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Downtown icon gets a face-lift
W 030813 CHURCH RENO 02
Construction workers continue renovations Friday at First United Methodist Church on South Main Street. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Statesboro First United Methodist Church is getting a bit of a face-lift. One might even call it a “faith-lift.”
    The $1.5 million project, which will include maintenance on the roof, exterior walls, and sanctuary interior walls and a new heating and air conditioning system, is the first work on the church’s sanctuary since it was constructed in the 1950s.
    “We began to have some leaks in the sanctuary,” Senior Pastor Jimmy Cason said. “With the beauty of the building, we can’t afford not to maintain it.”
    The magnificent church with its stunning, stain-glassed windows, nestled almost in the very center of downtown, has beckoned locals and visitors to come and worship since its organization in 1886, with just eight charter members, to the dedication of the white frame church in 1893, to the 300-member congregation that planned and built a red-brick building in 1902, to the tan-brick church of today, with a three-story education building, fellowship hall, administration complex, and on-campus preschool — with a great deal of love and faith interspersed.
    “We support many missions,” Cason said of his congregation and church. “We have a soup kitchen every Saturday, and we donate money to or volunteer for Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, Safe Haven, disaster relief and missionaries in many countries. Brazil, Slovakia, India, Macedonia, Lithuania, Kentucky, and a children’s home in Mexico.”
    Bill Mathis, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, credits the staff with much of the success of the church and mission opportunities.
“They’re dedicated and hard-working,” he said. “They’d have to be to support an organization as big as this.”
    Cason is assisted by Associate Pastor Kirk Hagan; Business Administrator Robin Kersey; Rebecca Brown, the director of youth ministries; Sarah Akins, the director of children’s ministries; Ann Haskins, the director of preschool; and Dr. Pierce Dickens, the director of music ministry.
    “Our congregation is proud that this renovation work is as local as it can get,” Mathis said about the work done by Martin Rule and Associates. Architect Frank D’Arcangelo spearheads the development. Also involved in the project is Statesboro’s Dabbs Williams General Contractors.
    “We’re really focused on the historic preservation and nature of the building,” Cason said.
    Church member Lynda Williamson, who originally chaired the renovation committee, is thrilled to have been involved in the project since the beginning. Williamson, husband Hughes and sons Jonathan and Matt are all members of the church.
    “I attended here as a child with my grandmother, Carrie Mae Brannen, in the ’60s,” Lynda Williamson said. “When I came back eight years ago, I felt like I was coming home. I was met with incredible acceptance.
    “I’ve always had a fascination with the warm, enveloping feel of this church,” she continued. “But, the climactic part of my life at First Methodist was the healing service held for me a year ago. My eyes were opened to the compassion and love this church has for everyone.”
    When Williamson’s mother died six years ago, she said, First Methodist women were the first to respond with meals.
    “Our leadership makes this church better and better each day,” she said. “They encourage us to love more, to serve more and to embrace what needs to be done in the community, and they do it in a quiet way.”
    “Preserving God’s House,” the name of the reconstructive project for the Gothic-style church watching over the center of town, is designed to strengthen not only the church walls, but also the love, faith, and compassion of its members and carry them forth for many years to come.

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