheat, as well as hay, he said. “It’s good ground.”
Murphy added that now he will produce another crop.
“He grew corn, soybeans and hay,” he said. “Now we’re going to grow some laughs here.”
Jerald said he read Zechariah to study the complete history of the passages. He said the message is clear: God uses the ordinary to make the extraordinary happen. On this ground, no one will be asked who he is or where he comes from, declared this retired minister. “We’ll just say ‘enjoy it’.”
It was a long process. Jeremy thanked everyone who served on the committees and said it was almost too easy as the details were falling into place.
“God is calling us to proclaim who Fairview is,” he said. “Fairview is what Fairview has always been. We love God. We grow together. We serve others and we do so by following Jesus. This whole experience from start to finish – it felt like we were stepping out of the way and letting God do the talking. We did our best to listen.
The rainwater stopped just as it was time to dig the ceremonial shovels into a pile of dirt. These shovels, however, were not chosen at random. One was used to innovate on the current Fairview building; the others had all been commissioned for missionary work. Children received plastic shovels to participate.
Before the service and ceremony were over, members of the congregation handed in their pledge cards, pledging themselves financially to the project. Children collected coins. Rainwater said this gift to the community is something future generations will appreciate.
“You are embracing a beautiful thing,” he told his followers. “It’s bold and daring and it’s something that will outlive many of us in the room.”