By Jessica Connor
CALHOUN FALLS—The Rev. Frank McCoy knows the power of a good home-cooked meal. The sort of meal that brings people together, gets the conversation flowing, makes you want to kick up your heels and let out a big contented sigh that says I'm home.
Bring that kind of feeling to the church, he knows, and you ve got a recipe for success.
That is exactly what happened at Calhoun Falls United Methodist Church, a small rural congregation in the Anderson District where McCoy was appointed to lead two years ago. When McCoy came to the church, it was struggling to stay afloat. Of the 105 members it had in the early 1990s, 46 had died, nine were in nursing homes or shut-ins, and 16 more had either moved away, switched churches or stopped attending church entirely. That left about 40 people who attended worship at Calhoun Falls regularly.
When McCoy, a retired supply pastor, arrived in the sleepy former mill community, he thought he was going to spend a few years maintaining the declining church as it transitioned to its next chapter.
But McCoy has a secret up his sleeve “ a secret that church members say helped revitalize the congregation and dramatically increase its membership.
He cooks everything to perfection! said member Peggy Pettigrew, laughing.
Little did they know when he arrived that McCoy had a passion for feeding people s bellies along with their souls. Every week, McCoy whips up a meal that keeps his congregation coming back for more “ and spreading the word to their friends.
From a well-seasoned pork loin and sweet potato casserole soufflÃ©, to pot roast, chicken potpie or hash and rice, this clergy cook pulls out all the stops week after week. For his last birthday, the congregation even chipped in and made him an apron that proclaims his status as chef extraordinaire. They said their mouths water just thinking about his culinary prowess.
The Shrimp Creole is my favorite, volunteered member Bob Pettigrew.
No, the chicken cordon bleu, Ruth Hagood said, grinning at her pastor as fellow members laughed and revealed their favorites.
McCoy smiled at his flock, shrugged off their praise. I just try to fix a meal better than the average family would have in the middle of the week, he told the Advocate.
Food = family
The food might have brought them in, but what keeps them coming back to Calhoun Falls UMC is the sense of family they are finding at the small church.
When you come in the door, you feel like you ve been here your whole life, said Donna Hozey, who joined the church about a year ago.
Members praise the strong feeling of real Christian love they are finding week after week “ not only from each other, but from their pastor.
As Peggy Pettigrew put it, You know your pastor loves you when he cooks for you.
McCoy retired in 2004 thinking he might enjoy a little golf and fishing. But after a year of the worst boredom he could imagine, he called his district superintendent and volunteered his help. He served churches in Abbeville and Ware Shoals before his appointment to Calhoun Falls in July 2010.
He thought he was going to spend a couple years maintaining the church, slowing down the pace, transitioning it to its next stage “ possibly phasing it out as it declined alongside the struggling community.
Instead, the exact opposite happened.
They worked me harder than any church I ve been in! McCoy said, laughing.
Keeping it simple “ and real
After six months spent getting his bearings, McCoy decided to restart Wednesday Night Church at Calhoun Falls, which used to be a part of the church s regular activities, but fell by the wayside. Church and community members gather in fellowship hall for a good McCoy meal, then moved to the end of the hall for a group singing. Then they do a full-church Bible study.
All in all, it s pretty simple, McCoy said. They don t do anything fancy “ no contemporary service, light show or rock music. I m ultra-conservative theologically, a traditionalist, ˆhe said. We don t provide a church to entertain. We provide a church to worship God and please Him.
But somehow, that s enough. Somehow the recipe of mixing good food, fellowship, singing and the Word in an environment where they experience real Christian care has grown the church from about 40 attendees to more than 125 “ including 14 baptisms and professions of faith in six months.
I ve never done that many, McCoy said.
In 2011, Calhoun Falls paid their apportionments for the first time in 50 years.
Instead of declining, the church is thriving. And members say the future looks bright.
Wednesday night is the glue that put all this together, said Kaitlyn Pless, 17, who grew up in the church and cares passionately about the new ministries her church is engaging in. It s not just worship Sunday morning and go. Something just clicked when Pastor McCoy started it back up.
That s what got me here and what keeps me here, Hagood said. It brings us together in harmony. We re just like a family. We love God, and we love each other.
Hagood said that before she started attending Calhoun Falls, she was a different person. She used to be tangled up in anger and hurt, used to be in your face, as she put it. After she came to Calhoun Falls, all of that vanished. She changed. My daughter said, ˜I don t know who you are anymore. And she joined, too, Hagood said. The Spirit is there, and I m blessed.
William Broadwell, 92, who has been a member since 1929, said the new members who have come from Wednesday Night Church are revitalizing Calhoun Falls.
It s really re-activated us, he said.
One man, Bert Broadwell, met his bride-to-be at Wednesday Night Church, and they decided to get married in March on a Wednesday with their circle of church family surrounding them. It s the way we got started, and I thought it would be appropriate, he said.
McCoy said that feels good.
They re pretty excited about church, McCoy said of his flock. We celebrate the presence of the Lord here every time we gather. I tell my folks if they find Christianity dull, then they ve missed the point. We celebrate the resurrected Lord, and that s exciting.