By Cindy Solomon

Gainesboro First UMC member Irene Hawkins enjoys new pew cushions in the sanctuary. The handmade pews (circa 1924)—while beautiful and ornate—were uncomfortable. Money from a Golden Cross Foundation grant helped pay for the cushions.

Gainesboro (Tennessee) First United Methodist Church received a grant for $7,000 from the Golden Cross Foundation, a non-profit corporation and extension ministry of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church. Money from this grant was used toward installing pew cushions and an upgraded sound and projection system in the sanctuary.

“Gainesboro First UMC is a wonderful church with a vibrant congregation that includes many in the community who are aging,” said the church’s pastor the Rev. Tim Dunavant. “The ‘we are not as young as we used to be’ dynamic created several barriers holding back people from fully engaging in the services and events at church.”

Two of the main barriers involved physical aspects of the sanctuary itself: an aging sound system and wooden pews. “Many worshippers do not hear as well as they once did. We thought we had a great sound system but like everything electronic, it became old and outdated. The assisted listening devices worked simply as glorified hearing aids that amplified all of the sound in the room.” In addition, the handmade pews (circa 1924)—while beautiful and ornate—were uncomfortable for people’s backs.

Money from the grant was used to help remedy both situations. The new sound system includes assisted listening devices that are connected directly to microphones. And much to the relief of backs throughout the congregation, seat cushions were installed in the pews. In addition, a projector and screen were installed, allowing liturgists and choir members with vision issues to see their lines projected before them.

“Those with back problems are now able to enjoy the service without pain creeping into their joints,” said Dunavant. “And worshippers who have trouble hearing can wear a headset allowing them to catch every word while those having difficulty seeing when serving as a liturgist or choir member can now see their words projected on the back wall.”

As a result, several people who were previously loosely affiliated with the church have begun attending every Sunday because they can fully engage in the service. “They know not everyone shares in their struggles with aging-related hearing, mobility, or sight issues,” said Dunavant. “But knowing that congregation members cared about them and addressed these issues makes them feel welcome and a part of the congregation.”

Howard W., a life-long Methodist, is one of the members blessed by the church’s recent updates. “I have tried my best to serve the Methodist church and others as best as I can. However, I am a disabled veteran suffering from chronic pain. After moving to Jackson County a couple of years ago, my wife and I joined Gainesboro First UMC to renew our faith. We enjoy the fellowship here and appreciate the love and kindness shown to us. However, the pain I suffer from injuries received during my service as a soldier and a lawman made it difficult to sit still during the service. Tim and my fellow congregation members can attest to how many times I had to stand up and walk to the back of church to endure the pain. I’m grateful for the cushions; they have helped immensely and I can now sit and enjoy the sermons and church as God intended.”

“We are thankful for the support and grant we received from the Golden Cross Foundation,” said Dunavant. While benefits from the new sound system and pew cushions are obvious, there is another positive result.

“Some people in our church used to view The United Methodist Church’s connectional system of apportionment giving [United Methodist churches are encouraged to give a portion of their tithes and offerings to the larger worldwide United Methodist denomination] as a form of taxation. Through the Golden Cross Foundation grant, they see money coming back from the denomination to help our church in our time of need. Where hurt and confusion once reigned, this grant has brought healing and understanding about the importance of our church’s connection with the larger United Methodist denomination.”