Sunday worship at Druid Hills UMC began like most Palm Sundays, but it held a greater meaning for a church that would soon celebrate Easter Sunday as a brand new church, merging with Epworth UMC in Candler Park. In fact, the congregation will temporarily be called New Church.
Palm Sunday represents a time when people made way for something new, unknown, and promising. As palm branches waved through the morning worship service, children sang and danced, there was no a feeling of sadness.
The congregation gathered instead with a sense of preparation and strength, and a readiness to continue their journey.
“Jesus does not ask us to turn around and face what we already know,” Rev. Dave Allen Grady preached as he shared a story from a time when he no longer wanted to move forward.
Despite the sight of paint peeling from the ceiling and other signs of aging, Druid Hills UMC still holds within it an unmistakable beauty.
At the end of the service, the branches were laid at the cross, and people took photographs around the sanctuary as an act of digital archiving. The building, which once saw as many as 800 in worship, could no longer be functionally maintained by the current 80 in attendance.
Later the same evening, the congregation, joined by district superintendent Rev. Dana Everhart, gathered again to walk and pray over all of the places that Druid Hills UMC has been during its 106 years. This included visits to their original location on Freedom Parkway, then to Blue Ridge Ave. and Seminole Ave., and ending at their Ponce de Leon home.
Several attended the service that followed the prayer walk. Everyone was invited to sing on the front steps of the church one last time before going inside for a Thanksgiving and Leave-Taking Service. Members of the diverse church were invited to share their memories and testimonies. The service ended with members, clergy, and lay people removing cherished pieces of the sanctuary, deconstructing the communion table setting, and taking several art pieces that hung on the wall.
A church with more than 100 years of life comes with a lot of history and “really interesting stuff,” says church member Clarissa Weber-Curran.
“I'm a history fanatic and this place was like a museum for me. Much of this building (the church's third site) was just as it was when it was first built in 1954,” says Weber-Curran in a social media post she wrote, paying homage to her church.
“So today we said goodbye and shed some tears and I took a lot of photos for posterity. But it's not all sad. Because next week, on Easter Sunday, we'll emerge as a new, yet to be named United Methodist Church, by joining forces with the former congregation of Epworth United Methodist in Candler Park. We're sad to say goodbye to this hallowed place, but grateful that we'll get a chance to look towards a new, sustainable future. I give thanks to those that came before me and I'm honored by your history and your faithfulness – in this community, and most especially in this place.”
Druid Hills UMC will combine their artifacts with fellow historic church, Epworth UMC, that has also been a place of worship for many 100 years. Any historic pieces that the church couldn’t bring with them will reside at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, in the Pitts Library Archives.
On Easter Sunday, Rev. Dave Allen Grady and Epworth’s pastor Rev. Alvin Lingenfelter will begin their new journey together and continue to make history at 1561 McLendon Avenue, NE
Atlanta, GA 30307 as New Church.