* Saturday, July 27, 2002
Churches with no steeples open doors to diverse people
Members of the Heart and Soul Ministries children's group, Kids on the Rock, play Bible bingo during a weekly meeting. Steve Lannom started the church, which is a renovated feed store in Cumberland Heights.
Churches are like people -- they come in all shapes and sizes.
Not all have a steeple, stained glass windows or a cornerstone centuries old.
And many churches don't even look like a conventional house of worship from the exterior -- two cases in point are Heart and Soul Ministries, an old feed store, and All Saints Independent Old Catholic Church, located in a strip mall.
Both of these small Montgomery County churches were seeded in thought and prayer.
Their unusual locations have been transformed into faith gathering places for their respective congregations.
Places where people feel closer to God and to each other.
Lisa Dotson, 50, has lived in Clarksville for more than two decades. She started coming to All Saints two years ago because she felt lost in the huge congregation where she formerly attended.
"I was looking for a more family-oriented church. Where I went before got so big and I felt like it was a business," Dotson said.
Steve Lannom pastors at Heart and Soul Ministries and the Rev. Michael Nesmith is the priest for All Saints -- both men hold down full-time secular jobs.
Each man said he felt a calling from God to start a church.
Following God's lead
Lannom, 47, said he felt compelled to start his church after he received "a vision while at a revival in Pensacola, Florida in 1999."
"The Lord gave me a vision of a playground full of kids and a food bank to feed those needing help," Lannom said.
At that time he was associate pastor at Clarksville Church of God of Prophesy.
In October 2001 the generosity of Betsy Farrar allowed Lannom to lease "an old feed store in Cumberland Heights, an area of Montgomery County where Lannom had spent his childhood.
"When I was nine years old my parents divorced, and for all of my life we had an area church that help to feed us and clothe us," Lannom said.
"I felt convicted that when that building opened up for us that God wanted back in that area to give back," he added.
The 5,000-square-foot building was gutted with the help of friends and congregation members.
Leon Stephenson was one of the helpers. Stephenson had decades of commercial and residential contracting experience.
"It was just a metal building. We had to insulate, rewire and drywall. There was a lot of work," Stephenson said.
Now Leon and wife, Nell, attend services at Heart and Soul Ministries.
"Brother Steve does an excellent job. His heart and soul are in that church. He's one of the best people I know," Stephenson said.
The first worship services at Heart and Soul were held Feb. 10 with 62 people present. After six months, Lannom said membership has risen to 102 people with an average Sunday attendance of 85 to 90 people. And 17 baptisms have been performed.
"We started from rock bottom, but our foundation is based on the word of God," Lannom said.
"After all the Bible says to go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, we just want to reach out in love and announce the salvation message of our Lord," he said.
Hearing a different call
The Rev. Michael Nesmith was raised Roman Catholic, but as the years went by he became disenchanted with some of the church's doctrine. He began a quest to find a faith walk where he could grow spiritually.
"I had been pursuing a call to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, but my wife and I kept feeling we were meant for another direction," Nesmith said.
During their search Michael and Kathy Nesmith came across the Old Catholic faith.
"It's more like the Episcopal Church than the Roman Catholic. The theology lends more toward Greek Orthodox. We have Mass, but our services are more contemporary," Nesmith said.
The Old Catholic Churches began in the 19th century in Europe over the refusal to accept Papal Infallibility and are not part of or in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Michael switched his seminary studies to the Agape Seminary based in Clearwater, Florida.
He and Kathy decided to use their own money to start All Saints. They rented a storefront on Franklin Street in 1999. "We were just easing into it," he said.
The River Center strip mall location has been home to All Saints for two years in September.
Pews have been purchased. An altar has been built. Sunday School and Vacation Bible School programs have been developed.
Three years later the church is getting close to funding itself said Nesmith who is a non-paid pastor.
"I feel my time is God's time and I don't charge for that. It's a personal decision on my part," Nesmith said.
Membership has grown to about 50 people. Nesmith has performed 20 baptisms.
"Our priest is there for everybody, anytime we need him. We feel like a big family," said church member Marcia Pelick.
A feature story in The Leaf-Chronicle about the new All Saints Church led Pelick to her new church home.
"When I read that story I felt a longing to go to services. Once I met Father Mike and heard his sermons I knew I was home," Pelick said.
Both Lannom and Nesmith have stepped out in faith to follow their faith. Both are humble but emphatic about their callings.
"Does a reverend or pastor have all the answers all the time? No. You can't have all the answers all the time," Nesmith said, "But, I can point you to the person (God) who does have the answer."
Ann Wallace can be reached at 245-0287 or by telephone e-mail at annwallace@the leafchronicle.com.