After holding worship services at Young Harris United Methodist Church on Prince Avenue, Oconee Street United Methodist Church is moving to Tuckston United Methodist Church on Lexington Road, using the chapel which years ago was the main sanctuary for Tuckston UMC.
"In moving to this, we are gaining a chapel for our worship service that looks a little bit like our own sanctuary, although a bit smaller," said the Rev. Lisa Caine, pastor of Oconee Street United Methodist Church.
An April 15 fire destroyed the church's 111-year-old sanctuary at 717 Oconee Street. The congregation had worshipped for two weeks in the gymnasium of Young Harris UMC. "We are extremely grateful for the hospitality and generosity our friends at Young Harris have provided us in this emergency situation," Caine said, adding that the offer by Young Harris was made immediately after the fire.
Although Young Harris' offer of space was indefinite, the church council of Oconee Street UMC decided earlier this week to move services after an offer was made to use a 116-year-old chapel on the Tuckston campus, at 4175 Lexington Road. Since 1969, Tuckston UMC members have worshipped in a much larger sanctuary on its campus. The chapel is used mainly for weddings and special events, but usually is vacant on Sundays. Caine hopes the chapel's similarity to her church's former sanctuary, from the wooden pews to the altar rail, will offer the congregation a familiar and "more worshipful" atmosphere.
The Rev. John Turlington, associate pastor of Tuckston UMC, said it makes sense for the congregation of Oconee Street UMC to utilize the chapel, noting that there is a strong connection between the two churches, both in location and congregation.
"I heard a few (Tuckston) members say that Oconee Street was the first church they went to when they first came to Athens," he said. "We are also connected by Lexington Avenue and the east side of Athens. We thought that the Oconee Street Church family would feel more at home going to church in their east side neighborhood."
Caine said it may be months before her congregation is able to move back into their home. Although the fire destroyed the building that housed the sanctuary and the kitchen used by the Our Daily Bread ministry (currently operating at Athens First Baptist Church), there is hope that the education building adjacent to the sanctuary may be salvaged much sooner.
That building -- connected to the church by a walkway -- suffered severe water and smoke damage, but the hope is the structure remains sound and the building can be used once the damage is repaired. Insurance adjusters recently completed their on-site inspection of the buildings and it's expected to take weeks before a final appraisal is issued. The church has set up a website -- www.rebuildoconeestreetumc.org -- that provides updates on the rebuilding process and donation information.
"It's time to settle down in a more permanent space for the next few months as we begin planning to rebuild and restore our own church facilities," Caine said. "I hope our members will find the (Tuckston) chapel as comforting as I have."
Sunday worship services will be held at 11 a.m., preceded by children and adult Sunday school classes at 9:45 a.m.