First UMC Van Alstyne Rises Up After Disaffiliation Vote Fails

Service at FUMC Van Alystne

Resolve, new pastor's new energy has allowed church to see growth in all areas including Bible study, youth group and choir 

When First United Methodist Church Van Alstyne held their disaffiliation vote on Jan. 15, 2023, no one could have predicted it would have been so close. Disaffiliation failed by three votes, and the church remained a part of The United Methodist connection.

Lay Leader Gerry Nance said: “I was counting the last few votes and thought, ‘This is the worst possible outcome.’ It would have been better to be all one way or another. To have the vote come down to three votes was so hard. I was one of those who voted to leave, but then when we didn’t disaffiliate I said ‘OK well I’m going to be the best kind of Methodist I can be. We’re going to clean up our problems.’ ”

Nance credited interim pastor John Allen with beginning the healing process in the congregation. He took time to listen to everyone. Members who said they would never return to the church are coming back.

“This is our family. Where else are they gonna go?” Nance said.

Melvin Huffstickler, the chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee, recalled the journey of the past year. “Immediately after the vote and in the time leading up to the pastoral change in July, there was a lot of uncertainty and hurt feelings. And then when the pastoral change happened I think a lot of people had just resolved to put all the disaffiliation conversations behind them and move on with the task of healing the church.

“Pastor Kris [Melvin] came in with just a completely clean slate. He’s what the church needed at the time in terms of energy and enthusiasm and leadership and involvement. We all felt pretty quickly that the healing process had begun in earnest. And it’s done nothing but improve since then.”

Melvin sees the story of FUMC Van Alstyne as a new start.

“I don’t think it’s anything I’m doing, it’s just a new energy. All I have done is say ‘let’s learn from the past and move forward and grow this church to make it a place where the community can come, and anybody and everybody is welcome to come to know who Jesus is,’ ” he said. “Let’s focus on the spirit of what God wants us to do in Van Alstyne. We want everyone to know our doors are open. Let’s start and just talk about Jesus.”

That renewed energy is seeing fruit in growing numbers in every area of the church. The youth group has doubled in size to 20. The pastor’s Bible Study has 30 attendees, three times the number of people it had before Melvin’s appointment.

“Our choir has grown twice the size since all that. We are literally out of room in our choir loft — we had to bring chairs in,” Nance said.

Huffstickler credits both the clergy and the staff with seeing FUMC Van Alstyne through disaffiliation into this new season of growth. “The strength of our staff has really been a steady hand of leadership. Our youth pastor, our children’s minister, our music director, our lay leader, our board of trustees — the strength of the staff and leadership of the church I would point to as a group of people that really came together and really kept the church on the rails. They helped us through the transition and helped us be a welcoming place to be.”

At this weekend’s annual Lord’s Acre Harvest Festival, the congregation is looking forward to connecting with the community as they aim to raise $20,000 for benevolence and service needs.

As the town of Van Alstyne continues to grow in population, the members are excited to welcome new members and continue to grow as a vital United Methodist presence in Grayson County.

Melvin trusts that God will guide them. “My big prayer is that we can be a church where it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done but you can find a church that has a door open where you can come and experience the love of Jesus Christ and find others who will support you.”

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2023