Elizabeth Lee UMC: Everybody Has a Place at the Table at 'Matthew’s House'


By Rev. Zach Fitzpatrick

"​Matthew's House" and surrounding property on the newly expanded campus of Elizabeth Lee UMC is home to outdoor worship services, 5th Quarter tailgate parties, outreach in downtown Chickamauga, adult Sunday School, Youth Group, and other classes. And that's just the beginning. 

Elizabeth Lee United Methodist Church has had a thriving presence in downtown Chickamauga for nearly 150 years. About six years ago, the church began to experience substantial growth and had outgrown its facilities. Thus, the church developed a Master Plan that included purchasing an adjacent property. The adjacent property featured approximately 2.2 acres and a 6,300 square foot home built in 1912.

As the time came to carry through on these plans, the pandemic began. Yet, thanks to the vision and generosity of members of the congregation, the church was able to move forward and purchase the property despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

After purchasing the property, the church had a clear vision for how to use the property on Sundays but knew God was calling us to utilize the property for ministry Monday through Saturday as well.

A "Dream Team" was formed that, after evaluating the needs of the community, prayerfully recommended 5 dreams for future ministry at the property to Church Council. Rev. Blair Zant, Director of the Center of Congregational Development, did a wonderful job shepherding this group. These dreams include a playground for children, a prayer labyrinth, an after-school program for middle schoolers, recovery ministries/counseling/support groups, and a coffee shop whose proceeds might help fund the aforementioned ministries.

In addition to these five dreams, the "Dream Team" also recommended to the Church Council the name "Matthew’s House." This name comes from a devotion given at one of the "Dream Team" meetings that reflected upon Matthew 9.

In Matthew 9, Jesus goes to Matthew’s House and eats with “tax collectors and sinners.” The Pharisees are shocked that Jesus would associate with such people. After the Pharisees confront Jesus about this, he responds by saying: “it’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick; I came not to call the righteous but sinners.”

What was Jesus’ point? Everybody had a place at the table at Matthew’s House. The devotion challenged everyone to make the home a place where everyone had a place. Thus, the name Matthew’s House stuck.

Both the dreams and the name were unanimously approved by Church Council and presented to the congregation. Since then, the congregation has been invited to add dreams to the tree and, if led, step up to be a ‘champion’ of one of the dreams. ‘Champions’ are willing to assume leadership of the ministry and see that it is taken from dream to reality.

To help the congregation get a visual image of the dreams, a ‘Dream Tree’ was created. Based on a similar one some laypersons saw at Tillman House at Smyrna First UMC, the "Dream Tree" allows anyone with a dream to write that dream on a sticky note and place it at the bottom of the tree. As a champion steps up, they place their name on that sticky note and put it on the trunk of the tree. As the ministry becomes a reality, the sticky note is moved to a branch of the tree. It’s our hope and prayer that the ‘Dream Tree’ bears significant sticky-note fruit.

To date, three of the dreams already have a champion: the prayer labyrinth, the playground, and a support group for grandparents raising grandchildren (a new dream added by congregation members).

The membership of Elizabeth Lee United Methodist Church took a leap of faith to purchase this property. It is the hope and prayer of the church that this acquisition and the ministries it births and expands will allow the church to thrive and be fruitful for the next 150 years just as it has done for the previous 150 years.
Rev. Zach Fitzpatrick is pastor of Elizabeth Lee UMC.