Mark Kilbourne has served as pastor of Hiltons Memorial United Methodist Church since June. His father, the Rev. Charles Kilbourne, served as pastor of the church in the 1970s. Photo by David Grace.
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Homecomings are popular events among local churches, but Mark Kilbourne had a homecoming of his own in June when he returned to Southwest Virginia to pastor Hiltons Memorial United Methodist Church, the same church his father led in the 1970s.
“This has been an interesting move because it’s the first place I’ve come to where people already know me,” said the 1985 Gate City High School graduate. “Coming back, I was welcomed like I had never been gone. This was truly a blessing for us.”
Kilbourne grew up in the East Carters Valley area of Kingsport and attended Nottingham United Methodist Church in Gate City, where his father, the Rev. Charles Kilbourne, served before being appointed to Hiltons in 1974. Mark Kilbourne began his own ministry career in 1989, and prior to coming to Hiltons, he served at New Salem United Methodist Church outside Chattanooga for six years. He arrived at Hiltons in June.
At Hiltons, he’s found a congregation filled with both familiar and new faces, and one that understands the importance of serving the community.
Hiltons Memorial Church was built in the spring of 1935 under the leadership of the Rev. C.L. Poulston. Prior to that, the congregation had met at other locations, including Hart's Hill Methodist Church.
“In 1935, the Methodist church was a parish but had no building of their own,” said Mary Owen, the oldest member of Hiltons.
At the time, Poulston was the pastor of five churches in that area, and he took turns at each church, traveling by horse and buggy, or riding a horse.
“As the membership increased, he saw the need for a church of their own at Hiltons,” Owen said. “A ladies group called the Ladies Aid Society met monthly to do mission work. They had devotions, paid their dues and did things like make quilts to raise money for missions. They offered their money to buy material and build a church. A neighbor, Mr. Ewell Sims, offered timber from his farm, if they would cut and saw it, which furnished wood for the frame work.”
The church at Hart’s Hill was torn down and the bell, pulpit, chancel rail and pews were moved to Hiltons.
“It didn’t take very long to build it,” Owen said. “Lots pitched in with labor, and the church was built really fast. It was just one room.”
Owen had attended Hiltons UMC since its beginning. She joined the church in 1943 and raised two children there.
In 1953, three Sunday school rooms were added, along with asbestos shingles, shrubbery and a wall around the front of the church yard. In 1958, money was raised to build a new parsonage. By early 1967, the need for a new church was being discussed and it was decided to build the educational building first. This building was dedicated in March 1968.
A new sanctuary was dedicated in May 1973, a picnic shelter was added in 1983, stained glass windows — dedicated in memory of Stacy Miller, Beverly Anne Mc-Murray and Engle McMurray — were placed in the sanctuary in 1992. The parsonage was remodeled in 1995 and a new heating and cooling system was installed in 1996. The church’s most recent addition, the $1.7 million Life Center, was completed in November 2010.
The church currently has a membership of approximately 250. Nancy Bellamy arrived with her family in 1954.
“Mary Owen is the reason we continued to come,” Bellamy said, explaining that Owen occupied one of her three young daughters during the church service by giving her chewing gum.
Bellamy and her husband raised three daughters in the church, along with four grandchildren. If it weren’t for the support of the church and the community after the death of her husband 19 years ago, Bellamy said she would have moved to California to be near one of her daughters.
“I think everybody’s friendly. I know when I can’t be at church, I feel bad,” she said.
In addition to Sunday school classes, the church has an active senior citizens group, a men’s prayer group, junior and senior youth groups, and the United Methodist Women's Group.
The congregation is very active with community outreach and participates in the Hiltons Helping Hands Food Bank, the Hiltons Community Revival, the Men’s Breakfast Group and other activities of the Hiltons area churches.
“I love pastoring a church active in the community and reaching out,” Kilbourne said. “We served 140 kids with school supplies for our back-to-school bash. I was filled with pride being their p a s t o r. ”
Marsha Helton, who came to Hiltons UMC in 1978 with her husband and two sons, has been a youth leader and now serves as a lay leader and parish nurse. She’s impressed with how well the members of the congregation — both young and old — work together and uses their talents to glorify God.
“We have a lot of talent in this church,” she said.
Word of mouth, she said, has attracted a lot of women to a Wednesday night Bible study, where the older members mentor the younger ones.
In addition to the regular weekly activities, the church hosted “Journey to Calvary: A Walk-Through Easter Drama” with the help of around 60 volunteers. They’ve also recreated the city of Bethlehem for a walk-through at Christmastime. On Christmas Day, volunteers cook a meal, which is served to the community.
On Sept. 27-28, the church will hold its third annual Lord’s Acre Sale, featuring music, crafts and food items. Proceeds go to the Life Center building fund.
“It impresses me, whenever we have a need ... even though it seems like it’s hard to attain, the money’s always there. It’s God looking over the needs and providing for the need,” Helton said.
“There’s always been a wonderful spirit in this church,” Owen said. “The Lord is in this church, and He’ll provide for those needs.”
On Sundays, Hiltons has an 8:30 a.m. worship service, followed by Sunday school at 9:45 a.m. and a second worship service at 11 a.m. At 6 p.m., there are activities for all ages.
The United Methodist Women meet at 7 p.m., the first Monday of each month. A Men’s Prayer Meeting is held at 6:30 a.m. each Tuesday, and the Hiltons Senior Citizens covered-dish luncheon is held at 11:30 a.m., the second Tuesday of each month.
A Wednesday worship service is at 7 p.m., and the Prayer Shawl Ministry meets at 6:30 p.m. each Thursday.
At 8:30 a.m., the third Saturday of each month, the Hilton's Men’s Breakfast is held at various locations.