Steve Pedersen, an NYPD officer for 20 years before moving to Tennessee, is the current pastor of Pactolus United Methodist Church, located on Pactolus Road near Sullivan South High School. Photo by David Grace.
As early as 1848, early settlers in the Pactolus community were worshipping regularly in a school house overlooking the railroad. The school house was known as “the factory” because there was a factory on the banks of a nearby river.
According to the church history, the Rev. George B. Draper was appointed as pastor on Oct. 2, 1890, and it was during his ministry that Pactolus Methodist Church was built. In the late 1930s, a move was made to renovate the church building; however, World War II delayed the effort. In 1949, the idea of renovation was again brought up. Instead of just renovating the existing structure, however, the church congregation decided to build a new building on a site close to the original church.
Pactolus United Methodist Church, on Pactolus Road near Sullivan South High School, was considered a very modern structure, with a basement and two indoor bathrooms. The only thing not crafted new for the building was the church bell, which was brought over from the old church building. On June 27, 1954, the new church building was consecrated for use.
Jeri Newcomb first stepped onto Pactolus’ grounds to peruse items offered in a church yard sale. She ended up staying for three hours. The next Sunday, she pulled into the church parking lot.
“Four women were waiting for me,” she recalled. “It’s just like coming home.”
“Coming home” is a sentiment echoed by many Pactolus members.
Brenda Morrell attended Pactolus when she was younger. She returned to the church about a year ago, back to some of the same people who attended with her years ago.
“You walk in the door on Sunday morning and everybody who can get to you gives you a hug,” she said.
Lula Rowland, who has attended for more than three decades, also left the church for a time, then returned. “This was my home church. This is where we wanted to come,” she said. “I like it here.”
Glenna Lisenby remembers when the church consisted of five Sunday School rooms downstairs and the sanctuary upstairs. “There was no foyer. You just came up the steps into the sanctuary,” she said.
Judy Chase remembers revivals that attracted so many people that they had to stand outside the church building’s open windows.
The building has received some improvements over time. In the 1980s, a wheelchair ramp was added. In the early 1990s, a kitchen was added to the basement. In the early 2000s, a handicap-accessible bathroom was installed upstairs, a covered picnic shelter was built, and a covered ramp leading to the basement was added for handicap accessibility to the basement. Most recently, a community prayer garden was added, as well as a multi-media system that allows for the expansion of ministry capabilities.
Average attendance on a Sunday is in the lower 50s, and most of those are seniors, but that doesn’t diminish the spirit of those who worship there.
“They’re very loving, very caring people. If you need anything, they’d do anything for you,” said longtime member Norman Lady.
“It’s like we’re all a closeness of brothers and sisters. It’s just a warm, inviting church,” Chase said.
Pastor Steve Pedersen is the only staff member. Born and raised in New York, he was an NYPD officer for 20 years before moving to Tennessee to be closer to his wife’s family.
“I retired in 2009. That’s when I felt God was calling me into the ministry ... into Tennessee,” he said.
Pedersen entered the Candidacy for Ministry Program in the United Methodist Church and arrived at Pactolus six months ago.
“It’s a very loving, friendly church. You feel the love when you first walk in the door. It’s full of grace. It’s a friendly, intimate atmosphere,” he said.
Though small, the congregation is very active in outreach programs. Feed-a-Friend is a weekly ministry of the Pactolus UMC women in which they prepare and deliver food to the sick or elderly in the community. Every fall, the church holds a Clothes Giveaway, open to everyone. The church’s Food Pantry offers food, baby supplies and toiletries. The Book Ministry gathers paperback books and delivers them to local jails.
Church members also participate in the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child program, filling 30 to 50 shoe boxes each Christmas to be delivered worldwide. Before the beginning of each school year, they host a Back to School Bash, giving away school supplies to local children. They help with First Broad Street United Methodist Church’s Firewood Ministry, cutting and splitting wood and delivering it to local families; adopt angels from the Colonial Heights community for Christmas; and feed the sports teams in the community before ball games.
“We try to do for the community. ... We try to let people know we’re here. We’ll help with any need and if we can’t, we will try to find someone who can. If there’s a need and we know it, we try our best to fill that need,” said Johnnie Ryans.
Pactolus hosts a Vacation Bible School and, in an attempt to draw more youngsters to the church, offers a monthly Kids Day program with games, crafts, snacks and a Bible story. The next one will be held at the church on Feb. 15.
Church members meet in small Bible study groups, and there are plans to eventually develop a youth group.
Sunday School is held at 9:30 a.m., followed by the worship service at 10:45 a.m. A Life Lessons Adult Study is held at 10:30 a.m. each Wednesday. For more information about Pactolus United Methodist Church, visit pactolusumc.org or visit their Facebook page.