The church is not a building. At Wrightsboro United Methodist Church, we are reminded of this truth over and over. We began on Easter Sunday in 1958, when fifteen members of Grace Methodist Church in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, gathered with a vision toward building a new church home on the northern fringes of the city near Wrightsboro and Castle Hayne. The first worship service was held that summer, with 31 charter members, at 3300 Kerr Avenue, in a donated Quonset hut, remodeled by congregation members. Men’s and women’s groups were soon organized and set to work.

Church members raised a new sanctuary building in 1959, as an earlier history puts it, “not only with money but with their hands.” The tradition of working “with their hands” became a hallmark of WUMC. This little white church was attached to the original structure, which served variously as fellowship hall, Sunday school classrooms, nursery, and office space. In 1962, an education building was added, where (with numerous hands-on repairs and upgrades over the years) classes have met, meetings have been held, and our food pantry came to play a vital role in the community. In the 1970s, the original Quonset hut was replaced by the current Fellowship Hall. Adults and children alike who spent Sunday mornings, Wednesday evenings, and other happy times in these buildings have grown up to enhance the ministry of the church, as have many new families over six decades, while some have moved on to serve in other ministries and congregations as both lay persons and clergy, reaching far beyond this small house by the side of the road.

An account of the church’s 25th anniversary in 1983 celebrated WUMC as “a place where the Word of God was taught, preached, and acted upon.” As the community was growing and the congregation debating whether or not to create more space, in the words of one member, “God sent termites!”  After being told that a strong wind could bring it down, members watched in 1992 as the little sanctuary they had built with their hands was demolished. One church member, who had stood in the building for an open-air service while it was being constructed, remembers using his own hands yet again to carry timbers to the fire to be burned. The congregation was back to having worship services where the Quonset hut once stood, in the Fellowship Hall; but in 1993, ground was broken for a new brick sanctuary, and the first service was held there on Palm Sunday, March 29, 1994.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the church grew, and the sanctuary was expanded in 2003 to provide additional seating. An emphasis on missions energized the church in outreach to the community and to the world in disaster relief, work teams, food for the hungry, travels to distant places, and numerous other ways. The congregation engaged in hands-on works of mercy, both inside and outside the walls of the church, including the creation of a close relationship with nearby Wrightsboro Elementary School.

During this period, WUMC became known for “radical hospitality” and “passionate worship” as God’s Holy Spirit moved powerfully in many different ways. Pastors and lay persons alike worked behind the scenes throughout the history of the church to take care of the needs of the congregation and to be there in times of joy and of sorrow. Bible study has been central to spiritual development for all ages, with Disciple Bible Study and other ongoing small and large group studies building faith and knowledge. Our music ministry expanded and became a unique aspect of our identity that drew many people.  A desire to honor those who have served in the military and who serve as first responders led to placing flags along Kerr Avenue in front of the church on holidays like Memorial Day and the 4th of July as a way to thank these men and women for their service.

Today, we continue to provide a place where every person who enters feels welcome and to build on the best of our history as a congregation that manifests the love of God in our world. “We love you, period,” has been a motto, along with “We have a place for you”; these ideals are reflected in the diversity of our congregation. As the Holy Spirit brings us into new seasons of our ministry, service to others has become a focus, with the food pantry, Wednesday community breakfasts, Wednesday night fellowship meals, Bible study for all ages, the “Bright Lights” ministry reaching outside our walls, and many other acts of mercy characterizing our church. The Fellowship Hall has been refurbished, again with the hands-on efforts of church members, and a new shelter provides space for outdoor activities and fellowship in the Wesleyan tradition. No, the church is not a building. Instead, as a newer member has summed it up and as echoed by our youth group, Wrightsboro United Methodist Church is “this church we call home.”